Remarkable. That’s probably the most fitting adjective to describe this city. Fighting with Sucre for years about the title of being “Capitol of Bolivia”, La Paz did not win the fight. In the new Constitution introduced in 2009, Sucre is declared being the official capitol of Bolivia, even though a lot of people in La Paz still not accept it. However, the city is much bigger than Sucre. You can see how massive this city, when taking one of the cable cars and looking down from the hills into the valley. There are different colors of cable cars. With the red one, you can get a pretty decent view over the city. However, the green and yellow one are recommendable as well, as you can see the city from the opposite site. One way ticket costs just 3 bs, so definitely it´s worth it. The majority of the houses in the city are made simply out of bricks and are orange. The reason for it is, that the people do not have to pay taxes for unfinished houses, so they just do not paint their house or do not finish the roofs. Pretty clever and even though the government is trying to change the regulation for years, nothing has really happened. Up from the mountains, you can also see how polluted the city is with all the exhaust fumes and emissions. Thus, some parts of the city may look a bit foggy.
We have stayed in the Loki Hostel, which is one of the bigger party hostels in the city, located 10 minutes walking from the bus terminal. For 62 bs per night, we got what we´ve paid for. On the top of the hostel, on the 7th floor, you have an amazing view over the city! And the “Hangover Fix Smoothie” is reeeally delicious. Well, I can imagine that a lot of people need this smoothie here, as Loki offers a different party each evening. On our first night, there was a pretty cool Beer Pong Tournament.
As in every city, I would highly recommend to do a walking city tour. Offering something for free is illegal in Bolivia, so we had to pay 20 bs for our walking tour organized by HanaqPacha Travel, which we´ve booked 10 minutes before the beginning of the tour in our hostel. You can get quite a nice overview of the center of the city: San Francisco church, Mercado Lanza, the Witches Market (where you can buy dead llama babies!!), Plaza Murtillo and most interestingly, the San Pedro prison. It is kind of “open” prison in the middle of the city, where petty criminals are living with their families, without a single guard! The prisoners can live there in eight different sectors, depending on their wealth and open their own businesses there, like restaurants or barber stores. Even people from outside can come in and eat in one of the prison restaurants or get their hairs cut by the prisoners! It is an own community living there with over 2,000 prisoners. If you want to learn more about the living conditions in the prison, read the book “Marching Powder” written by Rusty Young, about Thomas McFadden, an English who spend couple of years in the prison for smuggling cocaine out of the country. McFadden has started tourist tours through the prison until a girl got murdered inside the prison in 2009.
The traditional religions of indigenous people are mixed with Christianity, so getting back to the dead llama babies – Bolivians believe in practicing witchcraft (there is even a witch school in a city on the countryside near La Paz) and every time a new house is built in the city, a dead llama is offered for the Mother Earth and the family or the person building the house have to organize a three-day offering party for the construction workers. Until the 70´s it was even common to offer a human body when big buildings were built. Some people believe this tradition still exists.
While staying in the city, you may get altitude sickness (as the city is located 3,700 meters above the sea level) or food poisoning. I was lucky to get both, yey. So do the walking tour, take a ride with a cable car and if you have enough time, energy and the respective budget, do the Death Road Tour! However, I would not stay longer than two or three days in La Paz.