La Paz

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Potosí

In the middle of the mountains, on an altitude of 4,067 above the sea level, Potosí is definitely worth a stopover between Uyuni and Sucre. Potosí used to be a rich city because of the silver discovered in the mountain mines in the middle of the 16th century. Nowadays, the mines are still in work, however, nobody knows for how long – probably 20-30 years more. Walking through the streets of Potosí, one can see that the city used to have its glorious times. The streets may remind you of a mediterrean city, however you definitely feel the altitude – in the night it can get pretty chilly and in the summer time it might rain a lot here. As I visited the city, it reminded me more of ghost town – I haven’t realized that the Bolivians are celebrating carnival as much as the Brazilians and Germans! On the carnival Tuesday, the streets were empty, everybody was celebrating at their homes with their family and friends. So basically, I was stuck there for a day, which had a benefit, as I have realized later: the body could get used to the altitude (even though walking up stairs of the steep streets in the city will still let you out of breath #gringos). A nice and cheap overstay is La casa Huespedes La Vicuna, located quite in the center. Just take an taxi from the bus station when you arrive, which is the fastest and easiest way to get there. However, be careful that the taxi drive does not charge you more then 10-15 bs, as they will probably try to charge you more as a gringo.

The mines can still be visited; various tourist agencies are offering this the mining tour. The tour does not have to be booked in advance, just choose an agency and if on time do the tour even the same day! However, be careful with the choice of the agency as you are visiting still working mines and thus, depending on the circumstances, the tour can be quite dangerous (over 8 million mine workers died in the mines since silver was first discovered here and to scare you even more, a bridge made out of bones of people who dies here could be made between Potosí and Spain!). I can highly recommend the Koala Tours company (especially Ronald as a guide), as this company offer the tour not as a touristic, rather social trip – they are donating part of their revenues to the mine workers. Nevertheless, be aware, when you decide to visit the silver mines, the tour is very exhausting, physically and mentally. Do not attend the tour if you are suffering from claustrophobia or similar diseases! You will see mine workers working in their normal working conditions and these are far from safe and convenient. Moreover, you will climb, crawl and you will have to pull yourself up through narrow and stony mining tunnels while inhaling dust and different mineral scents. But, you will get a beautiful view over the city before and after you get out of the mine. After the tour you can grab some cheap and tasty “almuerzo o ceno completo” in the restaurant next to the Koala tours company. So all in all, the mining tour is definitely not a traditional tour every backpacker is doing when travelling through Bolivia and thus definitely worth it – so write Potosí on your bucket list and visit the silver mines here!