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THE 13 BEST THINGS TO DO AS A BACKPACKER IN LA PAZ, BOLIVIA

La Paz, Bolivia’s largest city, is a vibrant, multi-cultural metropolis sat at a lofty height of 3,600m. Its staggering altitude is only surpassed by its unique nature, from the glaciated peaks of Illimani and Huayna Potosi surrounding the city to the strange desert expanses of the Valley of the Moon just a stones-throw away from the city centre. It’s impossible to run out of things to do in this city.

1. Ride The Cable Car

Upon arriving in the city, you will see the impressive cable cars and their lines stretching out to every corner of La Paz.

 

The cable car network, used as public transport to avoid traffic, provides fast and reliable transportation for its residents but it’s also great for travellers to move between the major attractions in the city.

 

Going as high as 4,000m (13,000 ft) above sea level, the world’s highest cable car is a great way to explore and have incredible views of the city.

 

The initial fare is 3 bolivianos ($0.43).

 

Cable cars leave the stations every 12 seconds and run 17 hours per day (5AM-10PM).

 

The red line will take you to most of the popular places tourists want to visit such as El Alto (for panoramic views of the city), the Witches Market and the Cholita Stadium, but you can ride it all over the city.

 

For more information on the lines and a map head here.

2. Watch The Cholita Wrestling

Picture WWE wrestling mixed with the no holds barred style of Mexican Lucha Libre, then replace the male wrestlers with female stars, and you have Cholita wrestling.

 

‘Cholita’ was once a derogatory term used for indigenous women in Bolivia. Over time, they’ve claimed back this term for themselves, changing it to have positive connotations. These women started wrestling alongside the men to empower themselves and the women of Bolivia.

 

Every Sunday evening, the stadium will be packed full of locals and tourists coming to see these women duke it out in the ring. And like any staged wrestling, you will see some impressive acrobatics, good vs bad routines and absurd humour.

 

You can visit the wrestling yourself in El Alto, although it’s probably easier and safer to go with one of the tour companies without costing extra.

 

Red Cap Tours organise trips here.

3. Walking Tour

The massive sprawl of La Paz can be a nightmare to navigate, so a walking tour is a great way to get your bearings and see the highlights.

 

Red Cap offer numerous tours from the standard city centre to foodie tours and even an organised cable car tour if you really can’t be bothered to navigate that yourself.

 

4. Visit The Witches Market

Another weird and wonderful place to visit whilst in La Paz – the witches market has dozens of stalls and vendors selling everything from raw food ingredients to crazier items used in rituals such as dried animal husks.

 

Witch doctors will wander through the market offering you a cleansing or fortune-telling, or you can buy one of the many bizarre items as a souvenir – the weirdest being dried llama foetuses which will supposedly bring you good luck.

 

The Red Cap walking tour will take you to the smaller version in the city centre, or the extended cable car tour will take you to the much bigger one in El Alto. 

5. Head To A Viewpoint For Amazing Views of Illimani

While the views are incredible from almost anywhere in the city, there are a couple of popular places that give you unbridled views of the entire city and the immense backdrop of the Andes.

 

Catching the red line cable car up to El Alto takes you to the highest point on the edge of the valley for stunning panoramic views.

 

Kilikili viewpoint and Parque Mirador Laikakota both have almost 360 views of La Paz with Illimani Mountain providing an excellent background for some Instagram photos.

 

6. Canyon de Palca (Cañón de Palca)

If you prefer to get out of the city into nature, then La Paz has several places to visit.

 

You can take a trip to Bolivia’s very own slice of the wild west and trek through Canyon de Palca.

 

A walk through this gorge makes an ideal day hike from the city, and the beautiful rock formations that poke out like jagged teeth make for a unique experience. This is still relatively undiscovered on the gringo trail, so it’s perfect if you are looking for something less touristy. Most companies combine the canyon with a trip to the valley of souls on a single day trip.

 

South Treks do a full day tour for $45 if full per person (5 or more people). 

7. Valle De Las Animas

Looking like something out of a Lord of the Ring’s movie, Valle de las Animas or the Valley of the Souls is a strange but beautiful valley filled with impressive geological formations. These formations were named by locals who thought the jagged rocks resembled petrified souls. Spooky.

 

8. Valle De La Luna

Another spectacular natural landscape just outside of the city, Valley de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), is less of a valley and more a maze of canyons, strange rock formations and giant spires jutting from the ground.

 

Several trails run through the area with the longest taking up to an hour, so this is a great half-day activity. You can reach the valley easily via taxi or uber (25-minute journey); entry costs $2.

 

We’ve detailed how to get there via public transport, and how to combine it with some other great activities in our 3 Day La Paz Itinerary.

9. Climb to 5,000m at Chacaltaya Summit

Chacaltaya Mountain is an iconic peak overlooking La Paz.

 

Once famous for being the site of the world’s highest ski resort at 5,260m, it is now sadly known for being the site of the Andes’ first disappearing glacier.

 

The best part is there’s hardly any trekking so if you want to get as high as Everest base camp without any of the effort, then this is for you. You can drive up to around 5,000m, from here it’s a short but breathless 15 minute walk to the top.

 

This is still tough though due to the altitude so make sure you have acclimatised in La Paz a few days before. The road up the mountain is rocky and narrow, and steep turns make this best suited for a 4×4.

 

We managed to convince our uber drive to take us, but we wouldn’t recommend this as his poor car struggled and returned very dirty.

 

A tour is probably best. La Paz On Foot offer a half day tour.

10. Condoriri Hike

The beautiful mountains surrounding La Paz aren’t just for staring at, and many of them can be hiked or even summited if you’re brave enough.

 

The Conodiriri hike is a single day trek which is excellent for adventurers wanting to get into the mountains without camping or who want to avoid the early starts that come with summiting the peaks.

 

The hike begins at an altitude of 4,400m rising to the turquoise Chiar Khota Lake (4,600m), before another 2-3 hours upwards for more incredible views of La Paz and even Lake Titicaca.

 

Again, La Paz On Foot are the go to company for trekking in the Andes surrounding the capital.

 

11. Summit Huayna Potosi

Huayna Potosi is an iconic peak of the Cordillera Real mountain range. You can do a short trek to base camp or if you are feeling brave – why not summit?

 

The great thing about this mountain is its accessibility to beginner climbers. It is often referred to as one of the most accessible 6,000m peaks in the world, but it’s still no walk in the park.

 

The standard trek is two days and one night, camping on the mountain the first night and then waking at 3 AM to reach the summit for sunrise.

12. Bike Down The Famous Death Road

You can’t visit La Paz without riding down one of the most famous and dangerous roads in the world.

 

Death Road has become known worldwide due to the number of deaths that occurred along with it every year. Eventually, the Bolivian government built a highway so that large vehicles could avoid the death trap.

 

La Calle de la Muerte has now become a must-do for adrenaline junkies, thrill seekers and bucket list tickers who need to leave Bolivia wearing the “I survived death road” t-shirt.

 

Be warned; this isn’t for the faint-hearted. You begin by speeding down the new asphalt highway for the for an hours or two until you reach the death road proper. From here its bumpy, rocky road, with twists and turns down. If you aren’t a confident rider, consider giving it a miss, we had one accident ourselves and spoke to many other groups who said they fell off on the way down.

 

Best to pick a company that provides well-serviced bikes and has a reputation for safety. We went with Barracuda Biking and would recommend them

 

The complete breakdown of our Death Road experience can be read here. 

 

13. Take A Tour To Copacabana or Uyuni

You can find some day trips that will take you to either of these two unique sites.

 

If you’re short on time, then go for it, but it’s much better to experience these incredible places for more than just one day.

 

Read why you should consider the full Uyuni Salt Flats tour here.

HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED IN LA PAZ?

With the sheer number of things to do and see in La Paz, we would recommend a minimum of three days.

 

If it’s your first time at altitude, then you may want an extra day or two to acclimatise.

 

Spend one full day exploring the city centre and riding the cable cars. Spend another doing one of the many great activities such as death road and a final half day outside the city. Follow this up with Cholita Wrestling or an evening of partying.

 

Our three-day itinerary looks like this:

 

  • Day 1 – Walking tour, cable car riding and Cholita Wrestling
  • Day 2 – Death Road
  • Day 3 – Valley De las Animas or Luna (morning) / city viewpoint (evening)

 

We’ve broken this down fully in our La Paz Itinerary guide here along with some suggestions for extending it to a 5-day itinerary by adding in some hiking if you have the time.

WHERE TO STAY IN LA PAZ

Best Area To Stay In La Paz

There are two main areas travellers will want to stay in La Paz.

 

Sopocachi is the nicer area where most of the bars, clubs and restaurants can be found along with a few hostels.

 

Centro (Downtown) is located downtown (which is up a hill) where you will be closer to tourist attractions such as the Witches Market and have a wealth of food options and backpacker accommodations available. Both areas are right next to each other.

Best Hostels In La Paz

We have a complete guide to our favourite La Paz hostels here, but two good options are:

 

  • Wild Rover – in the Centro area, wild rover hostels are the most famous party hostels in South America. Whilst the beds and rooms are standard, the bar and social scene are unparalleled.
  • Selina – closer to Sopocachi, Selina is on the expensive side but offers comfy beds, good privacy and large lockers. Stay here if you want some peace and quiet.

BEST PLACES TO EAT IN LA PAZ

For a great breakfast/brunch spot with amazing coffee, try Café Typica.

 

Two excellent restaurants to check out in downtown include:

 

  • Higher Ground which serves a range of South America dishes
  • Steakhouse which does what it says on the label – amazing Bolivian reared steaks and other selections of meat.

HOW TO GET TO LA PAZ

Bordering five countries, there are multiple ways of getting to La Paz.

 

We flew from Cusco so can only give you information on this, but you can reach the city from Puno in Peru, the Atacama in Chile and many other destinations.

Flying Into La Paz

El Alto International Airport, La Paz is set in the El Alto district way above the city.

 

It’s a small airport, and upon leaving baggage, you will see a few coffee houses and restaurants. Alexander Coffee has Wifi if you need it, but you will need to buy something.

 

We tried Uber from the airport but couldn’t find any cars so jump in a taxi. Outside the airport, you will see the official taxis waiting in line. We paid 70BOB for a 45-minute journey to our hostel. When we had to return for our flight to Rurrenbaque, we took an Uber back as there are more cars in the city centre and this was slightly cheaper.

Buses In Bolivia

If you’re entering south Bolivia from Chile or Argentina or crossing the land border from Peru, then you will need to get a bus to La Paz.

 

During our time in Bolivia, we booked most of our buses with Tickets Bolivia and used Trans Copacabana as they had the best reviews.

Where’s your next stop in Bolivia?

 

If your heading to the Amazon then check out our guide to help you organise flights and a tour, or start here first with a handy comparison of the two types of Amazon tour you can do in Bolivia. 

 

 

If you are working your way round into the centre of the country, the a great next stop to consider is Cochabamba and the amazing Torotoro National Park.

 

 

Or if you are still unsure about your route, start by checking our our 3 week Bolivia itinerary to help you start planning. 

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