Cool things to do in La Paz
I love La Paz. It is like no other city I’ve visited. It appears to cling higgledy-piggledy across an impossibly steep terrain by sheer determination alone. Below are a few suggestions of things you might like to do if you’re in La Paz for a day or so. These are just some of my favourites, that combine architecture, art, vistas and food. What more could you want?
La Paz is the third-largest city in Bolivia by population, at under a million, but the continuing sprawl across every piece of this mountainous valley suggests it will soon reach that milestone figure.
Despite this urban sprawl, at the heart of the city there are still gems of colonial architecture evident from its early foundation in 1548 by Alonso de Mendoza.
Recommendation: Visit San Francisco church and monastery museum
Located in Plaza San Fransisco, a short walk from the main Bus Terminal, or red cable car station Central – 20 bolivianos (Bs) – about £2 – gets you a guided tour around the monastery, including looking down into the church and up to the bell tower, with great views across La Paz. There are still Franciscan monks living at the monastery so not all parts are accessible. The monastery and its occupants have played significant roles in various uprising and revolutions in Bolivia, and there are photos and memorabilia from more recent times, as well the colonial era paintings and carvings.
You can enter the San Francisco Church for free – further information can be found here.
Suggested time: 1 – 1.5 hrs
Recommendation: Take the cable car
It’s the world’s longest and highest urban cable car network – so for that reason alone you shouldn’t miss out on the chance to take a ride.
For those of us who are keen skiers, jumping in a cable car to get to the top of a run is a common place activity. Do not think that taking a cable car in La Paz is in the same league. The modern cable car stations, the automatic entry barriers, and climbing into the 8 person cable car is familiar territory, albeit much easier without the ski boots and skis – but the vistas and panormas are extraordinary.
Travelling over a city that never sleeps is something else, and over distances not many ski cable cars cover. You’ll hear music and look down to see groups practising their local dances, spot wedding parties having their pictures taken at viewpoints, marvel at the gardens in the well-heeled districts, and be challenged by the state of the poorer ones. And the vistas are something else! As you roll over each hill or down into the next valley, the mountains, the lunar landscape, the distant views, are all breathtaking.
The cable car network – Mi Teleferico – is continually growing with new lines being opened in 2018 and 2019. Launched in 2014 there are now 8 lines open – all known by their colour. The first colours, of course, were those in the Bolivian flag, green, red and yellow. There are now also blue, sky blue (Celeste), white, orange and purple, with coffee and platinum due in 2019. It’s suggested that by 2030 there could be up to 16 lines.
Open Monday – Saturday from 6am to 11pm and on Sunday from 7am to 9pm the cost is reasonable, around 3 bolivianos one way. That’s roughly 30 pence. You buy tickets at the station, and then scan the ticket at the barrier gate. If there’s more than one of you travelling, you’ll all be included on the one ticket, so you rescan it for each person to go through.
Unfortunately the cable car stations aren’t particularly well sign posted, and most tourist maps aren’t to scale. If you are unsure, ask a local bus or taxi driver, or even better catch one to take you to the nearest station. You can pick up a teleferico map from the cable car stations – or download a copy from here.
For some of the key places you’ll want to visit below are some of the nearest cable car stations.
For possibly one of the best views in La Paz, head to Parque Mirador Laikakota, Av del Ejercito which is open from 8.20am to 7pm.
- Estación Qhana Pata Mirador: Parque Mirador Laikakota, Sopacachi neighbourhood
- Estación 16 de Julio: El Alto, Open Air Market, Polifunctional de la Ceja (stadium where the famous Cholita Wrestling matches take place), El Alto International Airport
- Estación Ajayuni Cementerio: General Cemetery
- Estación Central : Bus station, Plaza Murillo, Urban Rush, Mercado Lanza, Calle Sagarnaga, Calle Jaen,
- Estación Irpawi: Gustu, Zona Sur
- Estación Obelisco: San Francisco monastery and church, Ali Pacha, Witches Market, Iglesia de San Francisco
- Estación 6 de Marzo: El Alto International Airport
Celeste (sky blue) Line
- Estación Chukiya Marka: Brosso
Recommendation: Visit a cemetery
It may seem a morbid thing to do, and possibly intrusive to european sensibilities, but a visit to the Cementerio General is an intriguing, moving and uplifting experience. Unlike the Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina, funerals and burials still take place here, although it is now almost full. This means that the people of La Paz still have current connections with the occupants, and visit on a regular basis, to read, eat, play music, talk and pray with their deceased loved ones.
It’s the largest cemetery in Bolivia, over 3 kms, and was established in 1826. It contains tombstones, mausoleums, sarcophagi and row upon row of four story concrete blocks.
The cemetery is located close to the red cable car line, Estacion Teleferico Cementerio.
Suggested time: 1 – 1.5 hrs
Recommendation: Dine at Gustu and Ali Pacha
I’ve been lucky enough to eat at Gustu twice and Ali Pacha once. Both were memorable meals, the quality and service were outstanding. As a vegetarian, who occasionally eats fish, these are fantastic restaurants to visit. Ali Pacha is vegan and Gustu produce both vegetarian and fish tasting menus on request, as well as a good range of choice for vegetarians on their a la carte menu.
If fine dining isn’t your thing, or you just want somewhere reasonable and centrally located, with decent toilets and charging points, then you can’t go far wrong with a visit to Brosso It’s great if you’re travelling with children, with an extensive play area on the 3rd floor. It offers a whole range of hot and cold food, including an extensive range of incredible desserts.
Gustu – ‘Meet Bolivia through its products’
Gustu is number 28 on the top 50 list of restaurants in Latin America in 2017. It’s current head chef is also the current title holder of the best female chef in south america. The restaurant’s vision is the belief they can change the world through food.
Location: Gustu is in Zona Sud, so will mean a cable car ride on the green line to Irpavi, and then a short walk or a cab ride. It’s easy to get lost, so a cab may be easiest, but it’s not a long walk, if you want to build up an appetite.
Directions: Turn left out of the cable car station Irpavi on the green line, cross over the small river and walk down Calle 12 for 3 blocks until you get to Julio Patino, where you turn right, then take the first left onto Calle 10.
Gustu is actually on Calle 10 (Google maps is wrong, it isn’t on Avenida Costanera – if you hit that street you’ve gone too far), but you have to cross what feels like a dual carriageway, but is actually two separate roads – Av Los Sauces (appropriate name!) and Los Nardos, to continue on Calle 10.
Gustu is on the right hand side, and you’ll usually see a board outside advertising they sell bread (Hay pan). You go up a short flight of stairs to enter.
Ambience: The interior is modern, with dark wood and minimal decorative fixtures or fittings. The reception desk is straight in front of you as you enter, and there is a long bar along the left hand wall with comfy sofas behind the reception desk and opposite the bar.
As you walk to your table you see the kitchen, which is enclosed by a glass wall on 2 sides- so you can see all that is going on. It is surprisingly small given the amazingly technical food that is produced.
The toilets are at the back on the left, behind a dark curtain.
Food: I’ve had a tasting menu twice, first a vegetarian tasting menu and the second a fish tasting menu. Both times we’ve had an accompanying wine flight, and shared one between the two of us, but it’s not expensive (about 180 bolivianos), we just don’t drink that much. And at altitude it’s probably not a great idea either!
As each course is brought out, your waitress will describe the plants and processes behind each plate. Everything is made from Bolivian ingredients and products. Ask as many questions as you like. The second time I visited I went with Bolivian friends, and even they learnt a thing or two!
Similarly with the wine, you’ll be told about the grape, the winery and the people behind the wine. Most of these are a revelation, although the cloudy Japanese/French wine that tasted of feet, and was made that way – was our least favourite. Our recommendation would be that Gustu don’t serve that, as it takes away from all the other great wines that they serve.
As you’d expect, presentation is excellent, and flavours are sometimes unique. Given the vast variety of potatoes grown in Bolivia (in excess of 200 and counting) and huge range in climates, they have developed incredible ways of preserving and cooking potatoes. For example, Chuno, which is naturally freeze dried by leaving out over night in freezing temperatures, and during the day, and then trampling by foot.
You wouldn’t expect there to be local fish or seaweed at this height above sea level. But you forget Lake Titikaka, which provides not only fish but a type of lake weed that is used to make a kind of tempura.
Price: Gustu is not a cheap restaurant, but for the quality of the food the prices are reasonable. For the complete experience tasting menu of roughly 7 courses you pay around 500 bolivanos, about £50 per head. There are other versions available for lunch and dinner, as well as a la carte. Prices on a la carte range from 44 bolivianos, about £4 for a starter or dessert, and from around 90 – 120 bolivanos for a main course (£9 – 12). Supporting alcoholic drink flights cost between 185 – 290 bolivianos, or £18 – £30 approximately.
Another award winning restaurant, receiving the following awards at the 2017 World Luxury Restaurant awards
- South American Cuisine Global Winner
- Best Cocktail Menu Continent Winner
- Gourmet Vegan Cuisine Continent Winner
Location: Conveniently located in central La Paz on the corner of Calle Colon and Potosi, just a few blocks from both the purple line Obelisco station and Celeste line Chukiay Marika stations. It has a rather unprepossessing entrance, and you may miss it at first. The giveaway is that you go down a short flight of stairs to get to the entrance.
Ambience: Despite the slightly off-putting entrance, once downstairs the decor improves, although the premises isn’t large – about half the size of Gustu. There’s a small reception area as you first enter, and then you weave your way between the tables. Funky tiles are on the floor, and wood is used throughout to giving the restaurant a rustic and ethnic feel.
Food: This is a vegan restaurant at the highest level, again using the local Bolivian produce and supporting micro producers. There’s no menu – instead what you get will be a surprise. All you choose is how many courses you’d like – and then sit back and wait to be delighted.
As with Gustu they expect everyone on the same table to ask for the same menu.
Price: 3 courses -100 Bolivianos – approximately £10; 5 courses – 150 bolivianos – approximately £15, and 7 courses – 200 Bolivanos, approximately £20. This represents exceptional value for money, as filtered water and sourdough bread is included also.
Accompanying alcoholic and non alcoholic drink flights are also available ranging from 100 – 200 Bolivianos (approximately £10-20)
Suggested time: 1.5 – 2 hours
I hope this has whetted your appetite for La Paz, it’s sights and sounds and flavours. If you have your own favourite places in La Paz, I’d love to hear about them.