A city high in the clouds, surrounded by mountains, and sitting in a canyon at 3660 metres above sea level, La Paz is a city of many contrasts, and is the highest administrative city in the world. Topping 4000 metres at some of the highest parts of the city, you will no doubt feel the difference in the thin air here. It will take a few days to acclimatise, so take it easy - wander the winding streets around the witches market before attempting some of the more strenuous activities on offer. Home to the majority of the indigenous Aymara people, the city can easily feel like one huge bustling market.
From shanty towns, to the Cordillera Real, and cholitas (women dressed in bowler hats and traditional clothes), the city has a real cultural energy. Despite there being limited tourist attractions in the city itself, there are still plenty of great things to do in La Paz, such as biking Death Road or hiking the Huayna Potosi. Below is our La Paz travel guide with information on all the best things to do, places to go and what not to miss.
DISCOVER THE WITCHES MARKET – Try and catch one of the daily rituals taking place between the Aymara people, browse the stalls selling medicinal herbs, charms, newborn llama fetuses, and potions, or have your fortune read by a shaman. An experience you won’t find in many other places in the world!
BIKING DEATH ROAD – This is one of the most breathtaking and best things to do in La Paz. Live life on the edge (literally!) while biking death road. A guided downhill mountain bike tour with some of the most incredible scenery of the snow-covered mountain ranges in Bolivia. Start in snowy weather at 4700 metres above sea level, but quickly descend with some sheer drops, and the road as narrow as 3 metres… This makes for a total adrenaline rush - not for the faint hearted!
HIKING THE HUAYNA POTOSI – Bolivia's most popular mountain to climb: complete a challenging 3-day trek to reach 6000m for the first time, by hiking the beautiful Huayna Potosi. The mountain offers amazing views, sunsets, and the biggest face in Bolivia.
TAKE A RIDE ON THE ´MI TELEFERICO´- The aerial cable car system. For just B$3 you can buy a ticket to ride high across the city, capturing some of the best views of this unusual busy city set inside a Canyon. Running from El Alto City to the Zona Sur, you will see the contrast of El Alto with the modern suburbia of the south.
LEARN ABOUT SAN PEDRO PRISON – If you have read the famous book ´Marching Powder´, you will for sure want to see the prison for yourself. This is one of South America’s most notorious prisons, located in the centre of La Paz. From the Plaza de San Pedro you can watch the families go in and out of the prison like it is an apartment complex, yet it is famous for producing some of the purest cocaine in Bolivia.
*** WHAT NOT TO MISS ***
CHOLITA WRESTLING – A highlight of the weekend: watch the working-class Bolivian women wrestle to earn a few extra dollars on a Sunday evening.
A Bolivian lunch usually entails spicy meats, rice and beans. Cheap street food is one of the most popular options in La Paz, as well as in the Mercado Lanza (San Francisco Zona 9), where you will find hundreds of small stalls providing a 'menu' option of a soup and main for just a few dollars. Make sure you try the Saltenas (the Bolivian empanada).
As far as restaurants go, you can find pretty much any international type of cuisine in this bustling capital city. For typical Bolivian fare, go to Luciernaga’s Restaurant (Avenida Illimani 1683). The owner Peter is very friendly and will help you out explaining the menu, which includes options for non-meat eaters. Be prepared to leave with a very full stomach – the portion sizes are extremely generous!
For vegetarians, check out Namas Te (Calle Zoilo Flores 1334) – here you’ll find fresh, flavoursome food. The atmosphere and décor of the place is quite cosy, and the staff are bilingual which is a great help. The best time to come is for lunch, as closing time is 7pm Monday to Friday, and 4pm on Saturday.
From party hostels to live music venues, jazz bars and fancy nightclubs, there is somewhere to suit everybody - you just need to look for it!
Wild Rover (Calle Comercio 1476) and LOKI hostel (Las Americas 120) both have good bars, where you can grab a few drinks to start the night off. For clubbing go to Forum (Calle Victor Sanjines 2908), which plays a mix of Latin as well as international pop music, serves great cocktails, and is the place to go to dance.
For a nice pub, check out Diesel Nacional (Av.20 de Octubre 2271). This place has a unique and quirky décor, and a fun vibe – perfect for a few drinks.
The dizzy heights of La Paz mean that the nights are cold, very cold! Be sure to wrap up warm when the sun goes down, as temperatures will reach below freezing. Temperatures are cool throughout the year, varying slightly between winter (from May to October) and summer (from November to April). Rain can fall hard in the summer months, usually in the late afternoon. Winter days are cool but the sun is strong, so wear sunscreen!
Fly into the International Airport of El Alto, or arrive by bus. If you fly from Lima to La Paz, it takes 2 hours with Avianca. From Santiago Chile, it takes 3 hours with LATAM, COPA, or Avianca. From Sao Paulo, it takes 5 hours with Azul, COPA, or Avianca.
The bus terminal is located a 15-20 minute walk north of the city centre. By bus it takes: 12 hours from Uyuni, 12 hours from Sucre, and 4 hours from Copacabana (Lake Titicaca), which is close to the Peruvian border of Kasani.
It gets chilly at night, so be sure to book a hostel that provides a good number of blankets. Popular areas to stay are around the livelier centre by Plaza Murillo or Sopacachi. For a well-priced hotel, go to Hotel Cordillera Real (Av. Ildefonso de las Munecas 494) - here you’ll be close to all the main attractions, and welcomed by friendly staff.
One great hostel is LOKI (Las Americas 120), which has a ‘skybar’ on the 7th floor, looking out over the city. This is a great party hostel, so only come here if you don’t mind staying up ‘til 2 or 3am most nights, or request a room on a lower floor, away from the bar. Another place which attracts backpackers looking for a good time is Wild Rover (Calle Comercio 1476). Here you’ll even find a ‘beauty room’ for girls, with hair dryers and straighteners free of charge!
Wrap up warm at night as temperatures reach below freezing.
Allow a few days to acclimatize before taking part in adventurous activities.
Be vigilant – do not walk alone at night, and take care of your belongings at all times.