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La Paz, Bolivia - One Of My Favourite Cities In South America

Bolivia experiences and stories by a backpacker - Apr/Aug/Oct 2008 May 2009 Oct 2011 Jun 2012 Sep 2015   » View Photoset (206 Photos)

La Paz, what an amazing place it is! I have been in and out of La Paz about 4 times in 2008/2009 entering and exiting from and to different places and stayed here for 6 weeks in 2011. I have spent well over 2 months here all together. In my mind I call La Paz the mad house, it is like sensory overload on steroids. The first time in La Paz for me was the most South American of cities I had visited. It has everything you would want and expect like markets, street vendors, indigenous people and culture, cheap shopping and crazy chaotic street action. La Paz is edgy, weird, fun and loco. I have stayed in accommodation here ranging from party hostels to a private room in a budget hotel. I have had some great experiences here and met many travelers and made some good friends in the hostels. It is impossible to be in La Paz long without noticing how walking up hill leaves you breathless, even a short distance uphill has a big effect. The altitude is 3660 meters. La Paz is shaped like a bowl, in a chasm nearly 5km from rim to rim. To help overcome the effects of altitude, locals chew coca leaves and travelers drink lots of coca tea. There are a variety of medications available from pharmacies for altitude sickness, but I wouldn't take any of these unless you are in a really bad way. The best way to combat the altitude is to gradually make your way up here over the period of a couple of days. Don't drink too much alcohol because it has twice the effect as normal, drink coca tea or chew the leaves, take it easy and walk slowly. So if you took a walk around La Paz, what would you see? Musicians, donuts, markets, taxis, chocolate and sweet stalls, sunglasses, shoe shine boys, cuddly toys, people marching in protest, woman wearing colorful and traditional clothing and hats, freshly squeezed fruit juice, clothing and accessories, police, churches, statues and that is just the tip of the iceburg. La Paz has some great markets including Mercado Negro, there is clothing and shoes for sale everywhere. A pair of good jeans cost me about $10USD, a pair of good sneakers are about $20-$40USD. In this and other markets whole streets are dedicated to one product, for example a whole street that sells only bananas or a street with only sports equipment. Leave some room in your backpack to fill it up with some nice 'n' cheap goodies from La Paz. One of the popular magnets for travelers and tourists in La Paz is the witches market which is just down from the Hard Rock Cafe near Santa Cruz de la Sierra street. Here you will see witchy things like dried frogs, llama fetuses, secret health potions, coca leaves, insense, ceramic witches and beautiful little glass bottles with colorful things inside them. These are used to bring your family good luck and well being. On the rest of the street in the witches market area are shops designed to extract money from the tourist, the products are beautiful but they are much more expensive than if you just walked around the markets and found them. There are some nice music shops in the street, at least 5 selling wooden pipes, whistles, nice acoustic guitars (don't buy guitars made from Armadillos) and percussion. Make sure that you bargain the prices down when buying things like hammocks and the nice colorful Bolivian clothing that they have here. You can buy bags, tablecloths, drink bottle shoulder slings, gloves, hats, wall hangings, finger puppets, postcards and souvenirs. There is a cool shop that sells different types of Bolivian masks called Mama Coca. On the main street of the witches market is the coca museum Museo De La Coca where there is a lot of information about the history of the Andes and coca. You receive a guidebook when you go in and follow the numbers corresponding to the informational boards on the walls, its interesting. Upstairs they sell drinks with coca including coca tea and coca coffee, there is also coca cookies, coca cinnamon rolls, coca cake and coca bread with salami and cheese. At the entrance to the museum is a big wooden press that used to be used for pressing the leaves. The witches market area is clean and well policed. Walk down the hill to the main drag, turn left past the cathedral and walk up through all the stalls and vendors up to the bridge for a nice view of the gardens below, the markets and the people and city around you. It pays to keep your camera hidden away until you want to use it. Don't take photos of the shoeshine boys, they don't like it. Some wear balaclavas to cover their faces, its social stigma. Protests are very common in La Paz. I have seen street marches with fireworks going off (huge bangs) everytime I have been here. I was in La Paz on May 1st and there was major celebrations all day for May Day - National Workers Day. There were also major protests at the same time, massive street marches with banners, signs and chanting. It was a great atmosphere and was very exciting to get into the middle of. There was a stage with music and speaking and thousands of Bolivian people all dressed up and having a great day. It is the most crowded I have ever seen the plaza areas. Walking around La Paz getting a little disorientated is part of the fun, you can never really get lost. If you are lost, head down the hill to the main street. Travel at night by taxi, bars are only licensed until 4am. I wouldn't advise going to certain afterhours clubs or bars and I wouldn't want to mention their names either. Watch out for pickpockets in markets, bars and on the street. Be careful of anyone who says the money you gave them is counterfeit when you know you just got it out of an ATM, this has been tried on me and after I said no and that I had got it from an ATM, they backed down and accepted it. I guess for them it was worth a try. On a brighter note I can recommend some restaurants - La Mia Pizza across and up the road a bit from the Hard Rock Cafe, they make a nice lasagne, pizza and falafel and have a free salad bar, the man here speaks good English. The other is called 100% Natural, it is just down the street from the witches market, they have nice soups, meals and cakes and have good service. I ate lunch a lot at Restaurant La Hacienda on Illampu Street, huge 4 course meals for around $5USD, fantastic and recommended. When I stayed here for 6 weeks in late 2011 I bought fruit, vegetables and meat most days from Mercado Rodriguez up from the witches market. I cooked it on my small hotplate in my hotel room. I have arrived into or left La Paz in various directions by bus or plane, they being Copacabana, Rurrenabaque, Santa Cruz, Uyuni, Cochabamba, Oruro, Desaguadero and Colombia (by plane). Domestic air-travel in Bolivia is quite cheap, there is a military airline owned by the government called Transportes Aereos Militares (TAM) which is a bit cheaper than the other airlines, they offer a civilian service. I have travelled with them twice. Have fun in La Paz!

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My Hostel & Hotel Reviews for La Paz, Bolivia:

Hostal Sleep, La Paz, Bolivia - Large Photo
Hostal Sleep, La Paz, Bolivia (Oct 2011 - 29 nights, September 2015 - 3 nights) - The best place I have ever stayed in La Paz, that's why I stayed for a month here in 2011. Room for 2 with bathroom and cable tv, $10USD per night, friendly staff at reception, the room was cleaned once or twice a week. We had a view over the street in the middle of the city. Recommended. The address is Calle Murillo 727 between Graneros and Santa Cruz. In 2015 I stayed here again but it wasn't quite the same as in 2011, maybe it was the room, I'm not sure, but it was still OK. Cheap, but not nasty!
Alsigal Hostal, La Paz, Bolivia - Large Photo
Alsigal Hostal, La Paz, Bolivia (September 2015 - 1 night) - Not a bad place to stay. I stayed in a double room which cost $140 Bolivianos ($20USD). The room had a private bathroom with hot water, cable tv and wifi. The wifi was very weak in my room though, maybe it is better in others. Located in the heart of La Paz in Calle Murillo near Plaza San Francisco. The curtains were way too thin and did nothing to keep the cold out or other peoples eyes. Not a dive, take it or leave it.
Residencial Urkupina, La Paz, Bolivia - Large Photo
Residencial Urkupina, La Paz, Bolivia (Oct 2011 - 1 night) - I stayed here 1 night and slept in the most horrible and uncomfortable bed I had ever slept in. In fact I didn't really sleep, I just waited for the morning so that I could leave. It was cheap but it was nasty. Not recommended.
Pachamama Residencial, La Paz, Bolivia - Large Photo
Pachamama Residencial, La Paz, Bolivia (Sept 2011 - 9 nights) - This was quite comfortable for the period that I stayed. It was little over-priced, that's why I seeked out something else. The room had bathroom and cable tv for $13USD per night. There was good views of the city. Located in the witches market area.
Alojamiento Las Brujas, La Paz, Bolivia - Large Photo
Alojamiento Las Brujas, La Paz, Bolivia (Sept 2011 - 1 night) - Was having work carried out while I stayed, was dusty and not very flash, pretty dingy really, no actually pretty horrible, it was cheap but after 1 night I left.
Hotel Fuentes, La Paz, Bolivia - Large Photo
Hotel Fuentes, La Paz, Bolivia (Oct 2008 - 1 night) - It was a nice place to stay in the witches market with a basic clean room and shared bathroom. The doorman didn't mind me wandering in and out all night, but he didn't allow me to bring my mates in. Recommended though.
Loki Backpackers La Paz, La Paz, Bolivia - Large Photo
Loki Backpackers La Paz, La Paz, Bolivia (Apr 2008 - 7 nights, Aug 2008 - 5 nights, Apr 2009 - 2 nights) - It was good, it suits a group of people more than it suits solo people. They have nice food you can order from the bar and great meals each night for everyone at great prices. It is a great place to meet people and to have a party!
Hostal Maya Inn, La Paz, Bolivia - Large Photo
Hostal Maya Inn, La Paz, Bolivia (May 2009 - 3 nights) - A great place to stay near the witches market, has restaurants, internet, money changer and laundry downstairs. Room has bathroom and tv. Good price.

Distances & times (if available) from La Paz (Bolivia) to:
 A : La Paz to Copacabana - Bolivia 47 kms 47 kms straight distance | 1hr 33mins 1hr 33mins by car (53 kms) | 1hr 51mins 1hr 51mins by bus (53 kms) (53 kms)
 B : La Paz to Desaguadero - Bolivia 94 kms 94 kms straight distance | 1hr 55mins 1hr 55mins by car (105 kms) | 2hrs 18mins 2hrs 18mins by bus (105 kms) (105 kms)
 C : Copacabana - Bolivia 110 kms 110 kms straight distance | 3hrs 40mins 3hrs 40mins by car (148 kms) | 4hrs 24mins 4hrs 24mins by bus (148 kms) (148 kms)
 D : Puno to Bolivian Border - Peru 108 kms 108 kms straight distance | 2hrs 43mins 2hrs 43mins by car (158 kms) | 3hrs 15mins 3hrs 15mins by bus (158 kms) (158 kms)
 E : Oruro - Bolivia 192 kms 192 kms straight distance | 2hrs 38mins 2hrs 38mins by car (218 kms) | 3hrs 9mins 3hrs 9mins by bus (218 kms) (218 kms)
 F : Puno / Juliaca - Peru 215 kms 215 kms straight distance | 4hrs 19mins 4hrs 19mins by car (255 kms) | 5hrs 10mins 5hrs 10mins by bus (255 kms) (255 kms)
 G : Cochabamba - Bolivia 226 kms 226 kms straight distance | 5hrs 24mins 5hrs 24mins by car (362 kms) | 6hrs 28mins 6hrs 28mins by bus (362 kms) (362 kms)
 H : Moquegua to Desaguadero - Peru 307 kms 307 kms straight distance | 6hrs 3mins 6hrs 3mins by car (402 kms) | 7hrs 15mins 7hrs 15mins by bus (402 kms) (402 kms)
 I : Rurrenabaque - Bolivia 241 kms 241 kms straight distance | 9hrs 22mins 9hrs 22mins by car (425 kms) | 11hrs 14mins 11hrs 14mins by bus (425 kms) (425 kms)
 J : Tacna - Peru 283 kms 283 kms straight distance | 7hrs 9mins 7hrs 9mins by car (435 kms) | 8hrs 34mins 8hrs 34mins by bus (435 kms) (435 kms)
 K : Chile Border to Tacna - Peru 311 kms 311 kms straight distance | 7hrs 50mins 7hrs 50mins by car (472 kms) | 9hrs 24mins 9hrs 24mins by bus (472 kms) (472 kms)
 L : Arica - Chile 318 kms 318 kms straight distance | 7hrs 3mins 7hrs 3mins by car (482 kms) | 8hrs 27mins 8hrs 27mins by bus (482 kms) (482 kms)
 M : Arequipa - Peru 364 kms 364 kms straight distance | 8hrs 54mins 8hrs 54mins by car (557 kms) | 10hrs 40mins 10hrs 40mins by bus (557 kms) (557 kms)
 N : Iquique to Arica to Peru Border - Chile 385 kms 385 kms straight distance | 7hrs 54mins 7hrs 54mins by car (658 kms) | 9hrs 28mins 9hrs 28mins by bus (658 kms) (658 kms)
 O : Sucre - Bolivia 408 kms 408 kms straight distance | 10hrs 2mins 10hrs 2mins by car (689 kms) | 12hrs 2mins 12hrs 2mins by bus (689 kms) (689 kms)
Driving times are accurate but approximate and are listed in the order of driving distance! Drive times are always affected by weather conditions, the terrain, time of day, altitude, dinner and bathroom stops, animals on the road, protests, a fast or slow bus driver, police checkpoints, border and river crossings, dropping off and picking up passengers etc. These drive times are obtained from Google Maps and are meant as a guide. Note however, times quoted in the main text of this page are exactly as the author experienced it.
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