Looking for adventure, good food, exciting heights, and shows of women wrestling, then look no further than La Paz, Bolivia. Bolivia is seen as a country with adventures to participate in. There is the famous Death Road which you can ride a bike down. The Uyuni Salt Flats bring many people from far and wide to take fantastic photos and enjoy the scenery. Lastly, there is so much to see, but La Paz, Bolivia, is a great spot to start.
La Paz is a unique place as it is the highest administrative capital of any country in the world. The administrative side of the Bolivian government works out of La Paz, while Sucre, Bolivia, is the judicial capital. La Paz offers many things, from Witch Markets, Cholitas Wrestling, and older women wearing English Bowler hats to the infamous prison (super dangerous).
Traveling, you can see many amazing places in South America, from Machu Picchu to Patagonia. A lot of people then avoid cities like La Paz, Bolivia. It is not a pretty city, but it offers some fantastic things to see and do.
Here are 13 Things To do While in La Paz, Bolivia
There are numerous things you can do while in La Paz, Bolivia. Here are 13 unique things you can do while spending your time here.
1. Free Walking Tour
Free walking tours are some of the best ways to see a city or to get acquainted with a new place. South America offers many of these, from those offered in Lima, Peru, to some great ones in Cusco.
La Paz is no different. The Red Cap walking tour is one of the best walking tours you can take in La Paz. It was at one point free with the use of tips to keep the guides compensated; it now has a fee of $3. Still cheap for those frugal travelers.
The tour will take you around the historic sections of the city. It will walk you down through the food markets, down the Witches Market, and it starts in front of San Pedro Prison, which happens to be one of the most unique prisons in the world.
You will have the opportunity to learn about the history of La Paz, some superstitions about how some buildings are built, and even end in the Plaza Murillo, which is full of many government buildings that help govern the country.
If you are looking to learn some history and explore the city, a walking tour will be your best bet.
2. The Witches Market of La Paz Bolivia
The Witches Market, in Spanish is translated as El Mercado de las Brujas (literally, the market of the witches), rolls down a street section near Av. Illampu. It contains different foods, trinkets you could buy, and even dead baby llamas.
Just a block from San Francisco Basilica, you will find a street full of interesting medicines, trinkets, or even items to ward off any spirits.
If these things work or not, that is up to you to find out. They have witch doctors who may give you anything from dried frogs, armadillos, or baby llamas to help you with any afflictions.
Take a walk down the street. It may seem like a tourist trap, but back a long time ago, it used to be more about witchcraft.
3. Visit San Francisco Basilica
One of the most important historical icons of the city center is San Francisco Basilica. The church dates back to the colonial era of Bolivia, with architecture that is a combination of European and indigenous cultures.
The stone facade of San Francisco Basilica combines Baroque and indigenous elements to make it one of the most unique architectural styles in the Americas, with features of snakes, tropical birds, and dragons that show the combination of indigenous elements throughout the structure.
The cornerstone dates back to 1548 but was rebuilt in 1784 after there had been a collapse in the old structure.
Some tours take place within the church that cost around $3 or 20 BOB, and if you want to check out the bell tower, the views from the top can allow you to see so much of the lower part of La Paz. It is an excellent view for all to see.
4. Eat at the Mercado Lanzo
In South America, many food markets offer great eats at low prices. These could be markets like those you can find in Cusco, or if you are still in Bolivia, you can head over to Sucre for some great eats in their food markets.
Mercado Lanzo is a must-visit place for foodies and anyone who enjoys great eats on your trip to La Paz. The famous La Paz city center food market is full of stalls and vendors.
Located near the San Francisco Basilica sits a concrete parking lot-looking structure that was constructed in 2009. Ideally situated in the middle of the city is this massive market with floors for books, jewelry, and over 1600 food stalls on the top floors. As every stall looks similar, you will be packed in from stall to stall, but a two-course meal will cost you about a dollar.
If you spend a month in La Paz, it would be hard to satisfy that hunger for the number of different foods in the market. It is like a maze of food stalls ranging from grocery to Bolivian fast food. The sound of sizzling meat and the smells of food cooking come from all directions.
If you are hungry and want great food, stop by to eat at the Mercado Lanzo.
5. Ride the Cable Cars
You may not have expected that transportation in La Paz could be up high in the sky with cable cars. Due to the many mountains surrounding La Paz, the government created a network of cable cars called the teleferico as their public transportation system.
Take an adventure to see high up above the city in the cable cars. Like a metro system, these cable cars have different color lines to go from place to place. You could spend much of the day just riding these cars and seeing all the sites around La Paz.
It is cheap, efficient transportation to see the city from above. To get some of the best views, take the red line to El Alto and see the whole expanse of the city. As you change lines, you will also be charged for a new single ticket that costs around 3 BOB ( around $0.43).
6. Check Out The Colorful Houses of Chualluma
One of the most stunning and colorful neighborhoods in La Paz is Chualluma. The neighborhood is full of vibrant colors, Instagram-worthy shots, and eye-catching places that must not be missed. Beyond the facade of colorful houses brings a spirit of rebirth, revitalization, and a new embrace of the Bolivian Spirit.
If you are looking for art and beauty in La Paz, check out the colorful houses of Chualluma. In 2019, the state-sponsored local artists and residents painted their homes in murals and geometric shapes.
You can see these beautiful houses as you ride cable cars to El Alto or even walk there up a mountain of steps. Most hostels will warn you that the neighborhood may not be the safest, but it is a beautiful site to photograph as you ride the cablecars or take a risk and walk through the area.
7. Cycle Down Death Road
Death Road is not in La Paz, but most day tours originate in La Paz. It is one of the best full-day excursions in the La Paz area that you can take.
Yungas Road, better known as Death Road, is the deadliest road in the world. You can take a tour by bicycle down the treacherous road, where there are bumps and heights, adrenaline rushing, and of course, traffic from cars driving from place to place.
Be careful. Many stories exist of bicyclists getting injured or flying off this deathly road.
You will start at a high altitude of around 4800 meters in the morning, with the cold biting at you. The tour starts down a nice paved new highway, and that is the first taste of biking adventure as you whip around the sides of the mountain, hoping to avoid being side whacked by oncoming cars or trucks.
Then you will be taken to the unpaved section where there will be dips of high heights as you are holding on to the breaks hoping you do not flip over the bike. The guides will take photos and stop periodically for rest, water, and cautionary warnings.
The tour will descend into the valley of the Amazon rainforest. It will usually end with a mid-afternoon meal and possibly a swim. As the temperature rises, you will be stripping off those layers of clothes and wanting to go for a swim after a day of intense biking.
Make sure to find a great tour operator. Barracuda is excellent, and there are many others to choose from.
8. Explore Down Calle Jaen
Just outside of the old town sits Calle Jaen. Calle Jaen is the most well-preserved colonial street in the whole city, dating back to the 1700s. It is one of the best spots to take photos as you walk the cobblestones and stare at the beautiful buildings in a bohemian style. It is a highlight on the walking tours and a place that should not be missed.
It is full of museums, such as the Museo de Metales Preciosos, shops, cafes, and many things to see. It is an excellent opportunity to photograph and explore the buildings.
It may be a bit touristy, but you will acknowledge the area's beauty as you walk down and see the beautifully painted homes and buildings. Calle Jaen is one of the best things to do in La Paz.
9. Explore El Alto
Sitting on a cliff overlooking the metropolis of La Paz is El Alto. It is a stunning place where you can see the desert lands that expand past La Paz and throughout the rest of Bolivia.
El Alto is translated as the heights. It is well known for Cholitas Wrestling and its famous 16 de Julio market. As you ride, you will see from above the many streets full of stalls for trading and selling. The market extends for miles, and if you are a bargain hunter looking for great items, they sell everything from electronics to shoes and clothes. It is open on Thursdays and Sundays, but be wary of pickpockets.
The best way to get to El Alto is by cable car. El Alto is the place to visit if you are also looking for shopping, entertainment, and a good time.
10. Watch the Cholitas Wrestle
If you are in La Paz on a Thursday or Sunday, you must check out the Cholitas Wrestling matches. They are held in El Alto, and people come from far and wide to watch as these women wrestle and put on a show.
Cholitas is a term that refers to the indigenous women that wear skirts and the tiny bowler hat on their heads. The women and girls involved in these matches train in their spare time, and on a Thursday or a Sunday, they have a wrestling match for whoever wants to come and watch.
These wrestling matches are set up like WWE, and though they may seem silly and fun to watch, they were the beginning of a women's empowerment movement in Bolivia.
Most tourists buy a ticket through a tour, which allows them to have transportation, a dinner, and good seats at the event. It is possible to go without a tour but be careful in the El Alto area. It is not known for being a safe place at night.
11. Hike Through the Valley of The Moon
Only 10 km from the center of La Paz, Bolivia, sits the Valle de Luna, or the Valley of the Moon. It is an area with an outcropping of rocks resembling being on the moon. Hiking through the area, you would never realize how close this is to the city center.
You can hike, discover, and explore plenty of trails through the Valley of the Moon. They are relatively short and easy trails, but it is a great afternoon excursion from the rest of La Paz.
It is easily accessible by vehicle. You can take a taxi for a few bucks to get there or take a Mallasa, a minibus near the Plaza Humboldt in the Zona Sur.
Make sure to have proper footwear and plenty of water, and have an adventure exploring these extraordinary landscapes of the Valley of the Moon.
12. Visit Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is known as the world's highest lake or large body of water. It sits at 3808 (12,493 ft) meters above sea level and is the largest lake in South America.
The town of Copacabana sits at the lake and is the entrance to many activities you can embrace while spending time there.
For a nation that is landlocked like Bolivia, the Bolivians believe this is like their sea.
On Lake Titicaca, there are numerous activities to take part in. You can spend time exploring the islands like Isla del Sol, the island of the Sun, or the Uru islands, which are man-made.
The Uru people created these islands after fleeing the Amazon and still live on many of those islands on Lake Titicaca.
Isla del Sol is a popular destination that sits two hours from shore, and people can spend the night there, explore some of the white beaches, and even hike a bit to the highest point. Be wary of the high altitude.
Many tourists stop at Lake Titicaca as part of their South American tour. Its beauty makes it a significant feature of Latin America. You can take a bus from La Paz as part of a day trip or come from Arequipa in Peru.
13. Use La Paz as a Base For Your Bolivian Trip
Bolivia has many things to offer to people that want to visit. It is sometimes hard knowing where to go. As a place to start a great trip, you can take a trip to Lake Titicaca or the Amazon in Rurrenabaque, and you must go through La Paz and back unless you head to Peru after Lake Titicaca.
Death Road, one of the best highlights for backpackers, is an easy day trip from La Paz. La Paz also offers buses to go to the Unesco Historic City of Sucre and check out the country's Judicial Capital. You will also have transportation to Uyuni for the Salt Flats.
Many things to do in Bolivia start and stop in La Paz, so it is a great location to make a base as you travel the country. As a great place to start your adventure, La Paz makes it easy to acclimate to the country.
Best Time to Visit Bolivia
If you are looking for a good time to travel to Bolivia, come during the dry season. It is usually dry from June to October. It may be wintertime, but it is an excellent time to enjoy those blue skies and less humidity in the Amazon. During their summertime comes the rainy season, which may not be the most fun time to explore.
Essential Information For Traveling in La Paz
- La Paz is a high-altitude city at 3,650 m (11,975 ft), sitting on a plateau of the Andes mountains. It may take a day or two to get acclimated to the altitude. After getting adjusted to the altitude, you can partake in various activities. Altitude sickness can affect people if they have not adjusted their bodies to it. So make sure to take time to acclimate.
- Due to high altitude, La Paz is not particularly warm. It may get up to 15 degrees Celsius or 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Rain and storms come during the summer, and winter is the dry season.
- Make sure to plan out your itinerary for the length of your visa. Visas last for 30 days; for Americans, the cost is $160. Many other countries can come in for free, but you must check to see what Bolivia requires for your country.
Final Thoughts on The Best Things to Do in La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz, Bolivia, has amazing things, dangers, and good shows. You never know what you can discover in this South American capital. One thing for sure is that you will walk away with stories of wrestling women, mountain biking, superstitions you may have heard of, or just some fantastic photos. Whatever it may be, La Paz will undoubtedly impact your traveling experience as you travel to South America.
This article originally appeared on Savoteur.
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.