There’s a lot to discover in La Paz. I focused my short visit on the street markets and three plazas in the city center, starting with Plaza Murillo, the main area of government in La Paz. The center of the plaza has a monument dedicated to Pedro Murillo, a Bolivian patriot hung by the Spanish in 1810.
Palacio Quemado, the Presidential Palace of Bolivia, sits on Plaza Murillo. It was built in 1825. Its name translates to “Burned Palace” because it was almost burned down during a riot in 1875.
Palacio de Gobierno is next to Palacio Quemado. It’s the home of the Bolivia’s congress and was built in 1825. One of the unique features of the building is the clock. Notice it runs counter-clockwise.
Another important building on Plaza Murillo is Catedral Metropolitana. Construction started in 1835 and wasn’t finished until 1989, before a scheduled visit by Pope John Paul II. The Museo Nacional de Arte is also on one corner of Plaza Murillo.
Plaza Mayor is one of the most important plazas in La Paz. It holds the most important church in the city, Iglesia de San Francisco. The church was built between 1743 and 1753 and incorporated indigenous elements in order to convert the natives. The original church was built in 1581 and collapsed due to heavy snowfall in 1612. I wasn’t able to go inside as a tourist because of church services locals said the interior is incredible.
San Pedro Prison, a notorious prison sits on Plaza San Pedro. As we watched visitors file in and out of the prison, I learned from a guide how unique the prison is. Originally built for 250 inmates, there are now about 1,500. Inmates pay a monthly rent for their cells and their families can live with them. With families included, it’s estimated over 2,500 people live in the prison!
The inmates hold jobs and have income. There are stores and services inside the prison that can be found anywhere in the city, making it a society within itself. Some inmates even hold rights to exclusive Coca-Cola distribution in the prison. Foreigners and Bolivians live in the prison and in the past tourists use to come and spend a night in the prison “hotel”. There are different sectors of the prison, some are upscale luxury sections for rich inmates such as politicians and drug lords. Some inmates act as real estate agents and sell sections of the prison! There is also a committee elected by inmates for governing the prison. And the most shocking fact of all – there are only about 15 guards on duty!
Also on the square is the Iglesia de San Pedro, a church completed in 1790.