When you think of Bolivia, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Cocaine? Uyuni Salt Flats? The Amazon?
True, Bolivia is pretty well known for all of these things, but it’s largest city, La Paz, the highest altitude capital in the world, is actually one of the coolest places you can go in South America.
And although it actually only plays home to around 2 million people in total, you’d swear it was more populated than Rio or Mexico City simply but looking at it from one of the many observation points around town.
You see, La Paz is split into 2 sections:
There are those that live in the original city built at the bottom of the valley, and those who live on the plateau on the outer rim, El Alto.
But wherever you go, and contrary to so many dodgy tour guides, you’ll get a feeling of warmth, smiles, and general helpfulness from the locals.
1. You absolutely MUST take a tour down Death Road
Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or you prefer to keep it safe, you MUST build up the courage to hop on a tour down Death Road.
Named so by The Inter-American Development Bank to reflect the hundreds of people who have died driving off the cliff over the decades, the road is now most commonly used by the number of tour companies who offer full-day experiences from the top to the bottom, winding around sheer cliffs at up to 60km/hour if you so dare.
There are a wide range of companies that offer this tour, but there are only a few that are trusted by the wider tourist community.
With prices varying from USD$25 up to USD$75 depending on the company and bike you go with, its highly recommended to err on the side of caution and book with a reputable company like Gravity Assist of Barracuda who have the best bikes and biggest workshops in South America to make sure you get home safe.
At the end of it, you’ll be presented with a ‘I survived Death Road shirt’, and you’ll march proudly back into La Paz having completed it’s coolest experience on offer.
All companies provide all transfers, hot showers, protective gear, bikes, a free shirt, DVD, and food.
Just go with your gut when making your choice.
2. Cholita Wrestling is only fun when you add alcohol
If you read the lonely planet guide, you’ll be advised to book a ticket to Cholita Wrestling.
It looks like a whole bunch of fun, right? After all, who wouldn’t want to see a bunch of ladies beating each other up?
Unfortunately, the whole experience was a little tiresome to say the least.
Although it will only set you back about USD$12 for a ticket that includes transfers, snacks, and a souvenir, it’s the general quality of the product that will have you looking around at your mates wondering who’s turn it is to buy the beers.
The bus transfer is tediously slow, where if you’re unluky enough to be the first on the bus, you’ll wait a good hour and a half while the driver picks the whole town up on the way.
And when you eventually arrive, you’ll realize that this traditional blood sport has been watered down to a very amateurish, local recreation center-hosted, D-grade WWE battle where the script is the same for each fight:
Fat, older lady initially has the upper hand against the younger agile lady, but then the underdog eventually gains her confidence and overcomes her hardships to win, whilst all along the referee was comically jumping out the way and waving his finger.
To be frank, I guess it’s something you need to do whilst in La Paz. But don’t come with high expectations and don’t forget the beers to lighten the mood a little.
3. For the best view of the city, hop on the yellow cable car
For a city that doesn’t seem to have had any public investment for decades, there is one piece of infrastructure that puts most of the rest of the world to shame:
The cable cars.
Connecting the city below with the upper plateau, these state-of-the-art cars and terminals are both super cheap (USD$0.20 a ride), super quiet, and extremely convenient when trying to beat the traffic, get the best view of the city, or simply get from one city to the next.
The yellow cable car will give you the best views, whilst the green will take you to a modern part of town you would swear was a suburb in the USA.
4. Street food here is top notch and super cheap
What you’ll quickly realize about La Paz is that every consumer good has its own street. There is a street full of stores for fruit, one for sewing equipment, one for wall plaster, one for car parts, fake football shirts, hairdressers, tour guides, alcohol, and so on.
But everywhere you will find street food vendors. You wont find a supermarket in this city, but you will find top notch snacks, fruit juices, and meat/rice dishes for less than it would cost to get on the bus.
5. The walking tour will be the best you’ve ever taken
The Red Cap tour, which starts outside the San Pedro Prison in the middle of the city (read the book ‘Marching Powder’) daily at 11am and 3pm, is an absolute must if you want an informed intro to this bustling, vibrant city.
You’ll learn of the history of the Prison, the culture of protests, the plight of Presidents, the best places to find food, the culture of the Cholita, and the history of the witch’s markets.
Before you know it, you’ll be considering buying yourself a Llama fetus for good luck.
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- Have you ever been to La Paz?
- What’s the number one thing you want to do in Bolivia?