Over the last few weeks in Bolivia, we ended up racking up quite a bit of time in La Paz. We weren’t really expecting much from this city, as travelers didn’t always have nice things to say. Most of our visits centered around a need to be by the airport (Teresa flying back to the States, or flying to and from Rurrenabaque), but after staying there on three different occasions, we found that we surprisingly enjoyed all of our time there.
Here is our La Paz “Top Ten” List:
1. Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
Ok, I know this sounds a bit ridiculous, but we would indulge in these at least once a day. While walking around the city, the delicious sting of oranges would hit your nose and who could resist at 1.5 – 3 Bolivianos (2o – 40 cents) per glass? Sometimes they even refill a bit of your glass after you take a few sips.
We totally need to get Kristen’s dad one of those orange juicers. They really get every last drop.
2. The Insanity that is El Alto
El Alto is found on the hillside above La Paz, and although it was once considered a suburb, but it has grown so rapidly, that it is now considered its own city. You can definitely feel the growing pains trying to drive through this area. It is insane.
There are more microbuses here than you can imagine and the traffic rivals anything we have ever seen in LA. Everytime we got to the top of the hill, we would just get out and walk because everything else is at a standstill. The absolute chaos of it all is fascinating (as long as you’re not trying to make it anywhere by a certain time).
3. The Market in El Alto
While we’re on the subject of El Alto, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention its seemingly endless market. We adventured up there one day just to explore. You could buy anything and everything there: food, used clothes, new clothes, DVDs, hub caps, remote controls… pretty much you name it, and it’s there. It seriously goes on forever, which we unfortunately realized when it started down pouring and we had to walk all the way back through it. Luckily some very entrepreneurial people were there to sell ponchos.
Our favorite thing about the market was, of course, the food. We made it our mission to wander through and eat as much street food as humanly possible. We had some delicious stuffed and fried potatoes (about 15 cents each), and then we found these waffley donuty things (3 for 15 cents) that were so amazing that we found the seller again later in the torrential rain (who kind of chuckled at our return), and ate more.
The best part was our chicken stand lunch. We saw the line for food and smelled the aroma of the chicken and we couldn’t resist getting in “line” to try to get some for ourselves. It was quite a process as we didn’t realize that first you have to find the ticket seller guy and buy a ticket for the meal. Once we found him, he literally tipped his hat to us and shook Joe’s hand (guess they don’t get a lot of gringos up here), and we paid under $2 for each meal.
After being skipped over many times, Kristen got pushy, wedged her way in there, and held out her tickets. I guess lines don’t really exist when it comes to good lunch. When our tickets finally got selected, it was like winning the lottery: juicy and tender chicken, potatoes, sweet potatoes, salad, and a sweet baked banana. As we wedged ourselves on to a bench between locals, we both agreed that it was one of the best chicken meals we have ever eaten. Seriously, go to El Alto on a Thursday or Sunday (market days) just to eat. You won’t regret it. (And it didn’t make us sick.)
4. Not Being Asked to Buy Anything.
We loved Peru, and we have heard many travelers say that Peruvians are friendlier than Bolivians. Yes we would agree that Peruvians are chattier with your average traveler, but that also comes with the never-ending barrage of requests to buy this or go on this tour. Refreshingly, this did not happen at all in La Paz.
Despite our daily walks past shops, souvenir stands, restaurants, and travel agencies, we were never once asked to buy anything or eat in their restaurant. Seriously. It was so peaceful to walk down the streets and not be hassled. If this is a result of Bolivians being more reserved, then cheers to that!
5. Biking Down the “World’s Most Dangerous Road.”
Luckily, Teresa was here to do this with Joe. Kristen’s biking skills are not exactly what we would call great. She once wiped out biking in England just checking her watch… not something you would want to happen when your biking along a huge cliff.
The Death Road covers over 61 kilometers and descends over 11,000 feet. It is full of hairpin turns, shear drop offs of well over a 1,000 feet, and not a single guard rail. The road is officially closed to auto traffic, as cars are now using the new “safer” road, so at least this removes one element of danger from the ride.
The first section of the ride goes down the “new” road which is paved and full of cars. Luckily we were going fast enough to pass most vehicles, which in hindsight was dangerous enough. We probably kept an average speed of over 25 MPH, with Teresa going much faster at times.
After flying down this section we headed off onto the dirt section and the official “death road.” This part of the road is no longer paved, and is full of rocks, bumps and pot holes.
The ride covered the full spectrum of environments, from the arid mountains at nearly 16,000 feet, to the lush jungle at the end of the ride. Each stop we found ourselves tearing off more clothes as the weather got warmer and warmer.
We had a great time safely making it down the death road, and checking that off our list. Teresa and Joe both agreed Kristen might not have enjoyed this ride seeing how there were not many opportunities to safely check her watch.
6. Reminders of Home
Don’t judge us but we indulged in a few comforts of home while we were in La Paz. Keep in mind we have been gone for almost 5 months now, so when we saw a Subway, we could resist a sandwich with all the fixings, including pickles for Joe. It was so delicious that we ended up eating at three of the four Subways found in La Paz. Oh, and there may have been a trip or two to Burger King for their delicious (and impossible to find in South America) cheddar cheese.
One day we also stumbled across a nice mall with a movie theater. Actually, it was probably a movie theater with a few shops and a food court attached but it surprisingly had wifi and was really nice. When we were inside, it felt so different that it was hard to believe that we were still in Bolivia. We even indulged with seeing a movie which luckily was in English with Spanish subtitles.
7. A Hostel that Checks all the Boxes
In La Paz, we stayed at Hostel Sol Andino, and it had everything we could have hoped for: HOT showers with great water pressure, a decent breakfast buffet, fast wifi, laundry service, comfortable beds, and a friendly staff. It was a great place to relax and recharge after traveling and walking around the city. It is always easier to enjoy a city if you have a nice place to return home to.
8. A Different Spin on Lucha Libre
The one thing almost every traveler mentioned when discussing La Paz: Cholita Wrestling.
A few things you need to know: 1. Many women in La Paz and El Alto dress in a traditional manner. 2. These women are called Cholas or Cholitas.
3. Cholita is really how they are referred to, and it doesn’t have the negative implication that it sounds like it should have. 4. In El Alto, they have added Cholitas to their Lucha Libre show (That crazy WWE type of fake and overdramatic wrestling). 5. The show is ridiculously entertaining.
There is a show every Sunday afternoon with gates opening around 4. Gringos have to buy special more expensive tickets ($7) and they are pretty strict about that. They do put you in better seats and give you a snack. They can also provide transportation, but since we had already explored El Alto, we saved that extra expense and got ourselves there. (Rumor has it that there is an earlier show where they don’t allow Gringos… wonder how rowdy that one gets).
Seeing how neither of us watch any sort of wrestling (real or staged), we weren’t quite sure what we were in for. But it was quite a show.
First they had some different male “wrestlers.” There was the obvious “good guy” and “bad guy,” and for this show there was even a “good ref” and “bad ref.” The production value on this thing is pretty cheap, but with the over-the-top dramatics, we quickly found ourselves chuckling, cheering, and booing.
When the Cholitas came out, the cheers really began. These women were always the favorites of the crowds.
It was hilarious to watch these beautiful women parade around in their Sunday Best, and then get in to the ring and get down to business.
At times, it was hard to watch them get “beat up” by a man, but not to spoil the surprise, the women always triumphed to the cheers of the crowds.
At one point, all the “bad guys” tricked the girls into fighting each other. The local crowd (who was REALLY into it) tried to explain what had really happened, but a “fight” still ensued.
Throughout the whole thing, we just kept thinking, “What the in the HELL are we watching?” It was bizarre, ridiculous, and strangely entertaining. Kristen got even got a kiss on the cheek from one of the wrestlers as he exited the arena.
If you happen to find yourself in La Paz on a Sunday, go check this out.
9. The Electronics Street
After Kristen’s camera took a little swim in a river, it decided not to work anymore.
We were able to recover all the pictures, but we had to say goodbye to this one. La Paz seems to have a street or section dedicated to every type of product. Luckily, there is an “electronics street” in La Paz where we were able to find the exact same camera that fits in our underwater case. Woo! (Too bad we were not using the waterproof case when it took its swim.)
10. Fun to Wander
When the sun is out it is a great city to walk in, but be prepared to be out of breath as La Paz is 12,000 feet above sea level. (The highest capital in the world.)
There are also many scenic squares and churches around.
If you ever make your way down to Bolivia, chances are you will have some time to spend in this city.