Get the inside track on Bolivia's high altitude capital La Paz with our first-hand city guide.
City Guide: La Paz
Sprawled out in a canyon and fringed by mountains and the imposing presence of Illimani volcano, La Paz is the world's highest capital city. It's a little rough around the edges, but wandering around the attractive centre, exploring the traditional markets and gliding over the city in a cable car will soon have you captivated. Discover the best of La Paz with our handy guide...
Symbol of the City: La Paz is a colourful, loud and jumbled city, with a tendency to surprise and intrigue. It is also full of interesting details for those willing to look close enough and nowhere are these traits better embodied than in the Mercado de las Brujas (Witches Market). For sale here are potions, medical plants, dried frogs and llama fetuses, alongside more traditional souvenir offerings for visitors. A second witches market takes place in El Alto, an extension of La Paz, where local witch doctors put the weird and wonderful merchandise to good use in various rituals.
Star Attraction: Given the altitude here, there are many things in La Paz that can lay claim to being the world's highest this, or the world's highest that, but soaring just that little bit higher than all of them are the cable cars which whisk locals across the city (and yes are the world's highest). Joining them on the cars is one of the most exhilarating, if perhaps initially a little unnerving, experiences on offer here and gives a magnificent bird's-eye view over the sprawling mass of buildings and surrounding volcanoes and mountains. It is also possible to reach El Alto and the southern and more upmarket part of the city, seen by far fewer tourists.
Hidden Gem: No-one comes to La Paz just to see the old Dodge micro-buses that worm their way through the centre of the city, in fact most don't even know of their presence until the see them for themselves. But they make a pleasant surprise and add another layer of colour and charm to the chaotic streets of La Paz. Intricately decorated in vibrant greens, blues, oranges, yellows and more, the buses now have to compete not only with each other and the taxi-style minibuses (known as colectivos), but also the cable car system that serves as a bona-fida (if a little more expensive) transportation option for locals.
Eat & Drink: A Bolivian variation on the empanada, a salteña is typically filled with beef, pork or chicken, alongside a combination of hard boiled eggs, peas, raisins and a sauce of varying degrees of spiciness. They are perfect for an afternoon snack, or can be eaten as a larger meal alongside rice and potatoes. Given the proximity of Lake Titicaca, trout is also common throughout the restaurants in La Paz. Considering the altitude of La Paz, drinking mate de coca is something of a necessity and is widely available throughout the city and in most hotels.
After Dark: A good way to experience some traditional Bolivian music, dress and dance is to attend one of the many peñas which are offered in the city centre. Normally combined with a meal, the shows are colourful and upbeat affairs, and although some are a little touristy, you are certainly guaranteed a good night's entertainment.
Escape: The nearby Valle de Luna (Moon Valley) is a natural collection of clay and sandstone spires, which together create a bizarre canyon-like landscape, just 30 minutes from the centre. Two walkways guide visitors around the site, passing the various types of cacti which also grow here. A couple of hours away by road is the magical Lake Titicaca on the border with Peru.
When to Go: Although it is an all year round destination, as La Paz is usually combined with the Uyuni Salt Flats the best time to visit is in the dry season between May and October, when the flats are more accessible. The hottest temperatures in La Paz come during July and August and the coldest in January and February.
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