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La Paz. Travel Guide of La Paz City, Bolivia

Welcome to our Travel Guide of La Paz City. You will find here a comprehensive information over La Paz, including La Paz hotels, La Paz history, La Paz climate, around La Paz, activities in La Paz, festivals and events, travel companies and hostels.

La Paz Travel Guide.

1. History of La Paz.

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

La Paz is dizzying in every respect, not only for its well-publicized altitude (3660m), but for its quirky beauty. Most travelers enter this extraordinary city via the flat, sparse plains of the sprawling city of El Alto, an approach that hides the sensational surprises of the valley below. The first glimpse of La Paz will, literally, take your breath away. The buildings of the city cling to the sides of the canyon and spill spectacularly downwards. On a clear day, the imposing showy, snowy Mt Illimani (6402m) looms in the background.

Although Sucre still hangs on to its status as the constitutional capital, La Paz – The largest city of Bolivia and centre for commerce, finance and industry – is the seat of government of the country. Meanwhile, El Alto is the Aymará capital of the world. Although in reality an extension of urban La Paz, The ongoing influx of immigrants of El Alto – mostly looking for work – means it has morphed into one of fastest-growing cities of Latin America.

La Paz must be savored over time, not only to acclimatize to the altitude, but to experience the many faces of the city. Wander at leisure through the alleys and lively markets, marvel at the interesting museums, chat to the locals in a comedor (dining hall) or relax over a coffee at a trendy cafe.

La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de La Paz (the City of Our Lady of Peace) was founded and named on October 20, 1548, by a Spaniard, Captain Alonzo de Mendoza, at presentday Laja situated on the Tiwanaku road.

Soon after, La Paz was shifted to its present location, the valley of the Chuquiago Marka (now called the Río Choqueyapu), which had been occupied by a community of Aymará miners.

The 16th-century Spanish historian Cieza de León remarked of the newfound city: This is a good place to pass life of one. Here the climate is mild and the view of the mountains inspires one to think of God. But despite lofty assessment of Leon (perhaps he mistakenly got off at Cochabamba), the reason behind the founding of the city was much more terrestrial. The Spanish always had a weakness for shiny yellow metal, and the nowfetid Río Choqueyapu, which today flows underneath La Paz, seemed to be full of it.

The Spaniards did not waste any amount of time in seizing the gold mines, and Captain Mendoza was installed as the new first mayor of the city. The conquerors also imposed their religion and their lifestyle on the indigenous people, and since most of the colonists were men, unions between Spanish men and indi genous women eventually gave rise to a primarily mestizo population.

If the founding of La Paz had been based on anything other than gold, its position in the depths of a rugged canyon probably would have dictated an unpromising future.

However, the protection this setting provided from the fierce Altiplano climate and the convenient location of the city on the main trade route between Lima and Potosí – much of the Potosí silver bound for Pacific ports passed through La Paz – offered the city some hope of prosperity once the gold had played out. By the time the railway was built, the city was well enough established to continue commanding attention.

In spite of its name, the City of Our Lady of Peace has seen a good deal of violence.

Since Bolivian independence in 1825, the republic has endured over 190 changes of leadership. An abnormally high mortality rate once accompanied high office in Bolivia; the job of president came with a short life expectancy. In fact, the presidential palace on the plaza is now known as the Palacio Quemado (Burned Palace), owing to its repeated gutting by fire. As recently as 1946 then-president Gualberto Villarroel was publicly hanged in Plaza Murillo.

2. Basic Information About La Paz.

Emergency Tourist Police (Policía Turística, T. 2225016, Plaza del Estadio, Puerta 22, Miraflores) Next to Disco Love City. English-speaking. Report thefts to obtain a denuncia (affidavit) for insurance purposes – they will not recover any stolen goods.

Immigration (T. 2110960, Camacho # 1468, 8:30-16:00 Mon-Fri) but this is where you must obtain your visa extensions.

Internet Access La Paz has nearly as many cybercafes as shoeshine boys. Many of the smarter cafes have wi-fi access.

Laundry Lavanderías (laundries) are the cheapest and most efficient way of ensuring clean (and dry) clothes in La Paz. Calle Illampu, at the top of Sagárnaga, is lined with laundries. Many hotels and some residenciales (budget accommodations) offer cheap hand-washing services. For quick, reliable same-day machine-wash-and-dry service (B$5 to B$10 per kilo), try the following: Lavandería Aroma (Illampu # 869).

Medical Services The 24-hour Medicentro (T. 2441717, 6 de Agosto # 2440) has been recommended for general care. For emergencies, there is Clínica Sur (T. 2784001, Hernando Siles, Zona Sur).

Money ATMS Cash withdrawals of bolivianos and US dollars are possible at numerous ATMs at major intersections around the city. For cash advances (bolivianos only, amount according to your limit in your home country) with no commission and little hassle, try the following: Banco Mercantil (corner Mercado & Ayacucho). The moneychangers, Casas de cambio (exchange bureaux) in the city center can be quicker and more convenient than banks. Most places open from 8:30-12:00 and 14:00-18:00 weekdays, and on Saturday mornings.

Post and Telephone Ángelo Colonial (Linares # 922, 8:30-19:30 Mon-Fri, 8:30-18:00 Sat, 9:00-12:00 Sun) This small post office, in the same building as Ángelo Colonial restaurant, offers both incoming and outgoing mail services. Central Post Office (Ecobol, Santa Cruz and Oruro, 8:00-20:00 Mon-Fri, 8:30-18:00 Sat, 9:00-12:00 Sun) A tranquil oasis off the Prado, lista de correos (poste restante) mail is held for two months for free here – bring your passport. A downstairs customs desk facilitates international parcel posting. Convenient puntos (privately run phone offices) of various carriers – Entel, Cotel, Tigo, Viva etc – are scattered throughout the city. Entel office (T./fax 2132334, Ayacucho # 267, 8:30-21:00 Mon-Fri, 8:30-20:30 Sat, 9:00-16:00 Sun) The main Entel office is the best place to receive incoming calls and faxes.

Tourist Information Information kiosks Main bus terminal; Casa de la Cultura (Mariscal Santa Cruz & Potosí) InfoTur (T. 2651778, Av Mariscal and Colombia, 8:30-12:30 and 15:00-19:00 Mon-Fri, 9:00-13:00 Sat) Tourist Information Office (T. 2371044, Plaza del Estudiante, 8:30-12:30 and 15:00-19:00 Mon-Fri) This is the original tourist office, where Englishspeaking staff provide good verbal information as it is a bit short on printed matter, including free city maps.

Electricity 110V.

3. Weather in La Paz.

Since La Paz is sky-high, warm clothing is desirable most of the year, at least in the evenings. In summer (November to April) the climate can be harsh: rain falls most afternoons, the canyon may fill with clouds and steep streets often become torrents of runoff. In winter (May to October) days can be slightly cooler, but the sun (and its UV rays) is strong and temperatures reach the high 60s; at night it often dips below freezing.

Temperature in La Paz, Bolivia Rainfall in La Paz, Bolivia

4. The City of La Paz.

a) Cathedral and Plaza Murillo

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

Although it is a relatively recent addition to collection of religious structures of La Paz, the 1835 cathedral is an impressive structure – mostly because it is built on a steep hillside. The main entrance is 12m higher than its base on Calle Potosí. The sheer immensity of the Cathedral, with its high dome, hulking columns, thick stone walls and high ceilings, is overpowering, but the altar is relatively simple.

Inside, the main attraction is the profusion of stained-glass work; the windows behind the altar depict a gathering of Bolivian politicos being blessed from above by a flock of heavenly admirers.

Beside the cathedral is the Presidential Palace, and in the center of Plaza Murillo, opposite, stands a statue of President Gualberto Villarroel. In 1946, he was dragged from the palace by vigilantes and hanged from a lamppost in the square. Interestingly enough, don Pedro Domingo Murillo, for whom the plaza was named, met a similar fate here in 1810.

b) Museo Nacional de Arqueología

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

Two blocks east of the Prado, this museum (National Archaeology Museum, T. 2311621, Tiahuanacu # 93, 9:00-12:30 and 15:00-19:00 Mon-Fri, 9:00-12:00 Sat) holds a small but well-sorted collection of artifacts that illustrate the most interesting aspects of the five stages of Tiwanaku culture – those that were not stolen or damaged during the colonial days. Some of the ancient stonework disappeared into Spanish construction projects, while valuable pieces found their way into European museums or were melted down for royal treasuries.

Unfortunately there are no explanations in English, only Spanish. Also holds excellent temporary exhibitions.

c) Mercado de Hechicería

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

The most unusual market of the city, the Market of Witches, lies along Calles Jiménez and Linares between Sagárnaga and Santa Cruz, amid lively tourist artesanías (stores selling locally handcrafted items). What is on sale is not witchcraft as depicted in horror films and Halloween tales; the merchandise is herbal and folk remedies, plus a few more unorthodox ingredients intended to manipulate and supplicate the various malevolent and benevolent spirits of the Aymará world. An example of these types of ingredients is dried toucan beaks, intended to cure ills and protect supplicants from bad spirits.

If you are building a new house, for example, you can buy a llama fetus to bury beneath the cornerstone as a challa (offering) to Pachamama, encouraging her to inspire good luck therein. If someone is feeling ill, or is being pestered by unwelcome or bothersome spooks, they can purchase a plateful of colorful herbs, seeds and assorted critter parts to remedy the problem. As you pass the market stalls, watch for wandering yatiris (witch doctors), who wear dark hats and carry coca pouches, and offer (mainly to locals) fortune-telling services.

Inquiries and photographs taken here may be met with unpleasantness – ask politely first.

d) Museo de la Coca

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

Chew on some facts inside the small, slightly tired Coca Museum (T. 2311998, Linares # 906, 10:00-19:00), which explores the sacred role of the leafs in traditional societies, its use by the soft-drink and pharmaceutical industries, and the growth of cocaine as an illicit drug. The displays (ask for a translation in your language) are educational, provocative and evenhanded.

e) Museo Nacional del Arte

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

Near Plaza Murillo, this museum (National Art Museum, T. 2408600, corner Comercio and Socabaya, 9:30-12:30 and 15:30-19:00 Tue-Sat, 9:30-12:30 Sun) is housed in the former Palacio de Los Condes de Arana. This stunning building was constructed in 1775 of pink Viacha granite and has been restored to its original grandeur, in Mestizo (mixed) baroque and Andino baroque styles. In the center of a huge courtyard, surrounded by three stories of pillared corridors, is a lovely alabaster fountain. The various levels are dedicated to different eras, from pre-hispanic works to contemporary art, with an emphasis on religious themes. Highlights include works by former Paceño Marina Nuñez del Prado. There are regular temporary exhibitions on the ground floor.

f) Calle Jaén Museums

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

These four, small, interesting museums (T. 2280758, 9:30-12:30 and 15:00-19:00 Tue-Fri, 9:00-13:00 Sat and Sun) are clustered together along Calle Jaén, The finest colonial street of La Paz, and can easily be bundled into one visit.

Also known as Museo del Oro (Gold Museum), the Museo de Metales Preciosos (Museum of Precious Metals, Jaén # 777) houses four impressively presented salons of pre- Colombian silver, gold and copper works and pieces from Tiwanaku.

Sometimes called the Museo de la Guerra del Pacífico, the diminutive Museo del Litoral (Jaén # 798) incorporates relics from the 1884 war in which Bolivia became landlocked after losing its Litoral department to Chile.

The collection consists mainly of historical maps that defend emotionally charged claims of Bolivia to Antofagasta and Segunda Región of Chile.

Once the home of don Pedro Domingo Murillo, a leader in the La Paz Revolution of July 16, 1809, the Casa de Murillo (Jaén # 790) displays collections of colonial art and furniture, textiles, medicines, musical instruments and household items of glass and silver that once belonged to Bolivian aristocracy. Other odds and ends include a collection of Alasitas miniatures.

Murillo was hanged by the Spanish on January 29, 1810, in the plaza now named after him. The most intriguing painting on display is The Execution of Murillo.

The Museo Costumbrista Juan de Vargas (corner Jaén and Sucre) contains art and photos, as well as some superb ceramic figurine dioramas of old La Paz. One of these is a represen tation of akulliko, the hour of coca-chewing; another portrays the festivities surrounding the Día de San Juan Bautista (Day of St John the Baptist ) on June 24; another depicts the hanging of Murillo in 1810. Also on display are colonial artifacts and colorful dolls wearing traditional costumes. A pleasant cafe is on the premises.

g) Museo Tambo Quirquincho

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

This intriguing museum (T. 2390969, 9:30-12:30 and 15:00-19:00 Tue-Fri, 9:00-13:00 Sat and Sun), off Evaristo Valle at Plaza Alonzo de Mendoza, is a former tambo (wayside market and inn). It houses temporary exhibitions (past ones have included cultural photos of Mexico and Peruvian art).

h) Iglesia de San Francisco

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

The hewed stone basilica of San Francisco, on the plaza of the same name, reflects an appealing blend of 16th-century Spanish and mestizo trends. The church was founded in 1548 by Fray Francisco de los Ángeles, and construction began the following year. The original structure collapsed under heavy snowfall around 1610, but it was reconstructed between 1744 and 1753.

The second building was built entirely of stone quarried at nearby Viacha. The facade is decorated with stone carvings of natural themes such as chirimoyas (custard apples), pinecones and tropical birds.

The mass of rock pillars and stone faces in the upper portion of Plaza San Francisco is intended to represent and honor of three great cultures of Bolivia – Tiwanaku, Inca and modern.

The cloisters and garden of the recently opened Museo San Francisco (T. 2318472, Plaza de San Francisco, 9:00-18:00 Mon-Sat), adjacent to the basilica, beautifully revive the history and art of the the landmark of the city. There are heavenly religious paintings, historical artifacts, an interesting anteroom and a God-like, if quirky, view from the roof.

i) Museo de la Revolución Nacional

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

The first question to ask when approaching this museum (Museum of the National Revolution, Plaza Villarroel, 9:30- 12:30 and 15:00-19:00 Tue-Fri, 10:00-12:00 Sat and Sun) is Which Revolution’ (Bolivia has had more than 100 of them). The answer is that of April 1952, the popular revolt of armed miners that resulted in the nationalization of Bolivian mining interests. It displays photos and paintings from the era. Located at the end of Av Busch.

j) Markets

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

The entire section of town from Plaza Pérez Velasco uphill (west) to the cemetery – past Mercado Lanza, and Plazas Eguino and Garita de Lima – has a largely indigenous population and is always bustling. The streets are crowded and noisy with traffic honking its way through the narrow cobbled streets, cholitas (Quechua or Aymará women living in the city but continuing to wear traditional dress) rushing about socializing and making purchases, and pedestrians jostling with sidewalk vendors.

The market stalls sell all manner of practical items from clothing and fast foods to groceries, health-care products and cooking pots. The focus of activity is near the intersection of Buenos Aires and Max Paredes, especially on Saturdays.

The markets sprawl along various streets – especially on the weekends – and are a great way to see daily life. More interesting markets for tourists include those around the streets of Graneros (designer clothes), Tumusla (anything and everything) and Isaac Tamayo, between Santa Cruz and Sagárnaga (tools and building materials).

The best place for electronics is along Eloy Salmón. Be especially careful when wandering around this part of town: it is notorious for light fingers.

North of Plaza San Franciso, on Calle Figueroa, a new construction will house Mercado Lanza, one of main food markets of La Paz (the other major one is Mercado Camacho). It will sell foodstuffs of every type. It will also house the Flower Market (at the time of research, this was temporarily located in the Plaza de San Francisco).

k) Museo de Etnografía y Folklore

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

This free museum (Ethnography and Folklore Museum, T. 2408640, corner Ingavi and Sanjinés, 9:00-12:30 and 15:00-19:00 Mon-Sat, 9:00-12:30 Sun) is for anthropology buffs. The building, itself a real treasure, was constructed between 1776 and 1790, and was once the home of the Marqués de Villaverde. The highlight is the Tres Milenios de Tejidos exhibition of stunning weavings from around the country – ask a guide for a look inside the drawers beneath the wall hangings. It also has a fine collection of Chipaya artifacts from western Oruro department, a group whose language, rites and customs have led some experts to suggest that they are descendants of the vanished Tiwanaku culture, and the Tarabucos, from near Sucre.

l) Museo de Arte Contemporáneo

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

Better modern art may be found in various other collections around town, but this private museum (MAC, Contemporary Art Museum, T. 2335905, 16 de Julio # 1698, 9:00-21:00) wins the gold star for the most interesting building: a restored 19th-century mansion (only one of four left on the Prado) with a glass roof and stained-glass panels designed by Gustave Eiffel. The eclectic collection of the museum housed over three floors is a mix of reasonable – but not mind-blowing – Bolivian and international work. You might catch an interesting temporary exhibition.

m) Museo de Instrumentos Musicales

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

The exhaustive, hands-on collection of unique instruments at this museum (Museum of Musical Instruments, T. 2408177, Jaén # 711, 9:30-13:00 and 14:00-18:30) is a must for musicians. The brainchild of charango master Ernesto Cavour Aramayo, it displays all possible incarnations of the charango (a traditional Bolivian ukulele-type instrument) and other indigenous instruments used in Bolivian folk music and beyond.

n) Museo de Textiles Andinos Bolivianos

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

Fans of lovely traditional weaving of Bolivia consider this small textile museum (T. 2243601, Plaza Benito Juárez # 488, Miraflores, 9:30-12:00 and 15:00-18:00 Mon-Sat, 10:30-12:00 Sun) a must-see. Examples of the finest traditional textiles of the country (including pieces from the Cordillera Apolobamba, and the Jalqa and Candelaria regions of the Central Highlands) are grouped by region and described in Spanish. The creative process is explained from fiber to finished product. The gift shop sells museum quality originals; 90% of the sale price goes to the artists.

o) Arte al Aire Libre

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

The mayor of La Paz, Juan del Granado, has created Arte al Aire Libre (on the Kantutani between Calles 16 and 14, Obrajes, along the river, Zona Sur). This wonderful open-air art gallery features around 15 giant artworks that focus on La Paz and surrounds, from images of Illimani to notable painters of La Paz. Works change every three months.

p) Templete Semisubterráneo and Museo al Aire Libre

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

The open-pit Museo al Aire Libre opposite the stadium contains replicas of statues found in Templete Semisubterráneo of Tiwanaku. The show - piece Megalito Bennetto Pachamama (Bennett monolith) was moved to the new site museum of Tiwanaku to avoid further smog-induced deterioration. This place is only worth seeing if you are not able to visit the actual site.

q) El Alto

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

A billboard in El Alto announces: El Alto is not part of problem of Bolivia. It is part of solution of Bolivia. Not all would agree, but visiting here is an experience. Having once been a melting pot for campesinos (subsistence farmers) and people from all around the country, and with a population of 648,400, El Alto is now a city in its own right. It has a 5% to 6% growth rate per year and is considered the Aymará capital of the world.

If you arrive by air, below you are dozens of white church spires soaring up from the brown earth. These were built by a German priest, Padre Obermaier, renowned in the city for his past and current works (and longevity). From the canyon rim at the top of El Alto Autopista (toll-road) or the top of the free route at Plaza Ballivián, the streets hum with almost perpetual activity.

It is hard to distinguish one street from another – the miles of orange brick and adobe houses, shops, factories and cholitafilled markets create a hectic atmosphere at every corner.

In the lively La Ceja (Brow) district, which commands one of the highest realestate prices in the region for its commercial value, you will find a variety of electronic gadgets and mercantile goods. For an excellent market experience do not miss the massive Mercado 16 de Julio (6:00-15:00 Thu and Sun), which stretches for many blocks along the main thoroughfare and across Plaza 16 de Julio.

This paradise of shopaholics has absolutely everything, from food and electronics, to vehicles and animals, all at reasonable prices.

You will have to fight your way through the crowds, though (warning: watch your wallet in both senses of the phrase).

To fighting of a different kind, one of the most popular local attractions in El Alto is the Lucha Libre (16:00), which are wrestling matches where theatrical males and acrobatic cholitas play to the crowds.

It is on at the Polifuncional de la Ceja de El Alto, a multifunctional sports stadium.

For a great view of La Paz from the Alto rim, head in a taxi to the Tupac Katari Mirador, situated right on the edge of the rim that plunges down the valley to La Paz.

It was – and is – a sacred Inca site and ritual altar where Tupac Katari is believed to have been drawn and quartered by colonialists. The colonialists constructed and interred a statue of Christ on the same site, but that did not stop locals from performing spiritual rituals here.

Around the mirador (lookout) and as far as the eye can see is a long line of small identical blue booths, distinguished only by a number. These house curanderos or yatiris, who provide sage advice. Note: a counsel of yatiris is taken extremely seriously; please be sensitive to this – both photos and tourist appointments are considered inappropriate and are not appreciated.

r) La Paz Cemetery

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

As in most Latin American cemeteries, bodies are first buried in the traditional Western way or are placed in a crypt.

Then, within 10 years, they are disinterred and cremated. After cremation, families purchase or rent glass-fronted spaces in the cemetery walls for the ashes, they affix plaques and mementos of the deceased, and place flowers behind the glass door. Each wall has hundreds of these doors, and some of the walls have been expanded upward to such an extent that they resemble threeor four-story apartment blocks. As a result the cemetery is an active place, full of people passing through to visit relatives and leave or water fresh flowers.

It is possibly most interesting on November 2, the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), when half the city turns out to honor their ancestors. Be aware that the area around the cemetery is a little unsavory.

5. Around La Paz.

a) Valle de la Luna

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

About 10km down the canyon of the Río Choqueyapu from the city center, Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) is a slightly overhyped place, though it is a pleasant break from urban La Paz. It could be easily visited in a morning or combined with another outing such as a hike to Muela del Diablo to fill an entire day. It is not a valley at all, but a bizarre, eroded hillside maze of canyons and pinnacles technically known as badlands. Several species of cactus grow here, including the hallucinogenic choma (San Pedro cactus). Unfortunately, urban growth has caught up to the area, making it less of a viewpoint than it otherwise might be. Note: readers have reported muggings in recent years, even while in the confines of the site.

b) Mallasa

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

After a traipse around Valle de la Luna, you can also visit the village of Mallasa, popular among paceños on weekends. Just east of Mallasa is the spacious of La Paz, but sorely underfunded, Vesty Pakos Zoo (T. 2745992, 10:00-17:00). Animal lovers may be upset by the poor conditions, however.

From the overlook immediately behind the zoo, you can take the clearly marked walking track that descends to and crosses the fetid Río Choqueyapu, before beginning a lung-bursting 600m climb to the Muela del Diablo.

c) Valencia y Mecapaca

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

About 30km south of La Paz, and 15km from Mallasa, are two quaint, if increasingly urbanized, villages worth visiting for their authenticity and beautiful landscapes. Mecapaca boasts a beautifully restored church in its plaza (ask for Sra Ninfa Avendaño for keys; if you buy something from her store and add a donation to the church box, she will likely oblige). The church is perched on the hillside of the small plaza with wonderful views of the fertile valley beyond. The terracotta color of the village is notable, thanks to the generosity of a local cement baron, who wanted to prettify the village and had it painted. He resides in La Paz, but has built a large complex for weekend use (look for it down on the right as you enter town).

d) Muela del Diablo

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

The prominent rock outcrop known as the Molar of the Devil is actually an extinct volcanic plug that rises between the Río Choqueyapu and the suburban sprawl of Pedregal and Calacoto. A hike to its base makes a pleasant, half-day walking trip from La Paz; it offers incredible views of the city and valley of La Paz, and can be easily combined with a visit to Valle de la Luna. Warning: several robberies have been reported here; inquire locally about safety before heading out and travel in pairs or groups.

From the cemetery in Pedregal, the trail climbs steeply (several times crossing the new road that provides access to the hamlet near the base of the muela). After a breathless hour or so, you will reach a pleasant grassy swale where the tooth comes into view, as well as some precarious pinnacles further east.

At this point the walking track joins the road and descends through the hamlet.

e) Cañon de Palca

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

The magnificent Palca Canyon (Chua Kheri) brings a slice of Grand Canyon country to the dramatic badland peaks and eroded amphitheaters east of La Paz. A walk through this gorge makes an ideal day hike from La Paz. Note: go only in groups as assaults on single hikers at the time of research have been reported here. Check the safety status before setting out.

f) Valle de las Animas

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

The name Valley of Spirits is used to describe the eerily eroded canyons and fantastic organ-pipe spires to the north and northeast of the barrios of Chasquipampa, Ovejuyo and Apaña (which are rapidly being absorbed into the Zona Sur neighborhoods of La Paz).

The scenery resembles that of Valle de la Luna, but on a grander scale. Its worth just getting out here.

g) Chacaltaya

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

The 5395m-high Cerro Chacaltaya peak, atop a former glacier (it diminished over several decades and, tragically, had melted completely by 2009), is a popular day trip. Until the big melt, it was the highest developed ski area of the world. It is a steep 90-minute ride from central La Paz, and the accessible summit is an easy 200m ascent from there.

You can get your thrills, spills (well, hopefully not) and great views on a 60kmplus mountain-bike trip from Chacaltaya to Zongo and beyond at descents of up to 4100m (vertical drop).

For visitors and hikers, Chacaltaya offers spectacular views of La Paz, Illimani, Mururata and 6088m Huayna Potosí. It is a high-altitude, relatively easy (but steep) 100m or so climb from the lodge to the summit of Chacaltaya. Remember to carry warm clothing and water, and take plenty of rests, say, a 30-second stop every 10 steps or so, and longer stops if needed, even if you do not feel tired. If you start to feel light-headed, sit down and rest until the feeling passes. If it does not, you may be suffering from mild altitude sickness; the only remedy is to descend.

h) Tiwanaku

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

Little is actually known about the people who constructed the great Tiwanaku ceremonial center on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca more than a thousand years ago. Archaeologists generally agree that the civilization which spawned Tiwanaku rose around 600 BC. Construction on the ceremonial site was under way by about AD 700, but around 1200 the group had melted into obscurity, becoming another lost civilization. Evidence of its influence, particularly its religion, has been found throughout the vast area that later became the Inca empire.

The treasures of Tiwanaku have literally been scattered to the four corners of the earth. Its gold was looted by the Spanish, and early stone and pottery finds were sometimes destroyed by religious zealots who considered them pagan idols. Some of the work found its way to European museums; farmers destroyed pieces of it as they turned the surrounding area into pasture and cropland; the Church kept some of the statues or sold them as curios; and the larger stonework went into Spanish construction projects, and even into the bed of the La Paz–Guaqui rail line that passes just south of the site.

Fortunately, a portion of the treasure has been preserved, and some of it remains in Bolivia. A few of the larger anthropomorphic stone statues have been left on the site. Others are on display at the Museo Nacional de Arqueología in La Paz. New finds from the earliest Tiwanaku periods are being added to the collection of the new onsite Museo Litico Monumental (9:00-17:00). The star of the show is the massive Monolito Bennetto Pachamama, rescued in 2002 from its former smoggy home at the outdoor Templete Semisubterráneo in La Paz.

Pieces from the three more recent Tiwanaku periods may be found scattered around Bolivia, but the majority are housed in archaeological museums in La Paz and Cochabamba. The ruins themselves have been so badly looted, however, that much of the information they could have revealed about their builders is now lost forever.

6. Tours and Activities in La Paz

a) The Death Road

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

Many agencies offering La Cumbre to Coroico mountain-bike plunge give travelers the T-shirts boasting about surviving the road. Keep in mind that the gravel road is narrow (just over 3.2m wide), with precipitous cliffs with up to 600m drops and few safety barriers.

In March 2007 a new replacement road opened. Prior to this, the road between La Paz and Coroico was identified as The Most Dangerous Road of the World (WMDR) by an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report. Given the number of fatal accidents that have occurred on it over the years, the moniker was well deserved. An average of 26 vehicles per year disappeared over the edge into the great abyss.

Crosses (aka Bolivian caution signs) lining the way testify to the frequency of vehicular tragedies from the past. The most renowned occurred in 1983 when a camión (flatbed truck) plunged over the precipice, killing the driver and 100 passengers in the worst accident in the sordid history of Bolivian transportation.

Over the past few years, a new paved route has been constructed on the opposite wall of the valley, thanks to a 120 million USD loan from the IDB. This means the old road – the WMDR – is now used almost exclusively by cyclists, support vehicles and the odd tourist bus.

Around 15 cyclists have died doing the 64km trip (with a 3600m vertical descent) and readers have reported close encounters and nasty accidents. Ironically, the road – now traffic-free – can be more dangerous to cyclists, especially for kamikaze freewheeling guides and overconfident cyclists who think they do not have to worry about oncoming vehicles. Other accidents are due to little or no instruction and preparation, and poor-quality mountain bikes; beware bogus rebranded bikes and recovered brake pads.

Unfortunately, even though it is such an adventurous activity, there are no minimum safety standards in place for operators of this trip, and no controls over false advertising, or consequences for unsafe operating practices. In short, many agencies are less than ideal. As such the buyer has to be aware, even a bit paranoid; this is one activity where you do not want to be attracted by cheaper deals. Experienced and trained guides, high-quality bikes, well-developed risk-management systems, and adequate rescue equipment all cost money, and cheaper companies may stretch the truth about what they provide if it means making another sale. Cost cutting can mean dodgy brakes, poor-quality parts and literally, a deadly treadly. This, plus inexperienced and untrained guides and little or no rescue and first-aid equipment, is a truly scary combination on the WMDR.

Nevertheless Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking is the most confident tour operator descending The Most Dangerous Road of the World Website

b) Tiwanaku, Chacaltaya and Valle de la Luna

La Paz Travel Guide, Bolivia

Most tour operators in La Paz offers city tours in La Paz, trips to Tiwanaku, Chacaltaya and Valle de la Luna

7. Festivals and Events.

January 1: New Year 's Day.

January 24: Alasitas.

Alasitas During Inca times the Alasitas (Aymará for Buy from me, in Spanish it is Cómprame) fair coincided with the spring equinox (September 21), and was intended to demonstrate the abundance of the fields. The date underwent some shifts during the Spanish colonial period, which the campesinos were not too happy about. In effect they decided to turn the celebration into a kitschy mockery of the original. Abundance was redefined to apply not only to crops, but also to homes, tools, cash, clothing, cars, trucks, airplanes and even 12-story buildings. The little god of abundance, Ekeko (dwarf in Aymará), made his appearance and modern Alasitas traditions are now celebrated on January 24.

February or March (changeable date): Carnival.

April (Changeable date): Easter.

Palm Sunday: The Saturday before Easter. People enter temples with branches which the clergy bless.
Holy Thursday: It is a tradition of the people to visit 12 temples of the city, one for each apostle, in this day.
Good Friday: Procession of the Holy Sepulchre.

May-June (Changeable date): Señor del Gran Poder

La Festividad de Nuestro Señor Jesús del Gran Poder Held in late May or early June, El Gran Poder began in 1939 as a candle procession led by an image of Christ through the predominantly campesino neighborhoods of upper La Paz. The following year the local union of embroiderers formed a folkloric group to participate in the event. In subsequent years other festival-inspired folkloric groups joined in, and the celebration grew larger and more lively. It has now developed into a unique La Paz festival, with dancers and folkloric groups from around the city participating.
Embroiderers prepare elaborate costumes for the event and upwards of 25,000 performers practice for weeks in advance. El Gran Poder is a wild and exciting time, and offers a glimpse of Aymará culture at its festive finest.
A number of dances are featured, such as the suri sikuris (in which the dancers are bedecked in ostrich feathers), the lively kullawada, morenada, caporales and the inkas, which duplicates Inca ceremonial dances.

June (Changeable date):

Corpus Christie: Commemoration of the Body of Christ.

June 21 and 24: Andean New Year and San Juan

Aymará New Year and San Juan The winter solstice is celebrated across the Altiplano around June 21, the longest and coldest night of the year. Festivities feature huge bonfires and fireworks in the streets, plus lots of drinking to stay warm.
San Juan (June 24) The Christian version of the solstice celebration. The solstice celebrations are most lively at Tiwanaku.

July 16: Anniversary of La Paz.

Fiestas de Julio This month-long cultural series at the Teatro Municipal features much folk music.
Virgen del Carmen The patron saint of the department of La Paz gets her own public holiday (July 16), which includes many dances and parades.

July (last saturday of month): Entrada Universitaria.

Entrada Folklórica de Universitaria Held on the last Saturday in July, and with an atmosphere alluding to Carnaval, hundreds of dance groups made up of students from around the country perform traditional dances through the streets of La Paz.

August 6: National Day.

Independence Day This lively public holiday sees lots of gunfire in the air, parades galore and mortar blasts around the city center.

September 21: Day of Spring. Youth and Students of Bolivia.

First Sunday in October: Feast of the Virgin of Merced.

Second Sunday in October: Feast of the Virgin of Rosario.

November 1: Todos Santos (All Saints Day).

This is a pre-columbian tradition when the people go to visit the Tombs prepared at home by the relatives of the deceased and where the friends are offered the same food and drink liked by him.

November 2: Difuntos (Day of the Deceased)

The tombs are dismantled and the people celebrate in the memory of the deceased.

November 3: Alma Cacharpaya (Soul of the Calypsobreakers)

Those in charge of dismantling the tombs show up in the home of the deceased with an orchestra so that the soul of the deceased will be happy.

December 24 and 25: Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

8. Travel Companies and Tour Operators in La Paz.

Andean Summits (T. 2422106, Calle Muñoz Cornejo # 1009, corner Sotomayor, Sopocachi) Offers a variety of outdoor activities from mountaineering and trekking to 4WD tours in Bolivia and beyond. The owners are professional UIAGM/IFMGA mountain guides.

America Tours (T. 2374204, 16 de Julio # 1490) This recommended English-speaking agency offers a wide range of ecotourism projects and tours around La Paz and Bolivia, including an interesting trip to Tiwanaku. Also takes bookings for Chalalán.

La Paz on Foot (T. 2118442, Calle Rene Moreno, E22, Calacoto, Zona Sur) Run by the passionate Englishspeaking ecologist who offers a range of activities, including walks in and around La Paz, the Yungas, Chulumani and Titicaca. The fascinating, fun and interactive La Paz urban trek heads from the heights of El Alto to the depths of Zona Sur. Other tours include: art and architecture, living history and a stimulants tour (think coca, cocoa and coffee).

Mundo Quechua (T. 2796145, Circunvalación # 43, Achumani, Zona Sur) French- and English-speaking owners who offer tailor-made tours around Bolivia, including Salar de Uyuni, Tiwanaku, Sajama – whatever you want.

9. Hotels and Hostels in La Paz.

Hotel Cordillera Real (Idelfonso Muñecas # 494, Website).

Hotel Sagarnaga (Sagarnaga # 326, Website).

Casa Hermanos Manchego (Hermanos Manchego # 2551, Website).

Hostal Naira (Sagarnaga # 161, Website).

10. Restaurants and Bars in La Paz.

Paceña La Salteña (20 de Octubre # 2379, Sopocachi, 8:30-14:00) Eating a salteña (no, we will not tell you what it is, here) is a notto- be-missed local experience. The peach walls, chintz curtains and gold trimmings give the fare a gilded edge at this awardwinning salteñería. Vegetarian salteñas are available on weekends only.

Restaurant Paladar (T. 2444929, Guachalla # 359, lunch Tue-Sun) This cavernous place serves recommended Brazilian fare, including feijoada (a bean and meat casserole, typical of Portugal and Brazil). Heavy drapes, bow-tied waiters and smartly dressed locals would have you think it is a pricey joint. And you would be fooled. À la carte dishes are served at weekend lunches.

Kuchen Stube (Gutiérrez # 461) A favorite for sweet snacks with decadent German pastries, reasonable coffee, fresh juices and quiche lorraine. Each day they have a special lunch – from vegetarian to Italian.

Confitería Manantial (Hotel Gloria, Potosí # 909, lunch Mon-Sat) This place has a good-value and popular veggie buffet. Arrive before 12:30pm or you risk missing the best dishes.

Cafe Sol y Luna (Corner Murillo and Cochabamba, breakfast, lunch and dinner Mon-Fri, dinner Sat and Sun) A low-key, Dutch-run hangout offering cocktails, good coffee and tasty international meals. It has three cozy levels with a book exchange and an extensive guidebook reference library, talks, salsa nights, live music and other activities.

11. Getting There and Away.

Air El Alto International Airport (LPB, T. 281-0240) is 10km via toll-road from the city center on the Altiplano. At 4050m, it is the highest international airport of the world, larger planes need 5km of runway to lift off and must land at twice their sea-level velocity to compensate for the lower atmospheric density.

Stopping distance is much greater too, and planes are equipped with special tires to withstand the extreme forces involved.

Airport services include a news-stand, ATMs, internet, souvenir stores, a bookstore, a coffee shop, fast food, a bistro and a duty-free shop in the international terminal.

Airlines includes: AeroSur, Amaszonas, American Airlines, Lan Airlines, Taca, TAM Mercosur, Transportes Aéreos Militares and BOA.

Bus The main bus terminal (Terminal de Buses, T. 2280551, Plaza Antofagasta) is a 15-minute uphill walk north of the city center. Fares are relatively uniform between companies. This full-service terminal serves all destinations south and east of La Paz, as well as international destinations. Other destinations are served mainly by micros and minibuses departing from the cemetery district and Villa Fátima.

  • Cochabamba-La Paz-Cochabamba: (383 Km paved road) Daily departures from 7:00-22:00, 7 hours trip (40 to 80 BOB). Trans Copacabana and Bolivar are good bus companies.
  • Oruro-La Paz-Oruro: (229 Km paved road) Daily departures from 5:00-22:00, 3.5 hours trip (30 BOB).
  • Santa Cruz-La Paz-Santa Cruz: (900 Km paved road) Daily departures at 7:00 and 20:00, 18 hours trip (80 to 150 BOB).
  • Uyuni-La Paz-Uyuni: (552 Km paved and unpaved road) Daily departures at 22:00, 10 hours trip (60 to 80 BOB). Trans Omar and Todo Turismo are good options.
  • Sucre-La Paz-Sucre: (701 Km paved road) Daily departures at 20:00, 12 hours trip (80 to 120 BOB). Trans Copacabana and Bolivar are good companies for this journey.
  • Potosi-La Paz-Potosi: (539 Km paved road) Daily departures at 20:00, 9 hours trip (52-80 BOB).
  • Tarija-La Paz-Tarija: (901 Km paved and unpaved road) Daily departures at 16:00, 18 hours trip (100 BOB).
  • Tupiza-La Paz-Tupiza: (795 Km paved and unpaved road) Daily departures at 19:00, 15 hours trip (110 BOB), this bus continues to Villazon (argentinean border).
  • Arica-La Paz-Arica: (400 Km paved road) Buses at 7:00 and 20:00, 16 hours trip.
  • Iquique-La Paz-Iquique: (500 Km paved road) Buses at 7:00 and 20:00, 19 hours trip, bus from Arica continues to Iquique.
  • Cusco-La Paz-Cusco: (700 Km paved road) Direct buses daily, the trip lasts 18 hours.
  • Puno-La Paz-Puno: (220 Km paved road) Direct buses daily, the trip lasts 5.5 hours.
  • Lima-La Paz-Lima: (1100 Km paved road) Direct buses daily, the trip lasts 30 hours.
  • Buenos Aires-La Paz-Buenos Aires: (500 Km paved and unpaved road) Direct buses daily, the trip lasts 50 hours.

Cemetery Bus Terminal - Lake Titicaca, Tiwanaku and Peru.

  • Copacabana-La Paz-Copacabana: (170 Km paved road) Daily departures from 5:00-17:00. Manko Kapac and 2 de Octubre runs this trip.
  • Desaguadero-La Paz-Desaguadero: (200 Km paved road) Daily departures from 5:00-18:00.
  • Sorata-La Paz-Sorata: (130 Km paved road) Daily departures from 5:00-18:00.
  • Tiwanaku-La Paz-Tiwanaku: (135 Km paved road) Daily departures from 6:00-18:00.

Villa Fatima Bus Terminal - Yungas and Amazon Basin.

  • Coroico-La Paz-Coroico: (120 Km paved road) Daily departures from 5:00-20:00, 2.5 hours trip.
  • Chulumani-La Paz-Chulumani: (200 Km paved and unpaved road) Daily departures.
  • Rurrenabaque-La Paz-Rurrenabaque: (552 Km paved and unpaved road) Daily departures.

Train No commercial service anywhere. Only a touristic train to La Paz-Tiwanaku-Viacha.

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