La Paz is one of the most interesting cities I have ever visited, and rather unexpectedly so. Originally I wasn’t expecting to stay longer than a day or two, I ended up there twice for around a week each (before and after my Rurrenbaque trip to the Amazon basin).
Where to stay:
I stayed at the amazing Loki hostel. This is a chain of party inclined hostels in South America. The hostels are absolutely fantastic with a bar, events, great food and such a friendly atmosphere. I met so many other backpackers- many of whom never seemed to leave the hostel bar! But it is a place you can easily get stuck as it’s so chilled.
Five things to do and see in La Paz:
1. The witches market. The local indigenous people still hold on to many of their original customs and beliefs. Go to the witches market to find Llama foetuses which they use (yes really) to bury under buildings for good luck. Rumour has it that for special buildings a Llama won’t do and they resort to human beings- let’s just say there are plenty of homeless and beggars who nobody would report if they went missing… They worship Pachamama (Mother Earth) and one thing I do like is their appreciation of nature. They believe that the plants, people, animals are al interconnected- reminding me of the film Avatar.
2. San Pedro Prison- you have to read the book Marching Powder by Thomas McFadden – an Australian backpacker who was imprisoned inside this prison, and who writes about life inside. Let’s just say it isn’t a normal prison by any stretch of the imagination- it is not run by police or officers but by the prisoners themselves, yes really! They have to buy everything themselves from bedding to food and so rely on small businesses inside the prison and/or family bringing in money.
Up until a few years ago tours took place in the prison allowing visitors to party with the prisoners and ask them questions. Due to safety reasons these official tours have been banned but rumour has it that if you hang around long enough, for a small fee someone will most likely let you in. We queued up with the women who were taking their husbands gifts but no to avail.. probably for the best!
3. Embark on a La Paz walking tour which will give you a deep insight into the local people and their customs. Did you know that the olde indigenous men have the power to whip people in public?! Be careful around them!
The walking tour will take you to streets you otherwise wouldn’t see, tell you tales of ghosts and goblins.
You will also stop outside San Pedro prison and hear tales of life on the inside.
And the tour ends at a Mirador (viewpoint) overlooking the city. The houses are only nicely painted if the owners are wealthy as they need to pay higher taxes. So many houses are left shabby and plain, which actually adds to the character of the place.
This mural below represents the show shiners who wear balaclavas. At first they look a little scary, but it is so their identity is not revealed as this job is considered one of the lowest on society and could bring shame to their families..
4. Go on a horse ride – the horse ride up in the hills gave me some fantastic views of the city, and I also gained more insights from the local guide. It was only me and him and the trail lasted around an hour and a half. Suitable for novices- experts.
This square is Be sure to look up and around you at the buildings- you will see bullet holes from the various battles which have taken place here.
Extra.. the nightlife of La Paz is also rather famous. Route 36 being one of the most famous – we found out about this place from a guy at the hostel bar, we previously had zero interest in going but he was so enthusiastic about it – his excitement was contagious! We had to go. Simply ask a taxi driver who will take you to a pop up location. I think the location changes from time to time.
When we went somebody from a window upstairs saw we had arrived, radioed down and the metal shutters slid open about two feet off the ground, we entered into a dark corridor, went up the stairs and into the dark bar. The menu was handed to us – what was on it wasn’t drinks but something else… what happened next?! Well quite frankly I had one of the strangest, craziest and most fun nights of my life! I can’t say more than that after all what happens in Bolivia stays in Bolivia…
Hi, I live and work in Dubai. I enjoy getting out and about and seeing what Dubai has to offer, travelling in my holidays and spare time – prepare for blog posts about this, and cooking vegetarian recipes. I am passionate about travel and animals.