A firm push out of the station and through the glass we marvel at the unfinished brick houses that cover the hills and valleys as far as the eye can see. It’s so quiet inside the Teleférico cabin that if we hadn’t seen La Paz down at our feet, we’d forget that we are in a city of 2.3 million. From this guide you’ll learn the best 4 things to do in La Paz, Bolivia – that we loved during our stay!
Is it really La Paz the capital?
La Paz at 3650 m altitude is the highest capital in the world. In fact, it’s strangely only half a capital! As we’ve already mentioned, Sucre, the white city, is the capital named in the constitution, however the seat of the government and the national assembly were moved to La Paz in the beginning of the 20th century. Anyhow, La Paz is a huge city tumbling over hills and valleys and with the cable car our commute is a beautiful sightseeing at the same time.
Things to do in La Paz, Bolivia on a shoestring
Bolivia being the cheapest country in South America, budget travelers and backpackers can really make the most out of their pennies, even in the “capital” (or at least in the biggest city), La Paz. It’s not so touristy either, so local things to do will constantly come across you in La Paz, just watch!
Ride Mi teleférico
The highest cable car operating with 9 lines (and 2 under construction) at 4000 m is a transportation wonder and saviour in a city that suffers from smog and constant traffic jams. It was built between 2012-2014 by Swiss architects and is working partially with solar energy.
Evo Morales, the country’s long-serving president is so proud of it that each cabin carries his face on a sticker. Before the teleferico’s inauguration minibuses ran on the hills and valleys – or better said, were stranded in traffic.
Although minibuses still transport a significant part of the population, people do take advantage of the quickness of the teleférico for 3 Bolivianos (BS) per ride, which is just 1 BS more than the minibus fare.
Hit the market every day, everywhere
Markets and informal selling is the bread and butter of La Paz. There’s someone selling something everywhere, all the time. The weirdest things to sell we find is dead child llama and llama fetus. Apparently it’s used for witchcraft. Apparently witchcraft is still practiced by the indigenous at traditional ceremonies, like at luck bringing ceremonies.
But back to the ordinary market, we love it!
The best thing to do in La Paz, Bolivia: try street food
Street food is dirt cheap (our favourite papa rellena – fried potatoes filled with egg and cheese – costs 4 BS, about 70 cent), the Bolivian fruit is sweet and we hear indigenous language (Quechua and Aymara) from the sellers.
There’s no written prices anywhere, so we have to get a feeling what costs how much in order not to get cheated. Our Couchsurfing host – who is a white Bolivian – tells us that cholita sellers try to give a higher price to everyone who is white.
Read more about: Typical Food of Bolivia
Go on a half-day trip out of the city to see that great view
There are many miradores (viewpoints) in the city, among which Killi Killi offers an almost 360° view. The way up there is hard on the steep uphill, especially with the altitude it’s a real pain.
Another great view is seen from the Valle de las Animas, which is a good hiking spot an hour outside of La Paz. The view is astonishing especially on a nice weather day: the city is poking out of the wind-formed pinnacles forest.
Watch the Paceños, people of La Paz, living their life
Bolivia has the highest % of indigenous population in South America: 50%. Indigenous is a really big topic in Bolivia since the current (first indigenous) president, Evo Morales, is in power. The country’s official name is Plurinational State of Bolivia, to integrate both indigenous and non-indigenous people, and the country has 2 official flags: apart from the red-yellow-green one, there’s also the multicoloured indigenous flag, called wiphala.
We see many indigenous women, called cholita, dressed in multilayered skirt, bowler hat, carrying their child or merchandise in a piece of colourful fabric swayed to their back. But even apart from them all the faces show indigenous origins – and those who don’t are surely tourists.
We learn that cholitas usually don’t participate in higher education and their typical profession is street or market sellers, however their opportunities have significantly improved in the last few years. Child labour is sadly common on the streets: not only the ski masked shoe cleaners are seen but cholitas give small jobs, like sweeping or selling to their children.
Did you know that La Paz was not the official capital of Bolivia? How well do you think you know this country? Don’t be shy, share your thoughts!