Making the Most of a Visit to La Paz in Bolivia
April 22, 2021
Just going to the unofficial highest capital in the world, La Paz, is a wonderful experience on its own, but there are several things that we recommend in addition to just touring the city. We spent a couple of weeks in Bolivia starting in the central part of the country and then ending our trip by spending several days in La Paz and taking tours outside of La Paz. It was definitely one of the most memorable trips that we’ve taken and part of the reason is the diversity of things that we were able to see in the high altitudes of the Andes mountains. Here are some of our recommendations of places to see when spending time in La Paz.
Valle de Luna – In addition to being the highest capital in the world, La Paz also has a very unique topography. Buildings cover almost every inch of the mountainous hillsides and the heart of the city sits down in a valley. On the outskirts of La Paz is a very interesting place called the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) with an almost other-worldly landscape. Erosion of the clay in the mountain has resulted in huge spires that cover the area, creating a rugged and stark environment. If the scenery wasn’t surreal enough, there was a flute player that climbed to the top of one of the jagged peaks playing very haunting, traditional music. The sounds of the music echoed throughout the valley, creating a very haunting atmosphere. There were very few people there on the day that we visited, which also added to the overall experience.
Death Road – We went back and forth on whether we would do “Death Road” while we were in Bolivia. Part of it was due to how much time we had while we were in La Paz and part of it was due to the reputation of how dangerous of an adventure it could be. In the end, we decided that we didn’t want to miss out on the experience, so we chose to be another couple who survived this treacherous experience. As we look back, it was definitely a worthwhile, but not without incident. It is a gravel road that is extremely narrow with blind turns and 1,000 meter (3,000 foot) cliffs all along the edge, which is why so many vehicles have plummeted into the jungle killing all of those inside. It certainly isn’t to be taken lightly, but it isn’t as bad these days as it was in the past.
Mi Teleferico (The Cable Cars) – Public transportation using cable cars in the highest capital in the world, La Paz, is certainly quite interesting. When you consider the fact that city is literally built on the sides of a mountain as well as a dense population, getting around the city wasn’t easy until the cable car system was built. Now, instead of winding through narrow streets with steep inclines, people soar over the rooftops to one of the different destinations. There are 3 interconnected lines, just like most transit systems, with red, yellow, and green lines. Although it is a method of transportation that allows citizens to move throughout the city, it is also an incredible way for tourists to truly see this amazing city from a different standpoint.
Copacabana and Lake Titicaca – Much of what we saw during our time in Bolivia was harsh, wild, and rugged. The exception to trekking the Amazon rainforest or scaling the heights of the Andes mountains was our trip to Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Copacabana is a resort destination for tourists and locals alike. Having seen the relatively poor living conditions for most of the citizens of Bolivia, seeing the upscale, boutique hotels on the shore with the boats in the water was quite a juxtaposition to the rest of our experience in Bolivia. The main street of Copacabana is lined with tourist stores and small, family-owned restaurants. We watched as ferries arrived from Peru dropping tourists off to start their journey into the heart of Bolivia. One look at that unpaved main street and there was no mistaking that we were still in Bolivia, despite the relative luxury of the hotel where we were staying.
Mysterious Tiwanaku – Walking through the ruins of Tiwanaku brings both a sense of fascination and yearning for more. This once great capital fills you with a sense of mystery, both because of the seemingly impossible building methods used by the inhabitants over two-thousand years ago as well as the lack of knowledge that we’ll ever have because of the condition of the ruins. Unfortunately, many of the stones that originally made up Tiwanaku are now used in the walls of the homes in the surrounding villages. It has also suffered from a lack of preservation by the Bolivian government, which doesn’t seem to have the same sense of history, despite the fact that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Waterfall in Coroico – Located in a rainforest in a valley of the Andes mountains is the town of Coroico, Bolivia. We went to the town after driving down “death road” and hiked to a beautiful waterfall and then enjoyed lunch at local restaurant. Considering how tense the drive down the side of the mountain, with its narrow road, thousand foot cliffs, and no guard rails, it was definitely relaxing to go to Coroico. The town square featured a whimsical fountain with a parrot and a colorful church. The highlight of visiting Coroico was definitely the waterfall, which was extremely dramatic and beautiful.
Sun and Moon Islands – Taking a boat out to visit Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) and Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon) on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia is truly fascinating. The islands have many interesting ruins that pre-date the Inca empire and have been dated back to as far as 300 BC. The ruins are mostly of temples, but people lived on the islands as well. Island of the Sun is the larger of the two islands and there are even hotels where you can spend the night if you would like. If you just want to tour the islands and return to the town of Copacabana on the same day, it will take you about four to six hours.
As you can tell, there is certainly a wide variety of opportunities to see when visiting La Paz. Although it certainly isn’t necessary to do everything that we did during our time in La Paz, we certainly recommend doing as many of them as possible. Also, don’t forget to visit the art district and enjoy food at one of the many wonderful restaurants serving local dishes.