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La Paz

Added: June 06, 2010

Tags: Bolivia RTW SouthAmerica church city mountains photos
It was the 35th day of our travelling, Monday 1st of February 2010. Our flight landed at El Alto. We walked about 100m to passport control and it was sufficient to get light headed and heavy breathing. No wonder, El Alto is at about 4100m above sea level and we flew there from Santiago de Chile at 520m. With such high elevation any strange feelings in head cannot be ignored.

I cannot help myself, I have to show many photos here. No wonder, we've spent more days in La Paz than at any other place we travelled through. We wanted to acclimatize to this altitude well before heading to "wilderness" and spent there 4 days. And then later 3 unplanned days. During that time I found I like La Paz a lot. It's atmosphere, people, colours, mountains, even weather was amazing.

Our stay was enhanced by very good hostel Cruz de los Andes we stayed at. Staff did not speak English much, only one lady was able to help in all cases, but for simpler needs we managed well also with others. We liked especially old lady in kitchen who served breakfast.

While staying in La Paz to get acclimatized to altitude you don't need to be bored. You can make many small trips in surroundings. We went to Tiwanaku and Valle de la Luna (those are easy) and later we made a hike to Chacaltaya (~5300m). You can go further away, like for example visiting Copacabana at Lake Titicaca.

Impressions from La Paz

We arrived before noon, found a collectivo heading into centre with big help of locals whom we showed address and a map of our hostel. Every collectivo (microbus) has well marked route on windscreen, but that does not help newcomers a lot.

We refused to put our luggage on the roof, instead we occupied one seat more in already packed collectivo. We were bit confused about price. The guy outside wrote 3800 on paper before the collectivo came, but I could not get what that means. Nobody asked money when we got in so we just sat there. Some time later people started to pass money to "conductor". He montioned to us we are going to pay for 3 seats and after he returned the change I have realized the price was 3.8 BOB. Pretty cheap, less than 40p.

We went down to city and driver told us it is our stop there. Stop is not correct name, because there are not any. It stops anywhere along the route where you want to. When you are waiting for one, just wave to incoming one when you see it is correct one or you can hear sound similar to place you want to go. But I doubt you would pick up the name in rapid succession of names shouted by "conductor" from open door while it passes around you.

Hostel Cruz de los Andes

Plaza San Francisco was busy and city looked slightly alien to us. We were standing in our first proper Latin American city. With big backpacks on our backs we were alert to any threats. None happened. Contrary, people helped us to get oriented and showed us which way to go. Surprising thing was all of them were telling us the same direction. That would certainly not happen in India.

La Paz is located in a valley between 2 slopes and both sides are thickly covered with houses. Main road is down (and heading lower to rich suburbs) while everything else is uphill. We started to climb the street Sagarnaga, then changed to Murillo, both are bordered with many shops. I was looking at stalls selling food, but everything looked interesting too. Finally we were on Calle Santa Cruz and we knew we need to climb only last 100 metres. Well, it is not easy to climb maybe 300m with 20kg backpack in thin air.

After getting to hostel we learned our room is at the 4th floor! So it is not over yet... We had previous experience from Lhasa in Tibet, so we went to bed immediately and spent there several hours, trying to relax and acclimatize. It really helped we did not go immediately to explore surroundings.

Elevation between hostel and main road Prado was only disadvantage of this hostel. Otherwise we liked it a lot. It was clean, hot water worked always apart from one day. Every room had different mural (we have been in 2 of them). I have already mentioned nice staff, they were especially helpful later when Zuzka got salmonella.

Shops and sellers

Streets of La Paz are full of stalls, shops, people sitting on pavements and selling stuff stacked around them. You can find everything ordinary and also pretty strange. Interesting was for example coca tea of brand Windsor, but lama foetuses were the most strange item we have seen.

My only negative experience in South America is tied to market in La Paz. Black Market to be more precise. We went there while looking for some good viewpoint and at one moment I've noticed old woman tries to tear my pocket on trousers. She was typical old Bolivian woman with bowler hat and striped shawl. I yelled at her and she left. Then finally Zuzka hurried to me, took off my hat and started to bang on my daysack. She told me she was too far, but she could see 5 people behind me throwing dirt on my hat and daysack. By helping to clean me she completely confused me so I did not see anything else. Only then I found the old woman nicked my map compass.

That really infuriated me. I really regretted I did not banged my camera into her face. You know, heavy magnesium body, I am hauling it everywhere and when it can pay off it just does not occur to me :-) I restored my comfort only after I bought a new compass. But my original one was better :-(

This stall apparently specialized in toys for Adams Family.

We spent some time going around these shops to find a nice llama sweater. I succeeded in the first shop, Zuzka needed 3 hours more.

Night market at Plaza San Francisco.

These ladies were selling their colourful stuff directly opposite the entrance to our hostel.


Bowler hats are one of the mysteries of Bolivia. Why all old women are wearing them? They seem so impractical. Less mysterious part is where they come from. You just buy one on the street.

And finally some proper photo of food, yummy papayas.

Eating in La Paz

Last photo can be followed only with a section about food. We did not eat much in the streets. We bought mostly fruit, but ate it in our room after washing it. We decided we don't have a luxury of getting ill and spending time in bed. We dined every day in nice restaurant Caffe Berlin. We selected it after long time spent by looking for a restaurant where they could provide meals suitable to Zuzka's allergy. In most of them they had no clue what we wanted, some waiters probably could not read Spanish.

Breakfasts in hostel were nice, but I could not get rid of idea they can see how much I take from a buffet table in order to survive till noon. Papayas, bananas, quinoa and small pieces of bread cannot satisfy for long time.

Regardless of our precautions with meals the problems happened to Zuzka. She got salmonella and we needed to stay longer. We were not sure if it was caused by banana split or something else. But I did not catch it and that banana split was only thing I did not have. "Unfortunately" a doctor called by hostel staff cost only 50USD, that was less than excess our travel insurance through Columbus Direct was settled at. Next time we will look for other insurer. I always try to avoid repeating of the same mistakes.

Whole salmonella thing coincided well with a strike of Bolivian bus drivers that happened on day we planned to leave. I am not sure what exactly they were striking against, but it was related to drunk driving. Somehow they did not like a new law allowing to revoke driving licence for life in case a driver is caught drunk.

But we were staying for 2 more days anyway. At least we can say we were in Bolivia!

Mountains around La Paz

I have mentioned before La Paz covers whole valley with surrounding slopes completely covered with buildings. Add distant 5-6000m high mountains, some sunshine and heavy clouds and you have big potential for nice photos. If only it was not so hard to find clear spot without wires everywhere.

I think if we went high enough we would find such a spot, but higher in La Paz you go, poorer people live there and we could have some problems with safety. Better not to risk that.




And the following 3 photos are dedicated to Illimani, the 2nd highest mountain in Bolivia (6438m). We have never seen it without clouds.



More exploration of city

We explored the city several times. There were always new things to see. Either the weather was different, or the students went home from school, or they just threw papayas at each other while surprisingly big groups of policemen were watching them.

Some of those explorations were not targeted for taking photos. But for example for finding ATM. This was more complicated than we thought originally. BTW withdrawing money from ATMs is probably the best way to get local money. They have better exchange rate or smaller commissions than exchange offices. Example - immediately as we arrived we exchanged money at airport. The guy was searching through illustrated book with bank notes for long time looking for pictures of GBP (I don't remember if I gave him 20, or challenged him with 50). Finally he settled on rate 1:8, while you can get 1:10 from ATM.

To my surprise some of ATMs have also fingerprint readers (we have seen such in red coloured bank, but I cannot remember its name). As we learned it is possible to withdraw also USD, but it is a bit risky. If (when) the bill is even slightly damaged nobody will take it. Including the bank whose ATM just gave it to you.

Orange slope. With proper light it shines in bright orange. There is one on the east and one on the west, just pick your time you want to shoot :-)

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And again the bricks on the slope. If you like the colours of La Paz, click on next page, there will be different ones.