Without a doubt, La Paz is one of the coolest cities that I have ever been to. In fact, I simply love, love, love La Paz!
Located in west-central Bolivia, La Paz sits between 10,650 – 13,250 feet above sea level, making it THE world’s highest national capital. Luckily, unlike my last trip to Bolivia, I had absolutely no problems adjusting to the drastic change in altitude this time. The city is rich with a unique culture, diverse scenery, awesome night-life, inexpensive shopping, great food, and offers an infinite list of activities for travelers. Okay, the sales pitch is over, but really La Paz is la raja (Chilean slang meaning awesome, the bomb, etc.).
With less than two days in between my return from the majestic Iguazu falls and my departure to Bolivia, I was exhausted from the get go. John and I flew to Arica on Tuesday afternoon with hopes that there was going to be a night bus to La Paz; however, this was not the case. With the next bus to Bolivia leaving around 10:00am the next morning, we set up camp on the floor of a small room, which housed a single ATM machine, at the bus terminal. Let me just tell you…sleeping on a hard tile floor in unfamiliar territory does not make for a good nights sleep!
We woke up bright and early the next morning (if you even want to call it waking up, I hardly slept at all), bought our bus tickets, and departed by 10:30am. Having experience with lengthy bus rides prior to this trip, I thought that the so-called 8 hour expedition would be a breeze. However, once again, this was not the case. For the duration of the entire bus ride (which took longer than estimated) the oh-so- kind lady sitting in front of me had her seat completely reclined, ungraciously taking up all of my leg room and preventing me from getting as comfortable as comfortable gets on a bus. After 10 hours of tossing and turning, listening to music, reading, and going through border crossings, we FINALLY arrived in La Paz around 8:30pm. I will admit, the scenery visible from the bus windows was absolutely beautiful. Throughout our travels we were able to see once again how spectacularly diverse the Bolivian terrain is. Additionally, pulling into La Paz after dark and seeing the entire city lit up was breathtaking!!!!
After taking a cab to the Wild Rover hostel, we showered, ate, and hit the hay. The hostel was… interesting to say the least. The amenities were nice, despite the fact that the showers only had two temperatures-scalding and freezing- and the free breakfast only consisted of bread and butter (like really, where are the scrambled eggs, biscuits, gravy, and bacon y’all?). There was a bar inside the hostel and every night swarms of young travelers residing within the walls would take a nap and then go party the night away. Young, free-spirited travelers whom originate from various places around the world make for a very eclectic and intriguing group of people, to say the least. Admittedly, the hostel was not my cup of tea; however, it provided me with a warm bed to sleep, was clean, and was dirt cheap…this is all I can really ask for.
Our first full day in La Paz was spent exploring the city. The instant I set foot on the streets, I was captivated by its unique culture. The plazas full of Bolivian flags, brightly colored government buildings, monuments, and churches were amazing.
While I enjoyed taking in my new cultural surroundings and noting differences in regard to architecture, transportation (the micros are 10 times cooler as they look like brightly colored school buses), food, etc., one of the most intriguing parts of the city were the Bolivian women that engulfed the streets. In the midst of what would be considered a developed city, many of the women still dressed in traditional Bolivian clothing, including brightly colored skirts, hats, and sweaters. Additionally, the majority drape brightly colored cloths around their backs in order to carry items throughout the streets. It is actually quite comical and impressive how the Bolivian people pack goods. I noticed it from the time I was on the bus to La Paz. Many of the travelers had plastic,multi-purpose bags filled to the brim with who knows what. The same held true when I arrived to the city itself. The people lined the streets with massive, and I mean massive, durable bags full of goods. Many of them were vendors, who meticulously unpacked their items every morning, only to strategically re-pack unsold goods at the end of the night. It is unreal! I suppose consolidation is key when you have to walk the hills of La Paz everyday!
Many of the side streets were composed of cobblestone and were lined with vendors selling fruits, traditional Bolivian food, and products made from alpaca fur. From blankets, to sweaters, to hats, to scarves, you name it, they have it. The best part? Everything is so cheap!!! I went on a bit of a shopping spree (I fully blame my talent on spending large sums of money on my mother), buying things for friends and family. I even had to buy an extra duffel bag in order to get everything back… whoops! Even though I could have shopped for days, I was not going to put John through the torture as he bought everything he wanted at the first market we encountered. Boys…Ughhh!!! Don’t worry, I managed to sneak out later in the week and spend more money!
As we explored the city, it became notable that the higher we went, the more magnificent the view of the city was. Wanting to take the absolute best picture possible, we climbed, and we climbed, and we climbed up the hills of La Paz. It was not easy, but, the pictures were definitely worth the trip.
While exploring the city was a blast, by mid-afternoon we were ready to get our adrenaline pumping. Having done a bit of research through tripadvisor, we found that there was a place nearby to repel off the side of the building. We headed back to the center of the city to partake in the Urban Rush experience! Dressed up like Spider-Man (I was literally wearing a Spider-Man costume, no joke), I repelled off the side of a hotel. It was great, although I wish the building would have been a little taller! Hehehe…
The next day (Friday) brought on an adventure all of its own! We woke up bright and early and headed out to bike “The World’s Most Dangerous Road” (officially named this by the Inter-American Development Bank in 1995). The road is formally referred to as “El Camino a Los Yungas,” or “The Death Road (Camino de la muerte),” by the locals. This was by far one of the coolest things that I have ever done. A van from Vertigo Biking picked us up around 8:00 am and we drove about an hour outside of the city before reaching our departure point. After suiting up and preparing our bikes, we were off! The vast majority of the ride was downhill, and in total included 64kms (40 miles) of riding and a descent from 4,700m/15,400 feet.
The trip began flying down winding stretches of asphalt at La Cumbre, allowing us to “practice” handling our bikes. The views included beautiful mountain scenery and compared to the rough gravel that we road on for the majority of the trip, riding on the asphalt felt like gliding streamline through water before a swim. After riding for approximately an hour, we made our way to the more challenging part of the ride: a gravel road that legitimately runs along the side of a mountain. Those of you who know me, know what a reckless driver I am in the car. Well, the same holds true when I am on a bike! For some reason I just cannot grasp the concept of using brakes. Nonetheless, I had an absolute blast flying down the narrow mountain road, occasionally slowing down to pass a car or take a photo…and then there was that one time that I got a flat tire… only me! From rock overhangs, to waterfalls, to mountains, to lush jungle vegetation, the ride was incredible! I will say, it was a little spooky riding by the crosses of those who had passed away from accidents along the way…
We eventually made our way down a dirt road and ended our ride in Yolsoa, which sits 1,100m/3,600 feet above sea level. Expired of all energy, we took the van to a hotel in La Senda Verde where a quite delicious buffet lunch was served. They had plantains, so I was in heaven!
As if biking down “The Death Road” was not enough, our group drove back up the road as well. You see, a new (and much safer) road has been constructed; however, at the time that we wanted to leave, it was going to be closed for the hour because of something to do with a landside. Being the impatient bunch that we were, we made the decision to take the van back up the path from which we descended (this is not common). Driving the road was much scarier than biking it and the majority of the car was slightly freaking out…John even had an escape plan if the van was to suddenly tumble over the edge of a cliff. Every time we rounded a turn our driver would blow his horn in an attempt to warn unforeseen, and unknown, oncoming traffic that we were coming around the bend! While I was undoubtedly the most calm and collected person in the car, I will admit that there is truly no better way to get your blood pumping than to look out the window of a moving vehicle and see nothing but vast, empty space… as if the tires had no road to cling to…
All in all, “The Death Road” experience was awesome, enough said.
The fun did not end after our biking adventure. The next morning we once again woke up bright and early, but this time to go paragliding over the Bolivian countryside. I found the experience to be rather relaxing, despite the fact that I ran straight into a cactus during takeoff (go figure). Twenty full minutes of gliding over breathtaking views, taking in everything this world has to offer… it does not get much better than that! Take a look for yourself…
After paragliding, we made it back to the city with plenty of time to do some more shopping and eat Mexican for dinner, a perfect ending to our last night in La Paz. WOOOO!!!
We took the 6:00am bus back to Arica on Sunday, where we checked into a hostel, relaxed a bit, and went to dinner and the local casino.
Our flight was not scheduled to leave until 5:30pm the next day, and we desperately wanted to change to an earlier flight in order to get back to Viña at a more reasonable hour. At the casino, John attempted to win enough money to cover the cost of the ticket change, but after being up 65,000 pesos (about $135), he lost it all. No need to worry, he was still even when we left, we just had to pay to change our plane tickets… I am going to have to teach that boy when to walk away… Ha!
La Paz is by far one of my favorite places that I have been to thus far. In our initial travel plans, we were going to make a trip to Lake Titicaca; however, we loved La Paz so much that we decided to stay put (this only gives me a reason to come back!). I will no doubt be returning to visit the city again in the future, in addition to making trips to Lake Titicaca, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, and Sucre. So blessed to have the opportunity to immerse myself in the unique culture of so many different areas!