A First-Timer's Guide to Visiting La Paz

April 2, 2018

Months and months of planning this trip to Bolivia were entirely worth it and I'm already sad that it has come and passed so quickly. My first visit to South America was two years ago, when I climbed Machu Picchu during Spring Break of my senior year in college, and I really didn't think it would be so soon that I would come again. The ideas of climbing Patagonia in Argentina and doing Carnival in Brazil were thrown around for a while, but the deal was sealed when I came across pictures of the famous Uyuni Salt Flats on Instagram. It is, after all, my biggest source of travel inspiration and wanderlust. Planning began as far back as December, when 3 of my good friends from college and I finally decided to take the plunge and buy our plane tickets to La Paz. Meghan, Ange, and Sujin, I love you guys so much! We had an incredible time on this trip together and created a lifetime of memories as we walked through heaven on Earth on the salt flats, took alpaca selfies in Copacabana, got sun burnt in 55 degree weather, mountain biked Death Road and lived, bargained for llama keychains, and spent plenty of time on emails and on the phone sorting out a million and one issues because Bolivians like to protest and block roads (haha). I wouldn't have wanted to do this trip with anyone else. I decided to split Bolivia into 4 different posts that I will detail within the next couple of weeks, but I wanted to start with the first place we landed and where we spent the most of our time during our 10 days in Bolivia. So here is my La Paz spotlight with highlights of things to do and where we ate. Enjoy, and I look forward to sharing much more soon! 

 

WHERE TO STAY : A Home Away From Home

Our stay at Hostal La Posada de La Abuela Obdula made our week in La Paz one of the best and most memorable. The staff here was incredible, from accommodating our 4am arrival and helping us with luggage to assisting with our many phone issues, calling taxis, and a host of other things! We really felt so comfortable here, and ended up staying 5 nights spread out between the week. It is located in such a great location that literally everything is right outside the door - restaurants, shops, tour agency offices. Not to mention, this place is super cute, fills with light in the day time, and there are cafes and tour offices on the bottom floor. Thank you for such an amazing stay, we were really sad to leave!

 

THINGS TO DO

 

Explore the Eerie Mercado de las Brujas

La Paz’s witches market is one of the most popular attractions in the city, and a visit to this small street of vendors will bring a lot of light to the unique and slightly odd culture of the country. In these few stalls, you can find everything from candles and potions, to coca leaves and shockingly, baby llama fetuses, which are often used in witchcraft. Given how close we stayed to the market, we did unintentionally pass by Mercado de las Brujas on multiple occasions. Although we didn't pick anything up from this street in particular, it was definitely very interesting to see. Since we read about what we would find on blogs before coming, I think I was well prepared for some of the unusual knick-knacks I would find. 

 

Walk down Calle Jaen

In the heart of the city lies a quaint, cobblestone street that represents the old history city of La Paz. The charming Calle Jaen (or Jaen Street) is home to many shops, museums, and restaurants, and was a lovely place to visit in the mid afternoon after our cable car ride on Mi Teleférico. We spent less than half an hour here, which is around the amount of time I recommend, unless you want to stay for coffee and museum visits. It's brightly painted exteriors make the street inviting and totally Insta-worthy. It brought me back to my trip to Burano just two years ago.

 

Take a scenic ride on Mi Teleférico

I’ve been on some incredible gondola rides in my life in Hong Kong (Big Buddha), Whistler (Canada), and on el Teleférico in Madrid. So, there shouldn’t be too much of a surprise when I tell you that I love those scenic views! I was excited to get a glimpse of La Paz from above, especially since our planning showed the Mi Teleférico is one of the top things to do in the city. There are actually 6 different colored lines running through the city of La Paz - red, yellow, green, but, orange and white and is a major form of transportation in the La Paz-El Alto region of Bolivia. We set off to the base of the yellow line after lunch, trying to follow Google Maps to Mi Teleférico. We actually ended up getting a bit lost, and some really nice construction workers helped point us to the right direction of town. We ended up taking a taxi to the base when we realized we were still a bit far away after walking for half an hour (with help from an English speaking local!). The ride itself costs 6 Bolivianos (less than $1 USD) for a round trip ticket. The whole ride up and back down lasted about 15-20 minutes. Honestly, I was very pleasantly surprised how well run the cable cars are in a city like La Paz that is still very behind on their technology. The cars were clean and I felt very safe the entire time. Each gondola can hold about 8 people. The views from the car are incredible. You can see the entire city and even Valle de La Luna from a distance. Definitely worth the cheap ride and time for the skyline! Mi Teleférico runs 17 hours a day, so you can even ride it at night to see the lights of the city at dusk.

 

Some other fun facts:
- Mi Teleférico operates at 4,000m above sea level (that's 13,000 feet!)

- It was constructed in just 2 years with a budget of $234M funded by the government

- There were 1200 full-time workers on the project

  

 

 

Take a hike through Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley)

Situated only about 10km or a 30 minute drive from downtown La Paz, Valle de le Luna is an unexpected find so close to the heart of a bustling city. The formation are composed mainly of clay and sandstone created by the persistent erosion of mountains by the area’s strong winds and rains. The mineral content of the mountains also greatly differ, creating different colors and shades along the sides. Pictures do no justice as it was incredible to see the optical illusion of the moon-like, geological formations in 3D. We actually saw a glimpse of them when we did our cable car ride!

 

How to get there: There is a very cheap option to take a collectivo or shuttle bus for around 40 cents a ride from La Paz, though we opted to split a taxi that cost a total of $7 USD. Because we were a group of 4, it was just more convenient to split a private ride instead of seeking out the shuttle in the center of bustling La Paz.

 

Stroll around Plaza Murillo

Located in old town La Paz, Plaza Murillo is a lively plaza surrounded by many famous political buildings. It was built in 1558 by Juan Gutiérrez Paniagua, and was named in honor of Bolivian hero, Pedro Murillo, who played a key role in Bolivia's independence. We passed by Plaza Murillo in mid-afternoon on a Sunday afternoon, and it was bustling with people. There were tons of pigeons, kids, and adults lounging around the plaza soaking in the afternoon sun. It was actually a bit overwhelming to me because it was simply chaotic and gave me NYC vibes. I remember passing it again while we were on our Bolivia Hop bus to Copacabana in the early morning, and it was so much more serene and calm. 

LA PAZ EATS

 

Ali Pancha

It’s not everyday that I get to eat at fancy 4 star restaurants at 1 star prices, so a visit to Ali Pancha for our first meal was definitely a fun treat and experience. This vegan restaurant is highly rated for their 3, 5, and 7 course menus, and after trying it for lunch, I can definitely see why. Every course is a surprise and can change daily, and you can also opt to pay additional for drink pairings. To make the experience better for everyone, the entire table must also order the same thing. Since we weren’t starving, we decided to go for the 5 course menu, which came with home made sourdough bread and a chef’s appetizer.

 

For about $21 USD, we were stuffed and impressed with creative dishes that we would never be able to dream up ourselves. I wouldn’t call it traditional Bolivian food, but it was definitely an interesting and delicious vegan fusion.

 

Home made sourdough bread / chef's appetizer : peanut butter sauce with dehydrated lettuce / beet ceviche

Bolivian mashed potatoes with roasted tomato and quinoa

 

Coffee and corn soup with tomalo and fried cheese /  cookies with banana, lemon puree and cacao nibs /strawberry banana sorbet in wine sauce with fried potatoes

 

Namas Te

We discovered that there are actually quite a few vegan and vegetarian restaurants in La Paz, which was surprising to me considering the cuisine here traditionally involves a lot of meat. Before our Valle de la Luna hike, we headed to Namas Te, a cute local eatery downtown for a late lunch. We shared some guac and fries, and while everyone else ordered the popular Thai noodles, I got the quinoa falafel. Quinoa is not only a superfood as well all know, but it is also grown in many varieties all around Bolivia, so I wanted to eat it as much as I could here.

 

Luciernagas

Bolivian food is very foreign to me, even living in New York City, where every cuisine is around the corner from my apartment. There’s nothing I love more than looking up great, authentic places to eat when I visit a different country, and Luciernagas was at the top of the list of traditional Bolivian cuisine. We ordered just 2 dishes for the 4 of us to share, but man was it a feast!

 

The most memorable part of the meal for me was actually not the food (although delicious) but rather the couple that ran the restaurant. We are a decently chatty group, so I love asking questions to find out about people and what brought them to Bolivia, especially when they are obviously not native. The man who owns Luciernagas with his wife is actually from the Netherlands, but fell in love with Bolivian culture and with a Bolivian woman during his travels. Flash forward 10 years, and they have a popular restaurant in the heart of the city, and a beautiful daughter who we saw hanging near the kitchen. Surprisingly enough, we have seen this a few times during our week, so mixed children are actually quite the norm. 

 

There was fresh bread for the table, but in addition, we ordered:

 

1) The mixed grill for 2:  4-in-1 dish with Sajta de Pollo, Charquekan, Ají de Lengua and Saice (ground beef in red chili sauce), served with rice, boiled potatoes, tunta (white dehydrated potatoes) in peanut sauce and a tortilla of wheat flour

 

2) Fritanga: Pork cooked in a red chili sauce, served with mote (white corn) and cooked potato

 
1700 Restaurant

This eclectic fusion restaurant happened to be just across the street from our hostel, so it was an easy choice for us for dinner since we didn’t want to venture out too far. We actually weren’t able to get reservations at all on a day we walked in in the evening, but we were able to come again later in the week for a delicious meal. We were served shots of gin as “appetizers”, which I believe were 40% alc. in addition to a yummy sampling of exotic fruit from the kitchen. I tried the passion fruit llama burger (I know I know!!), which was delicious and served with freshly fried potato chips. We also ordered a side of yucca fries, which are one of my favorite South American foods! The decor and ambiance here is really unique and I highly recommend it as a great option for Bolivian fusion food.

 

Café Berna

Conveniently located on the first floor of our hostel, Hostal Posada de La Abuela, Café Berna was the perfect spot to stop by for a quick slice of cake and a coffee before heading out to the city of La Paz to explore and souvenir shop. I really didn’t have too high of hopes for Bolivian sweets, but my chocolate cake was surprisingly good, especially with a latte. They also have other sweets, smoothies, and coffee options on the menu.

 

La Cueva

Good Mexican food is surprisingly very easy to find in La Paz, and our first dinner was actually burritos at a popular joint just a few blocks away from our La Paz home. La Cueva has a pretty basic Mexican food menu, with items ranging from tacos and guac to enchiladas and burritos. My beef burrito was delicious and came with all the fix ins too. As I may have mentioned in a Cancun post before, I’m actually not a big fan of Mexican food, but my beef burrito was so good!

 

Kalakitas

Our day biking Death Road was most definitely the longest and most active day of the week. With all that adrenaline and expended energy, we knew we needed a big dinner for fuel even though we snacked throughout the day on our tour. Our guide recommended Kalakitas, which I had come across on TripAdvisor for some great Mexican food. The décor is super authentic and here, and is located on the second floor on Calle Sagarnaga, where many of the tour companies are located. I ordered chile rellenos (stuffed peppers) and I have to say, I LOVED it so much! My friends all ordered different things on the menu and enjoyed their meals too. Very authentic Mexican food and décor.

I'm ending this post with a few more pictures of doing what I do best...walking around and exploring the city! Watch out for more of my trip to Bolivia in the upcoming weeks and thank you so much for reaching!

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