What to do in La Paz, Bolivia
My favorite Places and Things to do in La Paz, Bolivia
7 Must-Dos for La Paz
La Paz in Bolivia is a city that wasn't exactly on top of my bucket list. We added it to our trip around Peru because we had a few extra days and it was close-ish, or as close as it gets in South America. While it wasn't on top of my bucket list, I SO recommend it to be on yours. La Paz was a city that I visited with quite literally zero expectations that ended up blowing my mind.
It is located at 3.650m above sea level, and is laid out as a sort of massive bowl with the rich living at the bottom and the poor living up high in "El Alto." It's a city that vibrates with life, that is chaotic and colorful, that is loud and where there is a different smell around every corner. While on my first trip we only spent 2 days there, I highly recommend spending at least 4 or 5 days in La Paz - which is why I went back a second time. The longer time frame also gives you the chance to get over any problems with the altitude you might encounter.
The following are my favorite things to do in this crazy, beautiful, amazing city:
1. Join the Red Caps Walking Tour
While this is something I recommend to do in any city, this is to date the best Free Walking Tour I've ever been on. Their tour guides are locals from all different kinds of backgrounds and they'll give you a great insight into local culture and everyday life. They'll tell you the stories and urban legends that the city is made of and show you the most amazing places you might miss otherwise. When I did the tour, it was still free. Now the price is set at 3$, which is still quite affordable. They leave every day at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. from Plaza San Pedro and the tour lasts for about 3 hours. The tour ends in the offices of Urban Rush Bolivia (more on that later), where they tell you a little bit about the country's politics and then show you their other offers.
11 a.m. & 2 p.m. every day
Plaza San Pedro, La Paz
If you're anything like me and looking for the adventure of a lifetime, this is for you. La Paz Urban Rush Bolivia lets you walk 50 meters down the side of a building! Not only is it located right in the city center with amazing views, it gets your adrenaline up as you look down the 50 meters that you're about to walk down - an absolutely unforgettable experience that I highly recommend to anybody visiting the city!
22$ (There's a 7$ Discount if you also participated in the Red Caps Walking Tour!)
Calle Potosi 920, La Paz, Bolivia
3. La Valle de la Luna
"Valley de la Luna (Moon Valley) isn’t actually a valley at all, but a maze of canyons and giant spires. The formations, composed mainly of clay and sandstone, were created by the persistent erosion of mountains by the area’s strong winds and rains. What remains is a serene setting, full of wonder and intrigue."
There are organized tours to get there, but you really don't need them - it is located around 10 km from downtown La Paz and is easily accessible by taxi or colectivo (for more information check out their website here) and costs max 4$. As the name says, Valle de la Luna is a place whose natural formation makes you feel like you're walking on the moon. It takes around an hour and a half to walk through it all and rewards you with the most beautiful viewpoints.
Max 6$ (Entrance Fee: 2$, Taxi: 4$)
9am - 4pm
4. Mercado de las Brujas, or the "Witches' Market"
In La Paz you can buy everything and when I say everything I mean literally everything, from bikes to USB drives to new identities or love potions. The latter you can buy at the Witches' Market. It is less of an outdoor market and more of a street full of tiny shops selling love potions, healing potions, a curse for your worst enemy or a blessing for your best friend.
While the Witches' Market in the city center is definitely worth a visit, it is a smaller and more touristy version of the market up in El Alto, or "the one that's for the locals," as our guide put it. It's (one of) the biggest open-air markets in Latin America and it's just mesmerizing. There's no better word for it. Right next to the market, there is a street dedicated to Aymara shamans. They live in little wooden huts, each having a bonfire lit in front of it that is used to make offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth). If you visit one of those shamans, you can have your future read from coca leaves, you can inquire whether your wife is cheating on you (and with whom and how often), or you can buy a personalized curse, blessing or potion.
Melchor Jimenez, La Paz, Bolivia
5. Ride the Cable Car Mi Teleférico
Riding the cable car in La Paz not only greatly facilitates life for the locals, it also provides us tourists with absolutely spectacular bird's eye views of the city. Riding the cable car down from El Alto back into the city center and enjoying the sunset from this beautiful viewpoint was when I personally truly fell in love with the city. A one-way ride costs only 3 Bolivianos (30 cents) and conveniently it also connects a variety of attractions! For more information on the routes and prices, check out this link.
6. Visit the cemetery
While this at first may sound like an odd and slightly macabre thing to do, visiting the cemetery is something I highly recommend to any visitor. Funeral rituals differ around the world and Bolivian traditions are very different from anything I had experienced before. The dead are put into a box in a wall that has a little window in the front where relatives put miniature versions of things the dead loved or enjoyed in life. This can be a tiny soccer- t-shirt for the soccer enthusiast or a variety of tiny alcohol bottles for the drunk. Interestingly enough, while during the first few years after passing, there are a variety of masses and other occasions to remember the deceased, the locals generally only care for the grave for five years and then "cancel the subscription" so to say, as by then the deceased has passed on.
7. Go for Carnival!
This is more of a "when to go to La Paz" bulletpoint than a "what to do," but it's definitely something to keep in mind when planning your trip! While I've had my own crazy, awesome carnival experiences at home in Austria, La Paz was a million times better! There's a beautiful procession and people will throw water balloons at each other, have water balloon fights all over the city and everything is just incredibly colorful and happy. And, no, you're not safe as a tourist - get in on the fun!
Friends of mine also recommend the Death Road Bike Rour and the Cholitas Wrestling, but I haven't personally experienced those yet - giving me a reason to go back to La Paz rather sooner than later! What are your favorite experiences in La Paz? Let me know in the comments!