La Paz has been described as a city unlike any other, and the second you get a glimpse of it you’ll understand why. It basically defies logic, with hundreds of thousands of tiny homes built into the side of the huge mountains right in the middle of the city. Frankly, it’s not hard to find a place with a great view! Once you finish ooing and ahing over the panoramic wonder, you can focus on the meat and potatoes of the city: the bustling core, incredible scenery and the traditions dating back centuries that are still alive and well.
Most people end up in La Paz because of business, or en route to another Bolivian destination like the stunning Uyuni salt flats. However, this city is worth at least a day of your vacation time, so you can explore the following areas:
The Witches’ Market (or Mercado de las Brujas) is one of the best known landmarks in all of La Paz, and is a must-see for anyone heading to the city. Located a few blocks from the Rosario neighbourhood and up the hill from Plaza San Francisco (which hosts a beautiful old cathedral), you’ll see rows and rows of tiny stalls packed together—virtually all of them selling the same items.
The first thing you’ll likely notice is all of the brightly coloured potions lining the shelves, offering to cure everything from headaches to infertility, or cast a spell on your lover (anyone else have that Witch Doctor song in their head now?). There is a dazzling array to choose from, so if you’re looking for relief from say, food poisoning, it’s best to ask the witch for help. Of course, you don’t need to buy anything to visit the market, but it would sure make a great story to say you were cured by a real life witch! Now for the part that animal lovers will hate: the dead baby llamas hanging from strings.
Yes, you read that right, dead baby llamas. Allow me to explain. Many llama pregnancies end in miscarriages or still births, and in Bolivia llama fetuses are considered a sacred item. So, whenever someone buys a new home they bury a llama fetus under the foundation, which is thought to bring good luck and fortune. To be honest, the sight of all those dead baby animals is a bit off-putting, but now that you know the story behind it it’s not so bad, right? Right?!
Far away from bustling downtown La Paz, the houses get bigger, the mountains are larger, and everything is a bit more lovely. It goes without saying that this is where the richy-riches live. La Paz’s finest were smart enough to put down roots surrounded by some incredible landscapes: think the red rocks of Sedona but smack dab in the middle of a city. The highlight of it all is something everyone can enjoy: Valle de la Luna, or Moon Valley.
Moon Valley is a massive expanse of sandstone monoliths, that were shaped into craggy, space-like mountains by the dry winds. It is truly a bizarre, yet beautiful sight and is a photographer’s dream come true. Inconspicuous staircases and trails have been carved out so visitors can walk through the site, but even the railings might not be enough to keep you from falling deep into a cavern if you happened to slip!
There are two paths through Moon Valley: one that takes about 20 minutes, and one that’s about 45. We opted for the 45 minute version, yet even though we stopped for pictures many, many times, we still finished the whole loop in less than half an hour. I would definitely recommend that route, as the ’20 minute’ version is way too short. Also be sure to dress for warm weather, as Moon Valley is much hotter than downtown La Paz, even though it’s only about seven kilometers away. Admission is about $2 for tourists.
Now for one of my favourite parts of La Paz: the dancing zebras! You’ll notice while wandering through the busy streets that not only is traffic a loud, crazy nightmare, but it’s also pretty scary to try and cross the road as a pedestrian. The solution the city has come up with is to start the traffic zebra program, which sees youths dress up in costume and head to the most congested intersections. Every time the light turns red, they jump in front of the cars to make sure they don’t run the light, then help pedestrians cross the road. Not only are they cute to look at, but they’re also quite jovial, can often be seen dancing, and are more than happy to stop and pose for a picture. Watch them in action below!
Currency: Bolivianos (BOB), but U.S. dollars are also accepted in some places.
Getting there: La Paz is Bolivia’s hub, and a popular way to get there is to fly into El Alto International Airport, which is located just outside the city. Be wary though, as El Alto itself is a tad dodgy, so you’ll likely want to head straight into the city after landing.
Getting around: Taxis are very cheap, and you’d be wise to simply hire one to get around instead of trying to brave public transit. Keep in mind there can be some safety issues, so it might be better to get your hotel to call one for you.
Where to stay: The Stannum Boutique Hotel downtown is a fantastic choice, offering huge, modern rooms, incredible service, free wi-fi and breakfast. Oh, and some of the best views in the city. It’s also attached to a mall with a movie theatre and food court. Keep in mind it’s about a 45 minute walk from tourist areas like the Witch’s Market, but you can also get there easily by cab.
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