We spent 3 days in the Bolivian capital La Paz. There is plenty to see and do in La Paz, but that doesn’t really matter because La Paz has my favourite public transport system in the whole world. I could quite happily spend days just travelling the city’s cable cars (Mi Teleférico) for the ride and the awesome views. In compiling my Top 10 Things to do in La Paz, I had to overcome the urge just to list the 10 Teleférico Lines!
We arrived by plane and left by bus. The airport, ‘El Alto’ is 4080 metres – that’s 2.5 miles – above sea level! From here, you descend 500 metres into La Paz, past thousands of houses clinging to the hillside, surrounded by spectacular scenery and a lot of traffic.
We departed by bus on an overnight service to Peru. There are a number of bus companies running services to and from La Paz. At the Bus Terminal (which, coincidentally was designed by Gustave Eiffel) each company has its own ticket booth. We hadn’t planned to travel by bus, so it was rather bewildering wandering round the booths checking which operator offered which destinations. However, we ended up on a very nice bus with fully reclining seat for the our unexpected drive to Cuzco.
Getting around La Paz is fun! Where other major cities have a network of underground trains, La Paz has a network of cable cars; Mi Teleférico. They’re clean, comfortable, cheap and most enjoyable. I’ve travelled a lot and riding the cable cars of La Paz is one of my all time top travel experiences. You can buy a pass, but we arrived at the weekend and couldn’t find anywhere open to sell us one, so we purchased individual tickets each ride. This works out more expensive, but at 3 bolivianos (36p) a ride, not a huge expense. Plus I got to keep the tickets (a different colour for each line) for my scrapbook.
Where to Stay?
We stayed at the Hotel Rosario La Paz. The hotel is clean and comfortable and in a convenient central location. It is on a street so crowded with traders that the taxi could hardly squeeze through. However, inside is like another world; calm and quiet with rooms built around a courtyard garden. And the rooms are very nice inside, with the added bonus of a view of the city. I loved that the décor incorporates plenty of Bolivian handiwork. The price includes an excellent buffet breakfast.
Altitude Sickness in La Paz
La Paz is very high up, so be prepared for an element of altitude sickness. Officially, La Paz is at an altitude of 3650 metre and I had read a lot about altitude sickness in this crazy city perched half way up the Andes. I did have a headache and get a bit out of breath at times, and certainly wouldn’t have entertained the idea of going for a run! But, we didn’t really have any problems, as long as we walked at a sedate pace. Our hotel, like many in the city, did have oxygen available if necessary.
|2||Mirador El Alto|
|3||Basilica de San Francisco|
|4||Museo Nacional de Arte|
|5||Calle Jaen Museums:|
* Museo Costumbrista
* Museo de Metales Preciosos
* Casa de Murillo
|6||Museo de la Coca|
|9||Shopping at Mercado de las Brujas|
1 – Mi Teleférico
By far my favourite thing about La Paz was riding on Mi Teleférico. There are 10 lines, each a different colour, (with gold under construction). Covering a total of 30 km, they criss-cross the city. The cable cars are clean, efficient and cheap (around 30p a ride). Honestly, I could have happily spent several days in La Paz just riding cable cars. Each station has two names; one in Spanish and the other in Aymara.
The Naranja Line starts in downtown La Paz at Estación Central, the former Railway Station. It heads east to Héroes de la Revolución, where it links with the Blanca Line. Just outside the station is Plaza Gualberto Villarroel, from where there are great views across the suburbs to the snow capped mountains behind.
The Blanca Line runs for 2 miles, hanging high above Avenida Busch. Blanca terminates at Del Libertador, where it links with Verde and Amarilla. Mid way along, it also connects with Celeste.
Celeste (Sky Blue)
The Celeste line also runs from Del Libertador. From here, you can head into the old town travelling high above the river.
The Roja Line starts in La Paz at Estación Centra and takes you dangling above the cemetery, before climbing 500 metres up to Mirador El Alto.
The Amarilla Line runs east to west across the southern end of the city. To the west, the line ends high up in the hills at Mirador. It carries you hovering over a Military Academy, where you can watch recruits doing drills and then over a football stadium for a birds eye view of the match.
To the east, Amarilla connects with Verde, which passes over some very fancy houses to the suburb of Irpavi.
- Azul (Blue) – links La Paz with neighbouring El Alto.
- Morada (Purple) – runs south west from Edificio Correos, terminating near the airport.
- Café (Brown) – this short line connects Blanca with the suburb of Las Villas.
- Plateada (Silver) – connects the Red, Purple and Yellow Lines.
- Dorada (Gold) – currently under construction. It will start where the Green Line ends, running further east.
2 – Mirador El Alto
Mirador El Alto provides spectacular views of the city and the Andes. Although, to be honest, there’s an equally great view from the cable car on the journey up. The temperature difference at the top is substantial. And the air is noticeably thinner. After enjoying the view for a while, it’s a relief the descend into La Paz.
3 – Basilica de San Francisco
You can just visit the 18th century Basilica of San Francisco, but I recommend the guided tour. This costs 20 bolivianos (£2.40) and includes the cloisters, the church, then up a tiny, dark staircase to climb onto the roof.
Just as I poked my head through the door onto the roof, someone threw themselves off the tower block opposite. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the light. Then I spotted the rope. It was a bungee jump – phew!
Once I had calmed down and caught my breath from climbing onto a church roof at altitude, we could enjoy the wonderful views (including bungee jumpers) and see how each roof tile is unique, because men made them by shaping clay round their thighs.
4 – Museo Nacional de Arte
The Museo Nacional de Arte is another 18th century building, this time, bright red. It’s quite dark inside with only the paintings illuminated which is atmospheric, if a little difficult to negotiate.
The art is mostly religious, and sometimes weird, or even both, like this mountain Madonna.
In the basement, you can enter a large confetti filled room and create your own confetti moments.
The museum is open from 9 am – 5 pm, daily except Sundays. Entry costs 20 bolivianos.
5 – Calle Jaen Museums
Calle Jaen is an old colonial street. Here, you can visit three separate museums. (Technically four, but the Museo Litoral Boliviano was closed when we visited.) A ticket costs 20 bolivianos and includes entry to all the museums. Note: You need ID to purchase a ticket.
The Museo Costumbrista (Costume Museum) tells the history of La Paz in costumes and dioramas. It was actually really interesting although only in Spanish, so even getting a basic understanding involved plenty of referring to my handy dictionary App. Photography isn’t allowed inside, so here is one of the entrance…
Museo de Metales Preciosos
The Museo de Metales Preciosos (Museum of Precious Metals, sometimes referred to as the Gold Museum) contains many gold and other items from Bolivia’s past. Inside it is very dark; black from floor to ceiling and has plenty of steps. That we both made it round without incident is an achievement.
Casa de Murillo
Casa de Murillo is the former home of Pedro Murillo, a local hero, who led an uprising against Spanish rule. The house is filled with interesting artefacts from Murillo’s life.
7 – Plaza Murillo
The Plaza Murillo is a square which is surrounded by important buildings; the cathedral, the Palacio de Gobierno and the Palacio Legislativo. It is also surrounded by pigeons – kamikaze pigeons! Pigeons aside, it’s a nice place to sit, relax and catch your breath before moving on.
6 – Museo de la Coca
The Coca Museum charts the history of the coca leaf, its role in Bolivian culture and uses as a drug, both legal and illegal.
The museum was more interesting that I’d anticipated. They also have a café where you can buy coca food, cocktails and original recipe Coca Cola.
The museum is open from 10 am – 7 pm daily except Sundays. Entry costs 15 bolivianos.
9 – Metropolitan Cathedral
The 19th Century Metropolitan Cathedral is less ornate than San Francisco Basilica, but it does boast Jesus on a neon cross.
Like most buildings in La Paz, it’s built on a hillside. Hence, the rear of the cathedral is at ground level, while the entrance is 12 metres up and accessed by a flight of stone steps.
9 – Shopping at Mercado de las Brujas
The famous Mercado de la Brujas (Witches’ Market) is where they sell all manner of weird stuff to tourists. The street was crazy busy – we visited just before carnival and there was a never ending row of ladies in petticoats and bowler hats flogging steamers, fancy dress outfits and an array of gaudy plastic tat.
10 – Botanical Garden
The small Botanical Garden costs just 1 boliviano (12p) each to get in. It’s not the world’s greatest botanical garden, but has many native species and is a haven of calm in this crazy city.
- Trip taken: February 2019
- Updated: March 2023
Leave a Reply