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  • Overview

    Sitting two and a half miles (4km) above sea level, La Paz is the world's highest capital. Visitors will encounter a city of enthralling contradictions, where efficient airlifts and shimmering hotel facades are as much a part of the experience as diesel engines and ramshackle brickwork. Illimani, the most well-known of Bolivia's lofty peaks, rises in the background.

    Fruit sellers, trinket vendors, dapper businessmen, alpaca wool weavers and brightly dressed Andean women bring a distinct vibrancy to the city, making it a wonderful destination for people-watching. Tourists can also expect interesting museums, and modern hotels.

    Regarding shopping, paintings, handcrafted silver jewellery and beautiful alpaca wool products are among the many items on offer. Thrill-seekers may enjoy the Death Road Mountain Bike tour, which involves a two-hour trip from the city.

    Iglesia de San Francisco

    People congregate in this imposing church's plaza, which is a mixture of neo-classical Spanish and mestizo architecture. Construction began in 1549 and only finished in the mid-18th century. Oftentimes, travellers will see colourful Quecha or Aymara wedding processions on Saturday mornings, leading to and from the church. The plaza is a wonderful place to pass the time and watch Bolivian life unfold on any day of the week. Visitors should climb the atmospheric stairway to the fabulous rooftop and enjoy the great views of the city.

    San Francisco Cathedral, La Paz San Francisco Cathedral, La Paz Anakin
    The Witches’ Market (Mercado de Brujas)

    Mercado de Brujas (the Witches' Market) offers tourists a truly Bolivian experience. Situated in a maze of narrow alleys in La Paz, it stocks an unusual collection of merchandise, including charms, potions, and herbs used in Aymara traditions. The traditional market scene stretches around it, selling a huge a variety of everyday goods, as well as Andean art and handicrafts. Visitors can expect to see yatiri (witch doctors), who wear dark hats and carry pouches of coca for fortune telling.

    The Witches' Market, La Paz The Witches' Market, La Paz Alexson Scheppa Peisino (AlexSP)
    Museo de Coca (Coca Museum)

    The museum covers the role of coca in Bolivia's culture and traditions. Visitors will learn about the leaf's healing properties, its use in Andean religious ceremonies, its chemical breakdown and different species. They will also canvas its use by soft-drink and pharmaceutical companies, and how it is turned into cocaine. Actually, one of the institution's missions in to counter the plant's cocaine-related stigma. Among other things, guests will leave knowing how to correctly chew coca leaves, which will allow them to feel its stimulating effects.

    Address: Linares 906, La Paz Zona 1, Bolivia
    The Coca Leaf The Coca Leaf Dbotany
    Yungas Road

    Yungas Road is not an attraction for the faint of heart. Dubbed the 'El Camino de la Muerte' (Road of Death), it stretches between La Paz and Coroica and claimed 200 to 300 lives every year until 1994. Paraguayan prisoners built the road during the 1930s Chaco War, and it has extreme drops of up to 2,000 feet (609m). The Yungas Road has since become a popular tourist destination among thrill seekers, particularly mountain bikers. It remains dangerous, though, and trucks have serious problems passing each other. Crosses dot the road and mark where cars have plunged off the steep cliff. Drivers on Yungas Road must obey a strict set of rules, as rain and fog often reduce visibility and there are no guard rails. Contrary to normal Bolivian driving rules, drivers keep to the left, and uphill vehicles always have the right of way. Yungas Road has been upgraded with many new safety measures in the last decade, but the original route, now called North Yungas Road, is still in use by tourists.

    Yungus Road Yungus Road Toxane
    Huayna Potosi

    Located in the Cordellera Real range, Huayna Potosi is a tremendous stop for adventurous travellers. The mountain is a mere 15 miles (24km) north of La Paz and only around 1,000 people a year make it to the summit. Many of those who attempt the climb turn back due to cold temperatures and the high altitude. The climb can be done in two daily stages and several difficult snow and ice routes go up the face. Those who make it to the summit will be rewarded with breath-taking views over the Cordillera Real range, Lake Titicaca and La Paz.

    Huayna Potos� Huayna Potos� revolution cycle
    Coroico

    Coroico is a relaxing, low-altitude spot where visitors can escape frigid highland nights. The trip from La Paz traverses the Yungas Road, which makes for a photogenic and adrenalin-charged entrance into this laid-back resort town. Perched atop the peak of Cerro Uchumachi, Coroico offers gorgeous views of orchards, forested canyons, cloud-covered mountain tops, and the snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Real. Coroico is a good base for some interesting hikes into the jungle and for mountain-biking trips into the local area, including guided descents of the precipitous highway.

    Coroico, Bolivia Coroico, Bolivia Fernando Jauregui

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    La Paz's climate can vary greatly from area to area, owing largely to the differing altitudes across the city. Visitors can expect year-round bright and sunny conditions, though rain can shower down during summer afternoons.

    The city's close proximity to mountains means the sun sets relatively early, and temperatures can plummet at night. After-dark temperatures can dip to below freezing in winter. One the plus side, year-round temperatures are cool to mild, with the average being 72°F (22°C) in summer, and 59°F (15°C) in winter.

    Winter (May to October) is peak travel season, on account of the drier conditions.

    El Alto International Airport
    Location: El Alto International Airport is situated 11 miles (18km) south west of La Paz.
    Time: GMT -4.
    Getting to the city: The Airport Coach leaves for La Paz every five minutes, and there are bus ($1), and taxi services ($10) available.
    Fascilities: Airport facilities include a bank, bars, restaurant and duty-free shops, as well as access for those with disabilities.

    Useful Contacts:

    Sightseeing in La Paz can be physically demanding, given its altitude. Visitors should allow themselves time to acclimatise before beginning their adventures. The symptoms of mild altitude sickness should have lessened after a day or two, after which travellers can enjoy the city's signature wonders. People-watching from café windows and sampling local delicacies are popular tourist activities. La Paz's high altitude also means visitors can expect cold conditions, regardless of the season. They should remember to pack warm clothing.

    Regarding transport, much of central La Paz is walkable, though hillsides may be challenging. Buses and mini-buses operate along many routes, and plenty of taxis are available. Transport is also extremely cheap. That said, the bus system can seem incredibly chaotic for the uninitiated, making taxis the better bet in most cases.

    Travellers should carry small denominations of money, as they'll often find locals who are unwilling or unable to give change for large bills. The advice applies to shopping, sightseeing and taking public transport.

    Top tourist attractions include the bizarre and fascinating Witches' Market (Mercado de Brujas), the Mi Teleférico cable car, and the beautiful San Francisco Church (Iglesia de San Francisco). Tourists can choose from a number of walking tours, which take in the main sights and landmarks.

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