Nuestra Señora de La Paz, or simply La Paz, is an eccentric place. As soon as I arrived in the city, I was ready to leave, but I felt I had an obligation to see it. I’m glad I did. The city is unique if not only for its altitude, which ranges between 3200-4000m. That means different zones of the city have entirely different climates!
At first glance it’s a disgusting web of chaos – dirty, loud, dusty, at times unsafe, and overall unappealing. The construction style and chaos reminded me a lot of a Brazilian favela. After spending a little time in La Paz, it’s still a disgusting web of chaos, but quite a unique city. It doesn’t exactly grow on you and sometimes you can’t wait to leave, but there’s something oddly interesting about it.
Getting There and Away
Getting to La Paz is relatively painless. There is an international airport (I never used it) and a good bus terminal. You can get to and from La Paz from every major Bolivian city and several international cities from the airport and bus terminal.
By bus, Cusco, Puno, Arequipa, and Lima in Peru are well served, as are Arica and Iquique in Chile. It’s also possible to get as far as Buenos Aires in Argentina. The bus terminal has cheap and decent food options and free wifi!
Outside the bus terminal, it’s possible to find colectivos, or shared taxis. They can take you to nearby cities much faster than a bus can, but for a higher price. I took one from Oruro. It cost 50bs compared to a 20bs bus ticket, but saved me 90 minutes.
Taxis are cheap and plentiful in La Paz, but beware rogue taxis. Make sure your taxi has a logo, an ID number, and is officially registered.
Safety in La Paz can be an issue. During the day, the main areas of the city are safe. At night, be careful not to wander off the main roads. La Paz can be intimidating and some areas are not safe for foreigners to visit. Ask your hotel or hostel if you plan on wandering outside of the popular areas.
Red Cap Tours
I can recommend a great walking tour of the city center of La Paz. Vicky from England (surprisingly another ex-accountant-turned-teacher), who I had met a day earlier on the Chacaltaya and Valle de la Luna tour, convinced me to take a free walking tour in English led by Red Cap Tours. The tours are held daily at 11am and 2pm and start in Plaza San Pedro. The tour lasts about 2 1/2 hours. The guides stop periodically to lecture and tell very funny and interesting stories. It was well worth my time and I wouldn’t have gotten as much out of La Paz without the tour. At the end, everyone tipped about 20bs each.
I stayed at the Sajama Hotel on Av. Illampu. It has huge rooms and bathrooms, it’s clean, and has a nice breakfast. The staff was very friendly and helpful and it was very easy to extend my stay. The cost was US$40 per night – a steal for a decent hotel like this.
If you prefer to stay at a hostel, I met several travelers staying at Loki. They raved about it. It was dirt cheap and very fun from what they described.
For food, there are many options if you like pizza. Pizza is easily the most prominent cuisine in La Paz. There are English pubs and some falafel stands that I didn’t try, but other travelers I met said they were well worth it.
I ate at two pizza restaurants – Pizzeria Italia and Mozzarella. Pizzeria Italia has a few locations near each other on Av. Illampu. The prices are reasonable and the pizza is good. I got an individual pizza for 35-45bs.
Mozzarella was a late discovery for me and was by far better than Pizzeria Italia. Individual pizzas are all priced at 15bs!!!! Mediums are 35bs and larges are 60bs. The pizza was phenomenal! It was easily the best pizza I ate in all of South America. I highly recommend it. It is located next to Sajama Hotel on Av. Illampu.
For nightlife, La Paz supposedly has a great scene. I had a lot of early morning starts so I declined to go out. Ask other travelers for their favorite spots. You can also join a pub crawl put on by Red Cap Tours.
There are several tour agencies located in La Paz but I did all of my bookings with Yan’s Tourism. They were awesome. They were able to help me plan all kinds of excursions from La Paz and had several tours available all over Bolivia and Peru. I was even able to book flights and buses with them. The best thing about Yan’s is the customer service. When my trip went awry due to an unexpected protest and roadblock, they were able to stay in contact with me and help me make the most of my time. I can’t say enough good things about them!