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La Paz Boliva | Making the most of your time in the city

When you think of Bolivia La Paz most people tend to think it’s the capital, I know I did, but in fact the true capital of the country is Sucre.  We weren’t sure what to make of Bolivia La Paz as we’d heard conflicting reports of it being a bit dirty, rough and not easy to navigate but we are delighted to report that it’s an amazing city and we really enjoyed our few days there.  Below are a few of the things we got up to and enjoyed in the city and we hope you’ll enjoy your time here too. 

La Paz market street
La Paz market street

How did we get to Bolivia La Paz?

We had crossed the border into Bolivia and camped out at Copacabana for a few days and then took the bus to La Paz.  We used the Trans Titicaca bus company who we’d used to cross the border from Puno to Copacabana.  The journey was only approx three and a half hours but that involved a short crossing of Lake Titicaca.  Our bus crossed on a barge and we crossed on a little ferry.  The whole journey cost 45.00 BOB with an additional 2.00 BOB for the ferry crossing.  In total the journey took around four and a half hours.   We arrived at the La Paz bus station which is a beautiful building created by the Eiffel family of France who also created a miniature Eiffel Tower in Parque Simon Bolivar in the city.   There are plenty of taxi’s around the bus station to get you to your final destination but our hostel was only 15 mins walk away and we felt really safe walking from the bus station as it was still light.  Perhaps if its dark when you arrive a taxi would be better. 

Where did we stay in La Paz Bolivia?

La Paz, like many other big cities, has an abundance of hotels, hostels, apartments and guest houses to choose from.  We chose Iskay Boutique Hotel which was half way between a hostel and hotel and was a great choice.   The rooms were large and airy and there was an plenty hot water in the shower.  There was a restaurant on the roof where breakfast was served and the beds were really comfy.  You won’t go wrong booking this hostel.  Oh and did I mention it was really central too. 

Cable Car, La Paz
Cable Car, La Paz

What did we do in La Paz Bolivia?

Ride the cable car circuit

This was one of the best things we did in La Paz.  The cable car network in La Paz consists of twenty six stations along ten colour coded lines accessing all parts of the city.  The cost of one journey on the teleferico starts from 3.00 BOB depending on the line however you can get a circular ticket which takes you on six of the routes and gives you a real all round feel for the city.  The circular ticket includes one of the most scenic routes on the red line which takes you over the cemetery and up through the colourful neighbourhood of Challuma before you need to change routes at the top of El Alto.  The circular ticket costs 11.00 BOB and you have to stay within the teleferico circuit.  If you leave a station then that part of your ticket becomes invalid and you have to buy a short hop ticket to the next station.  

Stroll around Plaza San Francisco

Plaza San Francisco seemed to be the hub of the city and if there’s a protest, a march, a procession, a festival or a celebration of any sort then its here that you’ll find it.  When we were there there was always a band or dancers in the plaza and the area is always filled with street vendors selling anything from cross shaped breads to popcorn.  It really is a wonderful place to people watch and see the local La Paz people going about their day. 

La Paz walking tour
La Paz walking tour
 Visit the Witches Market

 Bolivia is still a very spiritual country and even though the majority of the country converted to catholosism their devotion to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) is still very much in existence.  Offereings and rituals are still performed by the local Shaman and its here they’ll come to find the ingredients for the particular ritual they are performing.  All sorts of concoctions can be found in the witches market including llama foetuses of all sizes which feature heavily in rituals especially when blessing new buildings.  Herbs of all varieties and ceramic offering bowls are piled high on wooden shelves and the little old ladies inside are only too happy to sell you their wares.  One note of caution though.  Be careful when taking pictures as these ladies have strong spiritual beliefs and they believe that if someone takes a picture then a part of their spirit leaves with the picture, so tred carefully. 

Take a walking tour 

Most cities nowadays have walking tours for tourists and La Paz is no exception. We chose Red Cap free walking tours and I must say it was amazing.  Daniel our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the city, its past and its current culture and he gave a very insightful tour with plenty of information on the different areas of La Paz, the indigenous people and their dress and touched on the current political situation in Bolivia.  All in all this was one of the best free walking tours we’ve done in South America and of course, its not truly free, there is a tip expected the end. 

Plaza Murillo La Paz
Plaza Murillo La Paz
Visit the Artisan Market 

Very close to the witches market you’ll find the artisan market selling everything alpaca and more.  The market is made up of 2 parallel streets with loads and loads of shops.  Here there is a mix of high quality alpaca stores selling sweaters, hats, gloves etc and the more cheesy tourist type shops selling “I love La Paz” t-shirts.  They’re all very colourful and great to wander in and out of the different stores.  

Explore the history of Plaza Murillo 

This plaza is where you’ll find the current government buildings of La Paz as well as the Cathedral and the grand Hotel du Paris.  The president has his government offices here and his official residence.  If you take the walking tour then you’ll find out the history of the square and the stories of all the buildings that surround the Plaza.  Some tragic and some more joyful but all incredibly interesting.  In the centre of the square there is a statue of Pedro Domingo Murillo who was a forerunner to Bolivia’s independence and was hung in the square after declaring a mutiny against the Spanish rule.

Presidents House La Paz
Presidents House La Paz
Take a stroll in the cemetery

La Paz has an amazing cemetery and if you travel on the red line of the teleferico then you will see how vast the cemetery is.  As in most Latin American cemeteries, bodies are buried in the traditional Western way or placed in a crypt. However after 10 years, they are disinterred and cremated. After cremation, families purchase or rent glass-fronted spaces in the cemetery walls for the ashes, affix name plates and place photographs or moments behind the glass wall of the space. 

Each wall, within the cemetery has hundreds of these doors, and some of the walls have expanded upward to such an extent that they resemble three- or four-story apartment blocks. As a result the cemetery is busy place with people visiting their dead relatives.  As well as the glass fronted graves there are massive mausoleums where families are buried and its an interesting way to spend a few hours.  On November 2, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), half the city turns out to honor their ancestors.

Learn about the dark history of the San Pedro area

The San Pedro area and in particular the Plaza de San Pedro is an extremely interesting area of the city as not only does the leafy square hold some interesting buildings, including a pretty little church, it is also home, on one side, to the notorious San Pedro Prison.   This establishment is famous world wide as its a prison completely run by inmates. Inmates have families living in there with them and there is a community of businesses such as shops and restaurants run within the prison walls.   In years gone by there used to be prison tours where tourists could visit the prison inside but these have since been abandoned after someone was hurt.  Our walking tour guide had more stories about the prison and its histories.  

Visit the archeological site of Tiwanaku

About an hour and a half outside the city lies the archeological site of Tiwanaku.  Tiwanaku or Tiahuanacu is a ruined ancient pre-incan city founded by the Tiahuanacota culture perhaps around 200 BCE although it could be a lot older.  The age is constantly being debated and changed as new evidence emerges. As with most ancient sites, the name the inhabitants knew the city as, has been lost to history.

The site sits close to the shores of Lake Titicaca although you cannot actually see the body of water from Tiwanaku.  It’s about 70km from La Paz.  Most of the city was made of mud brick and has been lost under the modern town.  What remains is believed to have been the monumental ceremonial buildings.  The site has been protected by UNESCO since the year 2000.  You can read more about our visit here on our Tiwanaku blog post

Tiwanaku archeological site
Tiwanaku archeological site
Food and drink in Bolivia La Paz

As with the city as a whole we were quite surprised with the amount of restaurants and bars in La Paz.  Although it doesnt have the influences of Starbucks and KFC it does have a surprising amount of good restaurants ranging from typical Bolivian food to more world wide fayre.  A few that we would definitely recommend are.  The Curry House – great curry and a welcoming atmosphere and fairly reasonable prices.  We visited a few times.   The Writers Coffee shop is a lovely place to grab a cappuccino and a slice of cake or quiche and is quite close to Plaza Murillo.  Another popular restaurant and one that served some good local food was Yati.  A comfortable bar and restaurant with an extensive menu with something for everyone.   

There is also a great street food scene in La Paz and in the main plazas you will find empanadas and other fried savoury dishes and in particular Plaza San Francisco has the famous Papas Rellenos, fried mashed potatoes filled with meat.  When we were there Netflix were filming these for an upcoming show. 

Our view of Bolivia La Paz

I think its fair to say we were pleasantly surprised with La Paz.  On the surface it appeared a dark and dingy city but truly it was lovely.  The cable car system let you explore from above and walking through the city to the various parts was easy and felt fairly safe.  It has an interesting history and the people were lovely. I’m glad we had this city on our agenda and we really enjoyed our week here. 

Booking resources for your stay in La Paz

Flights

You can compare cheap flights on the Expedia platform or here on the Aviasales website.  Both will give you a good idea of how much its going to cost you to get to your chosen destination.

Accommodation

We have always tended to use Booking.com having said that if your on a tight budget another good site to try as a comparison is Hostelworld, If your looking to compare different sites you can do that on Hotellook, we tend to look on here first to make sure we are getting the best deal.

Tours & Tickets

You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site.  Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.

For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.

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