Our Lady of Peace
La Paz is located on the western side of Bolivia and with an altitude of 3600m above sea level is known as the highest seat of government worldwide. The original name Nuestra Señora de La Paz (our lady of peace) was given to the town after a prevented riot by the indigenous community. Which is kind of ironic cause a big part of the society was surely not living in peace back in that time. Anyway the name changed into La Paz in 1825 in tribute to the Battle of Ayacucho during the independence war against the Spanish conquerors.
Our friend Javier once said La Paz is a mess, but somehow it works. I think I couldn't describe it in a better way. On the first view it is a very chaotic city, without any rules, schedules for buses, fixed prices for products and services. On the other hand everything works out, even almost without any supermarket you will find everything you need on the local markets in almost every street. You won´t need any prices because everything is a matter of negotiating and the level of prices is very low anyway. The public transport is one of the easiest ever, it doesn't need a schedule. In a minute intervals you will find minivans, so called micros which will pick you up by just raising your hand. The destinations are written on the windshield and if you're really lost, the driver will advise you for sure, how to find your destination. A simple „parada for favor“ will make him stop where ever you want and a single ride is only 1,5Bs. (less than 20 eurocents).
The food is like everything else very cheap, look for a menu del dia or almuerzo (lunch) if you want to keep it as cheap as possible. Usually the menu should not be more than 10Bs (1,30€) and consist of a soup, a second course and sometimes a soft drink or a desert. Poorly the food is a little unilateral, usually the almuerzo is just rice, potato and a salad, the only variation is the piece of meat which gets served with it. Other common dishes are Fricassee, fried fish, fried sausage in a bread (Salchipan), Broaster (a KFC-like piece of chicken) and in general everything is way too fat, even with the great agricultural variety of the country without any vegetables.
Oh and btw if you smoke, La Paz is the best place to get your yearly supply of cigarettes, with a bit of negotiating and finding the right place, you can get a pack for around 70 eurocents. So far we never got examined at any boarder in South America, so it is really worth it to take as much as you can carry.
La Paz is a very cultural city, you will see the majority of men and especially women wearing the traditional dresses of their indigenous ancestros. As well as a very strong market culture, with mainly agricultural products, over handcrafted articles to pretty weird stuff like dead llama fetuses for sacrifices at the mercado de las brujas (witch market) in the city center.
Other places we recommend to see are:
- Plaza San Francisco with its huge and amazing church built in 1549 - The Coca Museum in Calle Linares 906, with lots of information and things to know about the history of the coca plant in Bolivias history - The city El Alto, which was before considered as a district of La Paz with Bolivia's largest open air market. You can reach the place by Funicular for 6Bs. (less than 1€). On 4100m altitude you can enjoy a great view all over La Paz. - Calle Jaén, an old paved road with beautiful colonial architecture which gives you a good impression of the La Paz from some 100 years ago. It is the location of five of the best museums in the city, from which we can really recommend the museum of instruments, with lots of exhibits and music history before and after the colonization of Bolivia.
The best things to do outside La Paz are:
- The Yungas Road - considered as the road with the most deadly car accidents (also called death road) was the common connection between La Paz and Coroico. In 2006 the path got replaced by a bigger asphalted road and is now only available for bike or hiking tours. The tours are available for around 50€ in most of the serval travel agencies in the center of La Paz. The road leads through the cloud forest and offers amazing views on the mountains and a tropical flora.
- If you are on a smaller budget, we can really recommend a day or two day trip to Coroico. The 2,5 hour transport is available from 20Bs. (2,60€). It is not on the death road but you will see it and enjoy the same awesome views over the jungle. Coroico itself is a very lovely place, the small town counts 2400 inhabitants and is frequently visited by tourists for its awesome nature and view over the mountains and cloud forest. Around the city you will experience a subtropical flora with banana and mandarin trees as well as several waterfalls. If you bring your own tent you can take a shared taxi (5Bs. = 60 eurocents) to one of the waterfalls and spend the night there camping (15Bs. = 2€ per person).
- Another awesome place to visit is Copacabana and the Lake Titicaca. The 8.288 square km large lake is partly in Bolivia and Peru. It is the largest lake of whole South America and with an altitude of 3812m is the highest, navigable lake in the world. The surroundings are shaped by several hills, mountains and beautiful landscapes. In the summer season Copa Cabana is besides the Salar de Uyuni one of the biggest tourist attractions of Bolivia. It is as well the point of departure for trips to Isla de Sol.
- Valle de La Luna - the valley is located ca 10km southwards of La Paz and consists of several hills which got formed through climate contrasts through the last millions of years. The surreal landscape appears in a brownish, reddish color and is easily reachable by taxi from La Paz.
- Tiahuanaco, a Pre-Columbian archaeological site ca. 70km western from La Paz. Like with the death road you will find many tour operators in La Paz who are organizing tours to the remains of the Inca culture. The ruins and statues are declared as UNESCO world heritage since 2000. Till today scientist have just exposed around 1% of the whole city.
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