The City of La Paz, Bolivia is located in a large basin high in the Andes Mountains and is one of two capitals of Bolivia. Being the seat for the Executive and Legistative branch, the other Capital is Sucre and hosts the judicial branch of Bolivia’s government. Founded in 1548 by Spaniard Captain Alonzo de Mendoza and named “Nuestra Senora de La Paz” or Lady of the Peace, La Paz was first located near the historic ruins of Tiahuanaco. Moved to the Valley of the Chuquiago Marka, La Paz held its origins from Aymara miners and is a country that is over 60% indigenous.
It is a congested city that is filled to the brim with brick and mortar buildings. It was a busy city even thirty years ago and over the years the Aymara Indians that lived in the remote areas high in the Altiplano region have been moving into the city looking for a better way of life. So much so that the area near the airport that used to be open fields in now home to over one million people and now have their own town “El Alto.”
As a city that had unplanned urban growth the pressure from traffic throughout the city has become oppressive. As a solution, the city has begun a cable car system to aid in commuting between areas and offers visitors wonderful panoramic views of La Paz.
As a visitor, there are several ‘must-see’ stops in La Paz to see along with the incredible shopping of endless Alpaca and Llama goods. The first is the “Witch’s Market” located on Jimenez and Linares street behind the historical San Francisco Church. I remember the market being small with Cholitas (Aymara women in traditional clothing) selling their wares from small wooden stands. Today the stands have grown to full-blown stores filled with charms, elements for healing and spiritual rituals.
Another ‘must-see’ stop is the historic street “Calle Jaen” near Plaza Murillo. This brightly colored, cobble stoned street is home to five museums and is representative of 18th Century Spanish Colonial architecture.
Nearby is a wonderful overlook of La Paz and one of the world’s highest altitude Olympic size sports stadiums in the world. Estadio Hernando Siles stadium was built in 1931 and in 2007, the Brazilian soccer team complained of the unfair disadvantage the high altitude acclimated Bolivian players had over their Brazilian sea level players. Now foreign teams must arrive a week early prior to the match to acclimate to the 11,932 foot high stadium.
There is so much to see and do in La Paz and one day isn’t nearly sufficient to cover all of the hidden treasures within. Shopping alone can take a day and one should bring an empty suitcase so that they can take back all of the wonderful Alpaca sweaters and such home with them.
As this stop in La Paz was part of our Acclimatizing plan for heading to the high remote deserts, we stayed in Calacoto which is a residential area the lower section of La Paz. Warmer and lower in altitude, Calacoto is an upper-scale neighborhood with five-star accommodations and fine dining. Located at 10,000 feet it was a nice reprieve from the 12,000 + feet of altitude in the higher section of La Paz.