La Paz is a city that is not on many travelers' bucket lists, but it should be: La Paz is an incredible place to visit. The city is situated amid the Andes Mountains and is the highest-elevation government seat in the world (although La Paz is not the capital city of Bolivia; the capital is Sucre.)
Many exciting activities await you in La Paz. Besides excellent museums and breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, there is the opportunity to travel by cable car high over the roofs of the city.
Plaza Murillo is the central square of La Paz and is surrounded by the Presidential Palace and a cathedral. The plaza has existed since the 16th century and was the city's central square for centuries. The plaza’s name changed to Plaza Murillo in 1902 to honor Pedro Murillo, a Bolivian leader whom the Spanish executed in the independence revolt of 1810. The lively square is full of pigeons, people feeding them, merchants, and other people sitting on benches simply enjoying the scenery. Celebrations take place in the square, which is often the site of political demonstrations. Unfortunately, the Casa Grande del Pueblo (Large People's House), built under the presidency of Evo Morales, has marred the scenic quality of the plaza, but it is still well worth a visit.
The Basilica of San Francisco was the first building in La Paz, with construction beginning in 1548. The Spanish dedicated the church to San Francisco de Asís. However, in 1610 heavy snowfall caused the collapse of the structure, and it took roughly 170 years to resume construction. The decoration of the church is a mix of native Bolivian and Catholic art, with a baroque-style exterior that consists of native symbols including birds, dragons, and snakes. From the top of the Basilica, there are beautiful views of the city of La Paz.
Jaén Street is not far from the Plaza Murillo. Named after Apolinar Jaén, a revolutionary hero, this narrow cobblestone street is without cars and is considered the best colonial street in the city. The street features 16th-century houses of various colors and many museums, among them the Gold Museum, the Museo Liberal Boliviano, and the Juan de Vargas Museum of Costumbrista. You will also find there souvenir shops, cafes, and entertainment centers.
The Witches' Market is one of the most famous sites to visit in La Paz, especially for foreign visitors. The llama fetuses you’ll see hanging at the entrances of the shops are eventually presented as offerings to the goddess Pachamama (Mother Earth). Do you need an amulet to protect yourself against evil ghosts, or would you like to try out a soap that will make you wealthy? Herbs and home remedies are available, as well as numerous products that can be used to manipulate evil spirits. The best way to enjoy this site is to go with a knowledgeable guide who can help you get the most out your visit to these mystical shops.
Few humans have had the opportunity to travel to the moon, but for the rest of us who want to know what it is like, there is the Valley of the Moon just a few miles outside the city of La Paz. It is not actually a valley but an impressive collection of canyons and natural spires that bear a remarkable resemblance to the moon's surface. Formed by erosion over thousands of years, the clay and sandstone rock formations contain various minerals that present a colorful pallet ranging from purple to beige. However, this valley does have something that we will not see on the moon: cacti.
Professional climbers and mountaineers may want to climb Huayna Potosí, a mountain located 24 kilometers (15 miles) from La Paz and considered the most famous mountaineering spot near the city. Huayna Potosí has a height of 6088 meters (19,980 ft), so you’ll need to be fully accustomed to the high altitude before attempting to climb the mountain. A guide and mountaineering equipment are both necessary; nevertheless, Huayna Potosi is among the "easy mountains" in Bolivia. The climb takes between 2 and 3 days to complete, and you’ll spend the first day practicing ice climbing.
Chacaltaya was at one time the only ski resort in Bolivia. Unfortunately, the 18,000-year-old glacier melted due to global warming, and since 2005 no skiing activities have been carried out there. Nonetheless, the resort has a glorious past that includes being the site of the first ski lift in South America. Few remains of the ski infrastructure are visible today, but Chacaltaya still offers breathtaking views of La Paz, Illimani, and Huayna Potosí, and a lodge from the 1950s remains on the mountain. From the lodge, you can set out on a straightforward, 100-meter, high-altitude climb to the summit of Chacaltaya.
This road has been called the most dangerous highway in the world and goes from La Paz to the Bolivian jungle area north of the country. From La Paz, the road climbs to 4,500 meters (14,765 ft) before descending to 1,740 meters (5,710 ft) at Coroico. Although this road has proven very dangerous for those who travel in vehicles, it has become one of the most desired destinations for La Paz cyclists, who rave about the 65-kilometer (40-mile) descent from La Cumbre back to Coroico.
Tiwanaku, located 72 kilometers (45 miles) west of La Paz near the southwestern shore of Lake Titicaca, is the most important archeological site in the Bolivian Andes. The Tiwanaku community grew to urban proportions between the 7th and 9th centuries, becoming a significant regional power in the southern part of the Andes. At its peak, the city had between 15,000 and 30,000 inhabitants. Although only a tiny portion of it has been excavated, Tiwanaku represents the great megalithic architecture of pre-Incan South America. Tiwanaku can be reached by train from El Alto on the second Sunday of each month. Taking your own vehicle, the journey takes a bit over an hour.
Travelers looking for a different way to get around La Paz should consider using "Mi Teleférico,” the most extensive public cable car transport system in the world. Mi Teleférico is a great way to get a bird's eye view of the entire city while moving over the tops of the city’s many roofs. This modern cable car system was inaugurated in 2014 with three lines and ten stations, but today in 2021, the system boasts ten cable car lines, all inter-connected. On Tripadvisor, you’ll find tour guides specializing in "Teleferico Tours." I highly recommend doing one of these private tours with a guide who can lead you to remote parts of the city and El Alto. However, keep in mind that the cable car tour doesn't replace a traditional city tour.