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.
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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.
This section is a quick overview to help in planning your trip to La Paz.