La Paz is the crown jewel of Bolivia: the highest administrative capital city in the world and a sky-grazing metropolis that fuses traditional Bolivian culture with modern technology.
Although Sucre is the constitutional capital of Bolivia, La Paz is where all of the governmental power lies, making this city of 800,000 residents one of the most important locations in all of Bolivia. What’s more, it’s also bursting with culture, incredible shopping, unique tourist experiences, and tons of great food. You’ll be spoiled for choice in this fabulous sky-high city!
Here’s how to spend a memorable weekend in La Paz.
Ride The Telefericos
The best way to see La Paz is from above, and the local Mi Teleferico cars make that a breeze. This color-coded system does double duty as a method of transportation and a tourist attraction. It’s also the best way to get to El Alto, a community situated on La Paz’s outer rim. Since La Paz is built in a bowl shape, it can be time-consuming and nerve-wracking to navigate the winding roads to the upper levels.
You can explore the Telefericos on your own, but you will need to know some basic Spanish. Also, the lines don’t all connect with each other and can be confusing. A better option is to join a tour that gives you access to all of the lines. In addition to seeing La Paz in its full glory, you’ll also have a fabulous view of Huayna Potosi, the 3.78-mile-high mountain that towers over the city.
Experience Cholitas Wrestling
One of the most unique experiences you’ll have in La Paz is seeing local women dressed in traditional costumes battle it out in the wrestling ring. Cholitas Wrestling is truly an experience that you won’t soon forget, and you can watch these mighty women throw down every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.
The show is located in El Alto, the upper ring of La Paz, and you can get there using the red Teleferico Line. Since the show ends in the evening, most people prefer to join a tour that will pick them up at their hotel and drop them off safely when the event is over.
Although the female wrestlers use the term cholita proudly, it’s important to remember that chola is a charged and somewhat offensive word. Enjoy the show and cheer on your favorites, but refrain from using that particular word in conversation while in La Paz.
Marvel At The Valle De La Luna
La Paz’s Valle de la Luna is a spectacular getaway right outside of the city. If you love hiking, nature, and want to soak in a landscape that you’re not likely to see anywhere else, the Valle de la Luna was made for you. The name of the landmark is Spanish for “Valley of the Moon” and references its atypical spiral rock formations. There are plenty of different hikes in the valley, so you can easily choose one that suits you.
You can visit the valley on your own by taking a minibus from Plaza Humboldt or by taking a taxi from downtown La Paz. The landmark is roughly 30 minutes away from the city, although the traffic snarls in La Paz’s downtown area could prolong the journey. To get back, you’ll have to wait at the entrance of the valley and flag down a minibus headed toward the center of La Paz. Often these buses fill up quickly, so you might have to flag down a few of them to get a seat.
Alternatively, you could book a tour from La Paz. If your Spanish is rusty or if you’re worried about the logistics of getting to the Valle de la Luna, a tour is a safe and less stressful bet.
Take A Walking Tour
Walking tours are a popular, inexpensive, and fun way to see La Paz. Red Cap Tours is a reputable agency that conducts walking, culinary, and adventure tours regularly. You can meet up with a walking tour in the Plaza San Pedro at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m., and you can either pay when you arrive or book in advance online. There’s generally plenty of space, so reservations aren’t required. Plan to spend a few hours on the basic walking tour and up to a full day on some of the other options. Most tour guides are bilingual and can give you insider insight into La Paz. Tips are appreciated.
Eating In La Paz
For a long time, La Paz’s food scene was underappreciated on a global scale, but that’s rapidly changing. People are starting to discover the country’s delectable fusion of old-style cooking and local ingredients, and now Bolivia is on the cusp of a culinary revolution.
Here are some of the best places and dishes to eat in La Paz. We hope you’re hungry!
Gustu is arguably the best restaurant in La Paz. Here, the preparation of humble local ingredients is elevated to a fine art form. If you want to experience the very best of Bolivian cuisine, try out its tasting menu. With local delicacies like savory llama meat and Amazonian potatoes, Gustu’s tasting menu is an overview of Bolivia in culinary form. Although it’s more expensive than other options in the city, the food is well worth the cost.
Don’t leave La Paz without trying this crispy, savory, addictive treat! Chicharron is perfectly fried pork belly seasoned with garlic, herbs, and lemon or lime juice. The recipe varies from restaurant to restaurant, but the incredible flavor delivered by these crisp nuggets can’t be overestimated.
Menu Del Dia
The menu del dia, or menu of the day, isn’t a specific dish. It’s a special combination of food that you can only get at lunchtime, usually consisting of a soup or salad, main dish, and a drink. You can also get a dessert. As the name suggests, the menu del dia changes daily, so even if you eat at the same restaurant every day, you’ll still be treated to a wide spectrum of Bolivian cuisine. The menu del dia is not an entirely Bolivian invention: You can find deals like this all over South America. Still, it’s a cost-effective way to fill up on yummy food for much less than you’d pay a la carte.
Peru is most famous for its chicha morada, or purple corn drink, but you can find it all over La Paz as well. Don’t let the idea of drinking corn put you off: Chicha morada is made with sweet corn and lightly spiced, making it a refreshing alternative to iced coffee or soda on a hot day. You’ll often be offered chicha morada as part of menu del dia packages.
Shopping In La Paz
La Paz is full of markets and specialty shops, and you can find quality leather products, handmade alpaca sweaters, and unique trinkets and souvenirs to bring back home. If you love bargain hunting and unearthing local treasures, La Paz’s markets will appeal to you.
Mercado De Las Brujas
The Mercado de las Brujas, or the Witches’ Market, is located in the center of La Paz’s tourist district and is easily the most popular place to shop. You can buy all manner of potions and herbs here, as well as more traditional souvenirs like alpaca sweaters and gorgeous leather.
Check to make sure your alpaca sweater is the real thing by turning it over and inspecting the stitching. Handmade sweaters have a distinctive stitching pattern and sometimes errant threads on the inside. Alpaca is also cooler to the touch than synthetic materials.
If you decide to dabble in the Andean medicine offered in the market, try some agua de Florida on for size. It comes in tiny bottles and is excellent for clearing the sinuses.
You’ll also see dried llama and alpaca fetuses at the market, since they’re used for home protection spells.
Mercado 16 De Julio
The Mercado 16 de Julio is a vast market that’s open on Thursdays and Sundays. You won’t find any alpaca sweaters or llama-themed art here! The Mercado 16 de Julio is a local market, and it’s full of one-of-a-kind fashion items, car parts, domestic animals, toys, home decor, and more authentic Bolivian food than you can imagine.
Prepare to spend the better part of a day in the Mercado 16 de Julio. Although there is a method to the madness, the market is tough to navigate and can be overwhelming. Intrepid shoppers will be able to uncover bargains. Look for delicately embroidered shawls and dresses. If you walk just a little off the beaten path, you can have your coca leaves read by one of La Paz’s seasoned fortune-tellers.
Mercado 16 de Julio is located in El Alto and is sometimes referred to as the El Alto Market. To get there, take the red Teleferico line to the end. The market is just a few steps away from the Teleferico station. You can also take the dark blue Teleferico line to check out the market from above.
La Paz is a bright and dazzling city, a unique place where old and new worlds collide. Put this Bolivian metropolis on your bucket list!
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