Lisa Owen

At over 11,000 ft above sea level, La Paz is the highest capital city in the world. But the Bolivian capital is not all about the altitude.

Cable Car View

Before you head off to explore further afield in Bolivia, take some time to acclimatise to the altitude by touring the city that is like no other.

Altitude sickness is a real threat arriving in La Paz (the airport is even higher at 13,000 ft) so it pays to take it easy. All the hills in La Paz will remind you about the lack of oxygen in the air as you huff and puff your way around the city.

La Paz is a heady mix of colors, culture, traffic jams and dizzying switchbacks that will literally leave you breathless! Here’s my list of five things to see and do in La Paz.

cable car la paz

1. Take a scenic ride on the cable car

The Mi Telerifico (cable car) is one of the best ways to see La Paz as you glide over the city’s canyons – especially as you’re getting used to the altitude.

Due to the rivers underneath the valley that La Paz sits in, an underground metro system was not possible. So it went above the city.

There’s currently five El Telerifico routes spanning across La Paz, with plans for more in the future. Locals use it as a public transport system to get around the city and avoid the notorious traffic jams, but it’s a tourist attraction in its own right.

At 13,000 ft above sea level and a 6.2 miles combined length, it’s one of the highest and longest aerial cable car systems in the world.

A ride on the Telerifico costs 3 Bolivianos (~$0.43 USD) for each line. Lines are color coded, so each time you change color, you need to pay another 3 Bolivianos.

The red and orange lines were my favorite as they took you over the yawning mouth of the canyon that La Paz sits in, with 360 degree views and some pretty steep ascents and descents.

Witches Market bolivia

2. Browse the Witches’ Market

A few streets behind the landmark San Francisco Church is La Paz’s famous Witches’ Markets (Mercado de Hechiceria).

The markets stalls span a street (fortunately it’s flat) amid artesian stores. Each stall sells an array of items that Bolivians typically use to offer blessings, as well as herbal remedies.

3. Learn about La Paz’s history and culture on a walking tour

A great way to see La Paz and also learn about the history and culture of this unique town is on a walking tour.

I did a two hour walking tour with a guide from Hanaq Pacha Travel for ~$3, and learnt a great deal of interesting facts about the city and its people.

Church Walking Tour la paz

The walking tour runs twice daily at 10am and 3pm starting outside the San Francisco Church.

Tour stops include the Witches’ Market, San Pedro Prison, local markets and the clock that runs backwards.

4. Sample Bolivian food

There’s lots of tasty meals and snacks to try while walking around La Paz.

Keep an eye out for salteñas during the morning. These are empanada like pastry parcels filled with chicken or mince and mixed with spices. They are very similar to a meat pie but with sweeter pastry.

When lunch or dinner rolls around, why not try a typical Bolivian dish such as pique a lo macho, silpancho or charque de llama.

Pique a lo macho is made up of small pieces of typically beef, sausage, onion, capsicum and fries, and topped with mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup; while Silpancho is a dish containing rice and boiled potatoes and a meat patty, and then topped with an egg and tomato salsa.

Charque de llama is made up of shredded dried llama meat served with corn, boiled eggs and cheese.

Calle Jaen la paz

5. Wander down the oldest street

Calle Jaen is La Paz’s oldest street and while only short, the restored cobblestoned street is worth a look. The street houses several museums including the Precious Metals Museum, as well as several artesian stores and restaurants. There are also rumors that the street is haunted.

Things You Should Know

  • Be alert, not alarmed. When out and about in La Paz, take as little as possible with you. Only take the cash you need and a copy of your passport. If you’re carrying a camera, make sure it’s inside a bag or secure pocket when you’re not using it. Be cautious at night by staying in well-lit areas and try not to go alone. Ask your accommodation about any scams such as fake police officers.
  • When traveling on local buses in Bolivia, keep any valuables on your lap and not under your seat or in the overhead racks.
  • The local currency is the Boliviano. Bolivia is a cash economy and small notes or coins are best as change can be hard to find. Some tour agencies may offer credit card payment, but this may attract a fee and cash is preferred.
  • You’ll need a basic knowledge of Spanish to travel through Bolivia as hardly anyone speaks English.
  • Public toilets can be found easily (look for the word Bano) and usually costs 1 Boliviano. You’ll be also provided with toilet paper as you walk in the door. Always carry hand sanitiser with you as soap is rare.
  • Be aware of symptoms of altitude sickness. It’s not advisable to arrive into La Paz from sea level and it’s best to come from a lower altitude to reduce your risk of altitude sickness. See your travel doctor before you leave on your trip if you’re concerned about altitude sickness.
  • You can use La Paz as a base to explore the surrounding region. Tours to mountain bike down the infamous Death Road and ventures into the nearby mountains can be easily arranged from La Paz.

 

Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has traveled to more than 70 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @thelittleadventurer. Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.