La Paz, Bolivia is the world’s highest capital city at 3,600 meters and even on the warmest days, most wear long sleeves and pants to protect against the strong sun. It’s undoubtedly one of the most chaotic and unique cities in South America. A network of cable cars connecting La Paz to neighboring El Alto, which is even higher at 4,150 meters, is the most popular form of transportation. Near daily protests in the city center lead to flares going off and constant horn honking in some of South America’s worst traffic. To top it off, there is a prison in the city center run by the inmates.
La Paz is one of the few big cities in South America where the indigenous culture is still alive. It’s ever-present in clothing, art, and the exotic items you find at the markets. Apart from being unique and chaotic, there are a variety of interesting attractions in La Paz. The city has thrilling adventure activities, lively markets where alternative medicine and traditions collide, fantastic art, lucha libre wrestling, and even the chance to climb a 6,000-meter mountain. Not to mention, the landscape of the city is stunning, with spectacular viewpoints scattered throughout.
WHAT TO DO
Cholitas Wrestling – Every Sunday night in El Alto indigenous women, known as cholitas, take part in a lucha libre wrestling show. Parts of the show are dull, but the moments that have you dying of laughter more than make up for it. Your accommodation will likely sell tickets for 90 bolivianos (BOB) which includes transport.
Ride the teleférico – Spending half a day on the cable car is one of the best ways to see La Paz and El Alto. The nine lines cover a large part of the metropolis and have fantastic views. The green and celeste lines between the city center and south zone and the red line are the most scenic.
Death Road Bike Tour – Before they built a highway, the Death Road claimed over 500 motorists’ lives a year and was the world’s most dangerous road. Now its primary function is bike tours, where you’ll reach speeds of 50 km/h while descending from 4,700m to 1,600m. The price is around 400-600 BOB depending on which agency and bike you choose.
Climb Huayna Potosí – This is one of the easiest 6,000m peaks to summit in the world. The 3-day climb is popular among backpackers and is a challenging, yet incredibly rewarding experience.
Summit of Huayna Potosí
Learn about life inside San Pedro Prison – This prison in the city center is run by the inmates and their families can still live inside with them. It’s one of the world’s craziest prisons and they even produce cocaine on the inside. “Crazy Dave” is an American who was incarcerated at San Pedro for over a decade and gives a tip-based tour detailing what life on the inside was like. He very much lives up to the nickname and is outside the prison every day at 1 PM.
Free Walking Tour – Bolivia’s culture and political history are incredibly fascinating to learn about and Red Cap gives a great tour explaining this in detail.
Museo Nacional de Arte – Bolivian art is unique in the way that it incorporates indigenous themes and it’s my favorite in South America. This museum is small but well worth the visit for 20 BOB.
Museo Nacional de Arte
Mirador Killi Killi – The city is full of spectacular viewpoints and this is the best one near the city center.
Witches’ Market – Alternative medicine and Pachamama are still very relevant in Bolivia. At this market, you’ll find everything from llama fetuses to “cures” for Alzheimer’s.
Barrio Chualluma – La Paz’s most colorful neighborhood is full of street art and its location high up in the hills means you’ll have some peace and quiet away from the constant horn honking in the city center. To get here, take the red line to El Alto and walk down to the neighborhood.
16 de Julio Market – Every Thursday and Sunday the largest market in South America takes place in El Alto. The size is staggering and the best way to appreciate it is from above on the teleférico. You’ll find just about everything here including crafts, coca leaf readers, and even a street full of cars for sale.
Colorful Buildings of El Alto
Calle Jaén – The most beautiful street in La Paz is full of art galleries and museums. The museums cover Bolivian customs, gold, and war history. You can visit the 3 museums for a total of 20 BOB.
Valle de la Luna – The Valley of the Moon gained popularity after Neil Armstrong said its unique rock formation is similar to that of the moon. It takes about 45 minutes to walk the trail and the entrance is 15 BOB. The cheapest way to get here is to take the celeste and green teleférico lines to Zona Sur. From there, take a colectivo to Mallasa.
Mercado Lanza – La Paz’s central market is a great place to try local food like api & pastel or cholita sandwiches.
WHERE TO EAT
Bolivian Popular Food – The three-course lunch is amazing and it’s a fun overall experience. It’s reasonably priced and you’ll want to make a reservation because it gets crowded.
Paceña La Salteña – A traditional spot in La Paz for the most popular mid-morning snack in Bolivia.
Mi Chola – A higher-end restaurant serving Bolivian cuisine with a twist.
Luciernagas Restaurant – A wide variety of traditional food in a cozy environment.
WHERE TO STAY
Wild Rover – This hostel has a fantastic social atmosphere, a great location, and a staff that will help organize tours.
Adventure Brew Hostel – For a more relaxed stay, this hostel in a colonial house is a good option. Plus, they brew their own craft beer.
HOW LONG TO STAY
I recommend at least 4 days in La Paz before heading elsewhere in Bolivia. There’s a lot to see and you could keep yourself busy for a week here.
WHERE TO NEXT
Huayna Potosí – Climb a 6,000m mountain that requires no previous climbing experience.
Copacabana (4 hours by bus) – A town on the shores of Lake Titicaca with hiking, fantastic landscapes, and the chance to spend a night on one of the lake’s islands.
Uyuni Salt Flats (9 hours) – These 12,000 square kilometer salt flats are undoubtedly one of the top attractions in South America.
Sucre (11 hours) – A UNESCO city with beautiful white architecture, great museums, and an unmissable folklore dance show.
Rurrenabaque (14 hours) – Swim with pink dolphins and spot monkeys, capybaras, and caimans in the Amazon.