If you asked me to name my favourite approach to a city then I would go all coy for a few seconds before blurting out how utterly amazing it is to arrive to La Paz in Bolivia.
I first got here by bus and it was amazing. The next time I arrived by plane and it was even better. In both cases, you get treated to an astonishing sight, as the city suddenly appears in a giant bowl in front of you. It is one of the few cities that literally took my breath away when I first saw it.
It is even more spectacular at night time, when the whole bowl it sits in it filled with multi-coloured lights. I have now been here about 5 or 6 times and the arrival surprises and delights me every single time. This definitely one of the most exciting places to visit in Bolivia or elsewhere.
The secret to getting around La Paz is in knowing that the main thoroughfare is at the bottom of the giant bowl it sits in. This is called El Prado and is where you will find some of the best restaurants, shops and things to do in Bolivia. If you ever get lost then just head downhill and you will end up here.
Chaos and Colours Everywhere
La Paz is probably the best city I have ever been to for walking around in. The streets are just filled to bursting with colourful chaos, street vendors, tourists and all sorts of other stuff. For example, if you hang around the gringo area on Calle Sagarnaga you will find a big concentration of shops selling ponchos, Andean statues and all sorts of wacky trinkets. There is even a guy that sidles up to me every single time I go there and try to sell me (presumably fake) fossils. The prices are fantastic here, so be sure to get to La Paz with some space in your luggage to cram in some bargain clothes and ornaments from your Bolivia tourism shopping spree.
The highlight for many tourists is the Witches Market, which is as utterly cool as it sounds. This is where you need to go to ward off evil spirits and to top up your dried llama foetus collection. A word of warning; the old women here don’t like you taking photos of them and their merchandise. Bitter experience tells me that they are also wise to the old “just taking a picture of the sky. Oh look, my hand slipped” ploy. If you want some cracking pictures wait until you are about to buy something and ask politely.
Places to Visit in Bolivia from La Paz
This is the also the starting point for a trip to the world’s most dangerous road, which is one of the top things to do in Bolivia. You can cycle down this crazily dangerous road with a tour group. The name isn’t just a cheap marketing gimmick; just look at the white crosses at the side of the road to see how dangerous it is. This road takes you to the Yungas region and the recent opening of a brand new road means that this one is no longer so congested. However, it does still have some of the most incredible sheer drops you will ever see. The altitude drops drastically on the ride down, so you will want to make sure that your hired bike has working brakes on it. A bus will take you back to La Paz later on in the day. You can also set out from here to visit Lake Titicaca and the Uyuni Salt Flats.
Apart from that, La Paz is a great place to eat some good food at low prices, to join the crowds watching DVDs and drinking milkshakes on the street and to generally feel as though you are very far from home. There are always loads of backpackers here so if you want some company then just head over to the cafes or hotels in the area around the Witches Market.