Bolivia’s de facto capital is a breathtaking combination of ancient cultures, urban chaos, wild nightlife, stunning scenery, and fascinating history. Situated in a canyon whose striking backdrop of snow-capped peaks contrasts sharply with the metal-roofed abodes that scale in a ramshackle fashion up the steep inclines of the valley slopes, La Paz is a wonder of sights and sounds. It is Bolivia’s third most populous city and the highest seat of government in the world at 3,650m.a.s.l. La Paz is famous for its indigenous Aymara culture and the native language Quechua, both of which are a source of immense pride for Bolivia and something that is celebrated here more than perhaps any other nation in South America. La Paz is surrounded by the Bolivian high plain or altiplano, and as such a visit to the city can make for a challenging experience, given the adjustment necessary to be able to be comfortable with the altitude. The three snow-capped peaks of the Illimani mountain dominate the horizon at every turn, and the city winds up and down over the hills that characterize it. There is what feels like a profound lack of order in La Paz, with shoe-shiners, street vendors, food stalls and market kiosks bustling against illogical traffic jams and curious retail outlets. As chaotic as it may be, there is a certain charm to La Paz’s frenzy, which is undoubtedly in a league of its own.
There is no end to the wealth of activities to do in and around La Paz. Biking the chillingly titled Death Road is a must-do for many visitors who wish to experience the adrenaline rush of careening down a steep and narrow path on a mountain bike. For a slightly less anxiety-inducing experience, head to the Valle de la Luna, or Moon Valley, a maze of sandstone and clay vertical formations that will make you feel like you have been transported to the surface of another planet. Take the cable car up to the sprawling mass of El Alto, another city located at the top of La Paz’s canyon and the second biggest city in the country, although often overlooked in favor of its lower neighbor. A free walking tour will educate you on the history and culture of this fascinating city, or wander around the bohemian Sopocachi neighborhood, where you will find modern architecture sitting alongside buildings dating back to the 19th century. This is also a favorite haunt of night owls, who like to hit the bars and nightclubs that proliferate in this area. Whatever your poison, La Paz has something to please everyone, and it is definitely somewhere you won’t forget in a hurry.
Your adventure in La Paz begins at the Mirador Jacha Kollo where you’ll have a scenic lookout over the city of La Paz. After the breathtaking views and fresh air, you’ll head down into the city to a bazaar area visiting Los Andes where many tailors produce beautiful typical Paceña dancing costumes for local festivities. Later visiting the Black Market to experience La Paz from a street level, finding a plethora of things you’ve most likely never seen before. This is where the locals do their shopping, where you will find the famous cultural skirts and hats worn by women in La Paz, colorful weaving throw overs they carry their children in, and the meat and fish they eat, it’s all there! Moving on we visit the Lanza market, where you’ll have the opportunity to try some typical breakfast dishes such as Api con pastel, a typical drink of the Andean locals who live in the highlands, made by purple and yellow corn, sugar, and cinnamon. Next visit is the Indian Witches Market, where you can meet with a Bolivian shaman as they take a peek into your future with a coca leaf reading…make sure to negotiate the price for that before you pay! You can also buy all kind of ritual items to offer the “Pacha Mama” (Mother Earth) in the days to come. We end our street life tour at the oldest alley in La Paz visiting a musical instruments museum, where you can pick up some Andean wind instruments like pan flutes, quenas, and the famous little guitar called the “Charango.”
You will transfer to Copacabana for a short visit to the Cathedral and Main Square, before boarding a catamaran to sail for Sun Island. Here you will visit the Inca Staircase, the sacred fountain and the opportunity to taste the sacred water believed to give eternal youth & happiness. Other attractions include the Ekako Underground Museum, the Titikaka Reed Shipbuilders display centers, the Pachamama agricultural Inca terraces, a handicraft center and the Intica lounge. Also, atthe Inti Wata Complex at you will have a unique sailing experience aboard a huge Titikaka traditional vessel for a panoramic visit to the Pilkokaina Inca Palace. You will then cruise back to Copacabana to overland to La Paz city, a buffet lunch will be provided for on the catamaran.
Early land transfer to Titicaca Lake, board the Catamaran Cruise Ship, breakfast is served while sailing to Sun Island, the birthplace of the Inca Empire. On this legendary island, you can visit the Gardens, Stairs and Fountain of the Inca, as well as the Inti Wata Cultural Complex, one of the largest private tourist attraction of Bolivia that includes the underground museum of Ekako, the traditional medicine, and the Titicaca Reed Shipbuilders display centers. The Pachamama agricultural Inca terraces, a handicraft center, the Inticas lounge at the Manco Kapac look out the larges variety of Andean camelids. Also, visit the Inti Wata Complex at Sun Island and a unique sailing experience aboard on a huge Titicaca Traditional vessel, for a panoramic visit to the Pikokaina’s Inca Palace. Board the Catamaran Cruise Ship to the Sanctuary of Copacabana while enjoying a lunch buffet. In Copacabana, you get on a bus to be land transferred to Puno.
Tiwanaku was the capital of an ancient civilization that rose around 700 B.C. located 72 km away from the city of La Paz and near the south-eastern shores of Lake Titicaca. During its most significant times, Tiwanaku was the largest in the world and considered to be the cradle of all American civilizations. This pre-Inca ruins started endless archaeological debates, the most recent radiocarbon 14 tests show that these edifications date back to 1580 B.C. In this breathtaking ancient city, we will visit the Kalasasaya (Sun) temple, Semi underground (Earth) Temple, Akapana Pyramid, and the legendary Sun Gate. The tour also takes us to an impressive museum filled with ancient objects and tools that stand as proof of just how advanced this civilization was.
This section is a quick overview to help in planning your trip to La Paz.
Though La Paz can be visited all year round, and have average annual temperatures of between 35 and 65F, we recommend visiting the world’s highest capital between April and October, when it is driest. Because of its altitude, the temperature in La Paz drops sharply in the evenings all year round, and because of its rustic nature, many buildings do not have heating after dark, so can be bitterly cold. However, this is not usually the case in tourist accommodation, but even so, the biting cold at night can be unpleasant for some, especially in summer, when it is also wet. The summers are rainy and the winters are dry, and although there is often sun for much of the day, the nights are chilly all year round. December to March are the wettest months, while the months between May and August are the driest, in particular June and July.
A visit to La Paz is an adventure in itself, given the hilly nature of the city and its elevation at nearly 4,000m.a.s.l. This can make navigating the city tricky, as the altitude makes many visitors who are not accustomed to it sleepy, lacking in energy and sometimes dizzy. Being at such a high altitude can put you out of breath even after the shortest walk, so take this opportunity to settle into a relaxed rhythm, taking in the city at a slower pace than other tourist destinations. The best way to see the city is on foot, as public transport can be difficult to use. The local international airport is located in El Alto at the top of the hills surrounding La Paz, about 30 minutes away. Taxis are a reliable and safe way to get around La Paz, and the best way to get from the bus station, another typical way of reaching La Paz from other destinations in Bolivia, into the city centre.
La Paz has accommodation to suit everyone, whether you are looking for an intimate B&B, boutique hotel or luxury 5-star lodgings. Walking around the city you will discover its myriad sights and sounds, not least the fascinating markets and artisanal shops that sell lots of woollen good made from the coats of alpaca and llama. Stop by the famous Witches Market and see the eerie dolls and collections of dead animals on display. Despite what you may have heard, the food in La Paz is anything but one-dimensional, and you can eat in a number of restaurants that cater to tourists seeking a taste of home. For the more adventurous, try one of the local dishes, such as a salteña, a type of pie filled with meat and potato, or some of the impossibly cheap plates of the day, which usually consist of chicken, rice and salad. Head to the colourful Mercado Lanza and the Mercado Rodriguez to try some juices and smoothies, and shop til you drop in the Plaza San Francisco area.
Contrary to what you may have heard (bland, meat-centric, unhygienic), food in Bolivia is both varied and satisfying. La Paz offers up a wonderful selection of dining options where travelers can not only sample the local cuisine, but satisfy their cravings at a number of international, vegetarian and fine dining restaurants. And one needn’t worry about the food budget whilst in La Paz; it’s often just as cheap to eat out as it is to cook at home.