In general I’m not a big fan of big cities so I wasn’t overly looking forward to La Paz. Arriving in on the bus left me feeling a little bit more uncertain of how much time I wanted to spend there. The first site of La Paz from the bus is both impressive and daunting. La Paz is located in a valley but t the city extends all the way up the valley and on one side -where there’s no mountains- it overflows on the plateau. It spills over so much there is now an entirely new city called El Alto.
We picked a hotel in the centre of the city and after settling in I realised that La Paz had a lot to offer. It felt like a real city unlike Sucre . We signed up for a walking tour and it was a great idea. Our guide was excellent and the tour was a lot more than just learning about history dates of buildings. He brought us up to El Alto (considered a no go area in the guidebooks) and it was really interesting. It was colourful, full of street vendors and also contained a much more authentic witches market than the one in central La Paz. The witches market is cool. Within Bolivia there are lots of Catholics but there is also the traditional beliefs from Inca time and before of worshiping mother earth or Pachamama. The ‘witches market’ sells all of the products necessary to worship pachamama. For example, if someone buys a new house they might bury a llama foetus in the garden for good luck or give someone a charm to wish them good luck etc. I don’t know all the details of this belief system too much but its v important to a lot of people and in El Alto you can see the Shamans work. The Shamans are similar to priests, they seem to provide guidance, help and perform rituals for the people who go to them. We went to one and had our coca leaves read. He was lovely man, he seemed very intelligent and seemed interested in our cultures. We will find out if his reading comes true!!!
There is a good bit to see in La Paz, and a walking tour is s good idea to get your bearings. One of the plus sides to a big city is that there are lots food choices and its very easy to book tours from La Paz. One of the downsides is that I found the air quite polluted. It’s also worth mentioning that its at 3, 700m which is no joke if you haven’t acclimatized. I wouldn’t recommend flying into La Paz from a flat country for that reason as it really increase the risk of altitude sickness. It would be better to fly somewhere lower and gradually make your way to La Paz.
As previously mentioned it easy to book tours from the city and one of the most popular is the famous Death Road tour. Its starts not far from La Paz and continues downhill for over 3,000m to near Coroico in the jungle area. Ger decided he wanted to do it so we booked him in and I went in the van behind him. It was really lovely views although a bit heartbreaking on the way as you could see lots of crosses along he road marking all the deaths. Most of the deaths were from bus/car crashes but there were a number of cyclists. If you went too fast and lost control unfortunately there is no coming back if you went over the edge. The drops are staggeringly steep. However, the tours that go down it now are quite safe as they make about 15 stops on the way down and explain the road to the cyclists. The road itself is not really used by vehicles now either so there are very little accidents anymore. Ger loved it, he found it a bit difficult in places but overall it was fine. I had a lovely journey in the van!!! When we reached the bottom, it was time for Ger to rest and for me to test out my daredevil side by having a go on the zipine that crosses over valley at the end of the death road. I’m not sure why I thought this would be less scary than the death road but my fear of edges/heights has no rational. I was right. I wasn’t scared. Well initially I was but once I was strapped in and zooming across the valley, I loved it. There were 3 zip lines in total each one getting a bit lower until you are eventually at the bottom again. It was brilliant and what’s more is that it’s a community project so the locals earn money from it. I am now a firm believer that zip lining should be brought into every city as a means of commuting to work!!!
After all this excitement we got to relax in the animal sanctuary of La Senda Verde. As it was my birthday, Ger thought it would be nice to spend it here as I love animals so much and he booked us into the tree house so we could watch the monkeys from our balcony. It was a really lovely weekend. The place itself is home to lots of animals that have been previously neglected and now they have a home in La Senda Verde. In Bolivian law, they cannot be re-released so they will remain in La Senda Verde for the rest of their days. As a tourist, you can help by staying in the lodges, donating money and also volunteering.
After a lovely weekend, we were nearly finished our trip in Bolivia. We headed back to La Paz for one night and then caught a but to Puno in Peru. In our 5 weeks in Bolivia, we really enjoyed it. Its very cheap and its easy to do Spanish lessons and tours etc. The culture is fascinating and is still very much alive which I think is one of the big attractions for tourists. The diversity of the landscape is spectacular from the salt flats to the mountains down to the jungle. It is worth mentioning though that the altitude can be tough at times if your in the higher regions. Also, while transport is very cheap, its not necessarily that comfortable and journeys can be arduous off the main roads. Unfortunately one of the other sides its that we found hygiene not to be great when it came to food and we both suffered a bit with stomach problems. It seems to be developing well though so I think these issues should improve in the future. In the meantime, its definitely worth visiting if your in South America.