La Paz is an incredible city located 3,600m above sea level, which you can view from the many telefericos (cable cars). It is overlooked by the impressive Mt Illimani with its peak at 6,438m above sea level. The city of La Paz alone has approximately 800,000 residents but if you include the nearby El Alto, Achocalla, Viacha, and Mecapaca, you will find around 1.8 million people. I’ve been to La Paz a number of times and made this La Paz travel guide to help like minded travellers.
Because of the altitude you might feel a bit weak when first arriving especially if you have flown from a low altitude. If you find yourself in the bus terminal, there is a health centre there which can give you oxygen. I assume the airport has a similar service.
La Paz has a great nightlife and there is plenty to see and do in the city. The Basilica of San Francisco is a great place to start located at Plaza San Francisco. There you will find walking tours and many minivans which will take you all over the city.
The famous La Paz Witches Market with its llama foetuses is only a few blocks away on Calles Linares and Melchor Jimenez.
A 15 min walk will take you to San Pedro Prison where you can watch the daily comings and goings. The prison is famous for being a society in itself where inmates can live with their families and have jobs. It is also renowned for producing high quality cocaine and there are several books about the prison like Marching Powder by Rusty Young.
Riding Mi Teleférico is a tourist attraction in itself. You get a unique perspective of the city in the comfort of modern transportation. It’s a great way to get around the city but can be a bit hard to find a good map and when I was last there, google maps didn’t use it in their routes. You can take it up to El Alto and to the Mega Centre in the south-east on the Linea Verde.
There are many Embassies in La Paz and you can access most from Mi Teleféfico on the Linea Celeste getting off at station Arce on Av. Poeta. From there the embassies are one block away. Alternatively you can get a minivan to Sopocachi.
Sopocachi is a modern part of the city which has some great restaurants.
If you’re a little adventurous then you will want to do the Death Road bike tour. We did it though Vertigo Biking and were thoroughly impressed. There is a small drive up to the starting point in the morning where nearly all the tours start. It is high and was pretty cold so dress appropriately. Then we quickly descended the sealed road for about half an hour before we entered Death Road. The road itself is much like any dirt road, the main difference is the very high drops from various points along the way.
Years ago it was the main road to get to the north-east of Bolivia but was replaced in 2006 by a modern road on the other side of the valley which is used to go to Rurrenabaque. Nowadays, it is still used as a public road so you need to be careful of traffic, although it is not a common route so you won’t encounter too many vehicles. At least 18 tourists have died since 1998 so you still need to be careful and keep your eyes on the road.
Most tours cover about 60km and a decent of 3500m. We had a small group and an adventurous guide who took us down a couple of mountain bike trails off the side of the road. They had some very steep corners and I think we all wiped out at some point. It was worth it though so if you are a keen mountain biker then maybe ask the tour operator about these trails when you’re booking.
When you arrive at the end you will find yourself in a hot climate where you can hopefully have a cold beer and a swim in a pool. Then you get back in the van and head back along the new road to La Paz. There is a bit of a change in altitude again on the way up so you might feel quite sleepy.
Getting to La Paz
The La Paz bus terminal is a bit of a hub in Bolivia and your can get buses to and from many cities in Bolivia and abroad. Most domestic buses leave La Paz in the evening and arrive in the early morning however some buses run regularly throughout the day. It is best to go to the bus terminal the day before you travel to arrange bus tickets. To find out more visit the transport page.
If you fly to La Paz then you will probably feel the altitude when you get out of the plane. It affects everyone differently so take it easy and try to plan a day or 2 of rest when you arrive to acclimatise. The airport is in Al Alto and you can get taxis or mini-vans into the central city.