La Paz, the administrative capital of Bolivia, is often treated as a layover destination on the way to some of the country’s more popular spots. For us, it was a hub that we called home for three months while we explored neighboring areas in Bolivia and Peru. La Paz is not for the faint of heart, but we came to love the culture, quirks, and other amazing aspects of this city. There are many things to do in La Paz, but the following were some of the most noteworthy in our book.
1. Ride the Teleférico
An excellent way to get a good variety of views of La Paz is to spend some time riding Mi Teleférico. There are multiple lines you can take for just three Bolivianos a ride, giving you a view of the snowcapped peaks around the valley and an idea of just how huge La Paz is. The system is very modern and well-maintained and makes for a very easy and cheap way to get around the city.
Construction of this public gondola system began in 2014, and there are plans to add more lines. Some have just opened as of September 2018! We definitely suggest at least taking the red or yellow line up to El Alto. This is a great place to watch sunset, have awesome views over La Paz, and walk around to get a glimpse of life in this bustling area. However, for safety, it is best to not be walking around here much after dark. You can also take the blue line over El Alto if desired. To see some high-class mansions in the wealthier section of La Paz, take the yellow and green lines to Zona Sur. Whatever line you take, you really can’t go wrong!
2. Hike in Valle de la Luna or Valle de las Animas
Both Valle de la Luna and Valle de las Animas feature some pretty unique rock formations that resemble an otherworldly landscape. There are many tour agencies that offer excursions to both sites, though Valle de La Luna is a much more popular option. If you don’t want to take a tour, take a taxi or catch a bus heading to Mallasa and wander Valle de la Luna on your own terms. Entry is 15 Bolivianos.
Valle de las Animas is a less popular destination, so not all tour agencies go here. It is possible to take a combi, and it is best to ask a local where to catch one. If you opt for public transport, you must walk a bit from where the combi drops you off to find the trail. You can also take a taxi here, but many people recommended that we go by tour to more easily find the trail since it lies near a small residential area on the outskirts of the city.
Both trails in Valle de la Luna and Valle de las Animas are not particularly difficult, but altitude here can definitely be a factor. So, bring lots of water, some snacks, and make a half-day excursion out of it.
3. See the fierce Cholitas Wrestle
If you’re looking for a fun, yet somewhat bizarre activity, definitely check out Cholitas Wrestling. This WWE-inspired show is put on by women who represent the lower class breaking through social barriers to create a better life for themselves. Don’t be fooled by the brightly colored skirts and frilly shawls! These women are fierce and you’ll see them dragging each other by the braids and throwing their opponents through the air.
Cholitas Wrestling happens every Thursday and Sunday night in El Alto. You can easily go by tour for 90 Bolivianos. If a tour isn’t your thing or you don’t want to stay for the full two hours, you can get to El Alto by the Teleférico or by bus or taxi.
4. Lose yourself in the local markets
La Paz is full of markets of many sorts, and we loved walking around them for a taste of local life. You can honestly find anything you need at the local markets, whether it be clothing, souvenirs, food, or home essentials. One of the most popular markets for tourists is the Mercado de las Brujas, or the Witches’ Market. This market sits between Calle Santa Cruz and Sagarnaga. Here, you’ll find a variety of unique items, from llama fetuses and charms to potions and herbs. Vendors also offer a variety of handmade goods and tasty foods.
For souvenirs, we loved the nearby market on Calle Linares. The vendors here sell beautiful alpaca apparel, silver jewelry, magnets, décor, and more. Don’t forget to brush up on your bargaining skills! If you are in need of clothing or shoes, walk up Calle Tumusla. This street is always bustling, and there are many shoe malls, jacket shops, belt stalls, and so much more here and on the side streets in the area. There are similar busy markets in El Alto. For food, we often wandered Mercado Rodriguez (on Calle Rodriguez and surrounding streets). On Sundays, vendors set up small stalls, selling amazing fresh fruits and veggies, bread, flowers, and more for a great price.
5. Explore the city on foot
One of the best ways to really see and experience La Paz is to wander it on foot. There are so many colonial buildings, hidden local bars and restaurants, beautiful plazas, and more. We spent many days wandering the city, stopping to people watch, walk through museums, and taste local street foods. Walking around was one of our favorite things to do in La Paz because we learned so much about the city and met some really great people as we wandered.
Some cool places we saw include the incredibly colorful and picturesque Calle Jaen, the large La Paz Cemetery, and Plaza San Francisco, where we often saw local celebrations and performances. Red Cap also hosts a walking tour of the city for very cheap, providing historical information about La Paz and various locations along the way.
6. Learn all about the infamous coca leaf at the Coca Museo
There are many unique and interesting museums in La Paz, and we definitely recommend making a stop at the Coca Museo. This small museum provides detailed information and unique displays that show how the cultivation of coca has impacted Bolivian culture and history. Many of these impacts are evident today. North Americans and Europeans are familiar with the leaves in relation to making cocaine, but this little leaf is so much more than its negative reputation.
The museum can be found in a little courtyard amidst the market on Calle Linares. The posted hours are from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., but be aware that they close for lunch midday and their hours seem to change at random. The cost is 15 Bolivianos, and the staff have guides on hand in various languages for visitors who aren’t fluent in Spanish. After the museum, be sure to stop at the restaurant to order a coca beer, shot, ice cream, chocolate, or another unique coca treat.
7. Bike Death Road
Okay, this activity isn’t really in La Paz, but it is one of the most popular activities from the city. With a narrow lane, dizzying drops, wet and muddy conditions, and plenty of blind curves, this road was once rated as the world’s deadliest. Now, many tourists who visit the area come for the thrill of biking it.
Because of its popularity, there are many tour agencies that offer tours for a range of prices. Do your research! Safety is key for this activity, and some companies take more precautions and have better equipment than others. With a quality company, this is a safe and fun excursion. This can be done as a day trip, but we recommend staying a few days in Coroico, where the bike tour ends. You can often arrange this with your guide beforehand. After the ride, many tour agencies include a zip line activity or animal refuge visit before heading back to La Paz.
Is La Paz on your travel list?