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

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Map location: La Paz, Bolivia
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Bolivia travel blog by Mark Berman - Apr/Aug/Oct 2008 May 2009 Oct 2011 Jun 2012 Sep 2015 Jun 2019   » View Photoset (109 Photos)

Mark Berman, South America backpacker for over 12yrs!
La Paz, what an amazing place it is! I came 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 and was back in 2015 and again in 2019. 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.

First Impressions

La Paz for me is the most South American of cities I have 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 (crazy). I have stayed in accommodation here ranging from party hostels to a private room in a budget hotel and even a flash hotel with breakfast buffet. I have had some great experiences here and met many travelers and made some good friends in the hostels.

The Altitude

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.

What Do You See?

So if you took a walk around La Paz, what would you see? Musicians, donuts for sale, markets, taxis, chocolate and sweet stalls, sunglasses for sale, shoe shine boys, cuddly toys, people marching in protest, woman wearing colorful and traditional clothing and hats, freshly squeezed fruit juice, clothing with accessories, churches, statues and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Mercado Negro (Market)

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.

The Witches Market

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 good 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. The witches market area is clean and well policed.

Coca Museum

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.

Museum of Etnografia & Folklore

Bolivia is famous for its carnivals, the biggest is held annually in Oruro. This museum has many of the masks and costumes used in the carnival on display and is very interesting indeed. Take the time to pop in and have a look around!

El Gran Poder Parade

If you are in La Paz in early to mid June you may be lucky enough to experience the El Gran Poder Parade! It runs on 2 Saturdays in a row, the parade starts early in the morning at around 8am and goes until late at night. Non-stop, relentless celebrations featuring great dancing, marching, fantastic costumes, masks and lots of music. You will see hundreds and hundreds of groups marching and dancing up Illampu Street during this celebration.

The Main Drag

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 and Marches

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 main plaza area.

In General

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.

Restaurants and Food

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. Another 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. The English Pub on Illampu Street is fantastic and has top-class food like chicken salads, bangers and mash and filet mignon.

Coming and Going

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. Boa Airlines and Amaszonas are the main 2 airlines in Bolivia though. Have fun in La Paz!


View all photos in the La Paz Photoset

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My Hostel & Hotel Reviews for La Paz, Bolivia:

Qantu Hotel, La Paz, Bolivia - Large Photo
Qantu Hotel, La Paz, Bolivia (June 2019 - 8 nights) - Qantu Hotel is located on Street Illampu in La Paz where many of the nicer tourist hotels are located. There are restaurants and shops all around like the English Pub for absolutely awesome food! Qantu Hotel is very comfortable with nice rooms with tv, wifi, comfortable beds and a private bathroom with hot water. Each morning there is a buffet breakfast on the top floor with fruit, bread, pancakes, eggs, cake, toast, cereal, coffee, tea and much more. The price is around $50-$60USD per night. Recommended.
Alojamiento Que No Quede Huellas, La Paz, Bolivia - Large Photo
Alojamiento Que No Quede Huellas, La Paz, Bolivia (February 2019 - 2 nights) - I stayed here only because it is very close to the airport, it is not located in the center of La Paz. Very cheap for a room with a double bed and shared bathroom for $50 bob ($8USD) but there is no shower and the restaurants outside only have basic food like chicken and french fries. I can only recommend this place for an easy exit to the airport. The hostess is friendly and the place is secure.
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.

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La Paz, Bolivia - One Of My Favourite Cities In South America. You really know you are in South America when you are in La Paz! A, truly authentic city and very interesting to explore the markets and streets!