In many ways it is hard to describe the city of La Paz, Bolivia. It is a city of contrasts built literally on the steep hills of the Andes mountains. It is considered to be the highest (unofficial) capital in the world at 3,660 meters (12,000 feet) and many tourist suffer the effect of altitude sickness when visiting, although we were fortunate to not have any problems adjusting to the altitude. There are some very nice areas with beautiful homes and modern skyscrapers, but the majority of the city is still living in poverty. It is very much like any major city in a developing country that has pockets of wealth, but most people are in need of necessities.
The best way to see the city is to take the cable cars that carry people over the rooftops of the city. When you consider that the cities buildings are literally built on the canyon walls and the city itself spans a 600 meter (2,000 foot) altitude, having cable cars is an obvious way to scale the heights. There are plenty of taxis, shared taxis, radio taxis, and dishonest taxis, but navigating the traffic of the city can be difficult at best. So the cable cars serve as an airborne transit system taking you from the center of the city to the top of the surrounding suburbs. It is the one thing that you must do when you visit La Paz.
One thing that you will quickly notice when you visit any city in Bolivia is that there are a lot of dogs roaming the streets. Many, but not all, of them have owners who simply let them out in the morning and allow them to wander the streets to find their own food and then open their doors to them when they return at night. There are packs of dogs protecting their territories brutishly punishing any dogs who attempt to cross into their neighborhoods. And during the heat of the day, there are dogs sleeping in any shaded area that can be found. It seems as though everyone has come to a happy coexistence as the people seemingly ignore the dogs around them and the dogs pay no mind the people unless they happen to set their food down momentarily unattended.
One of the more interesting things that we saw while in La Paz was the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley). It is a fascinating natural landscape that very much looks like it could be in outer space. There was even an Aymara, the local tribe of the La Paz area, musician standing on the peaks of one of the giant pillars playing a flute and a banjo-like instrument. It was a little odd, but at the same time very interesting.
With its proximity to Lake Titicaca, Tiwanaku, Uyuni Salt Flats, and the Amazon River, La Paz is an ideal starting point for any Bolivian adventure. Be sure, though, to take time to explore La Paz itself, with Mt Illimani looming in the distance, it is definitely worth it. We had been warned several times before heading to Bolivia to be wary of petty theft and pickpockets. We always take normal precautions such as only going to out-of-the-way places during the day and trying not to act like a tourist, but we found everyone to be very nice and had no incidents while were there. It was definitely an interesting city to visit.