La Paz has become a major destination for many backpackers and adventure travel enthusiasts as there are many great things to see and do in the capital city of Bolivia and the surrounding area around La Paz! It’s one of the many treasures of traveling in Bolivia! When arriving on my bus from Copacabana after visiting Isla del Sol, I was amazed by the enormity of La Paz! Our bus rounded the corner of the last crest of the high mountains of the Altiplano, where La Paz city skyline came into view and it took my breath away. I just wasn’t expecting such a large city located in a huge valley surrounded by so many snow capped mountains. As our bus worked it’s way down the side of the mountain we passed through the sprawling outer limits of La Paz that were full of chaotic traffic. The city’s official name is Nuestra Señora de La Paz, which in English means, Our Lady of Peace. It has a population of about 2.3 million people and is the highest capital city in the world, located 11,975 feet above sea level and it’s a city full of things to discover! Take a look at the 10 must see things in La Paz!
Watch a Soccer Game (Excuse me, I mean Football Match)
If you are a huge sports fan you will not want to miss a game at La Paz’ Estadio Hernando Siles! The stadium has a capacity of 41,143 so you can imagine the intensity of so many fans in one place. This stadium is the home of three teams, Club Bolivar, The Strongest and La Paz F.C., and these teams have the advantage over their opponents who come to La Paz to play them because of the high altitude. Remember that La Paz is located 11,975 feet above sea level. They are almost playing at an altitude similar to the base camp of Mount Everest as that elevation is 16,900 feet. Teams that have not acclimated to the high altitude will have an issue playing while oxygen in the air is so thin compared to where they practice. Diehard fans come out to support their favorite teams in droves and you will get to experience the madness of football games in South America!
Visit the Tourist Market
If you are a traveler who loves shopping you will want to make sure to visit the best tourist market in the city on Calle Sagarnaga and Calle Linares. You will be able to purchase hundreds of different souvenirs and gifts for family and loved ones back home. There are colorful bags, alpaca sweaters and Bolivian ponchos that you see many individuals around the country wearing, along with instruments, handmade jewelry and colorful trinkets to help you remember and cherish your memories of La Paz! This market has extremely low prices and remember you can barter and negotiate with the vendors to get your souvenirs at an even better deal.
The Witches’ Market
The Witches Market or Mercado de las Brujas is probably one of the most interesting markets you will see in South America because of the large amount of llama fetuses, dead shriveled cats, frogs, armadillos, starfish, turtles, snakes, medicinal plants and herbs, along with potions, spells and spiritual advice. This market is just a small area, but is the part of the city where ancient Aymaran beliefs are still practiced. The wide array of things you can buy are actually used in rituals to bring protection, love, happiness, health, wealth and longevity into people’s lives. These help to bring peace to the Aymara Spirits. The llama fetuses are the most prominent thing a tourist will see when sightseeing in this market and it is still common practice for Bolivian families to make an offering to Pachamama or Mother Earth by burying a llama fetus under the foundations of their new home for protection, health and happiness. Within the Witches Market you will also see Witch Doctors offering their services to read your fortune, cure your illness or even receive a spell to improve a person’s issues with fertility and financial stability. Most travelers and tourists will find this market interesting and an entertaining sight to see, but please remember that for many Bolivians this market and its products are for sacred ceremonies so please have respect for the Aymaran beliefs and the Bolivian culture.
Valle de la Luna
A short bus ride from the central part of La Paz you will find an unworldly landscape. Something you might expect to see on the moon; hence the name of the park, Valle de la Luna or Valley of the Moon in English. This lunar landscape of bizarre geological formations is located only 6 miles away from the city center of La Paz, so you can take a short bus ride to view them. These rock formations are composed of clay and sandstone and have been created by mother nature over time with strong winds and rain over hundreds of years. These formations reminds me of the rock formations of Huancayo, located in Peru.
Plaza Murillo is the most important political site in the country as it is the home to the Government Palace, the House of Congress, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Municipal Government House. It’s a beautiful plaza with statues and plants, but the ground and the air is completely covered in pigeons! The plaza is a nice place to relax and people watch even with the endless amount of pigeons everywhere. You might as well join everyone else and feed the flocks of pigeons that cover the statues, trees and ground. It’s a memory you won’t forget.
La Paz Cathedral
Cathedral Basilica de Nuestra Señora de La Paz or in English, Basilica of Our Lady of Peace or the La Paz Cathedral has an interesting history because it was first built in 1622, but it was demolished in 1831 due to safety concerns and multiple cracks. Construction on the new cathedral started in 1835, but wasn’t completely finished until 1989 when Pope John Paul II visited.
National Museum of Art
Close to Plaza Murillo and the La Paz Cathedral is the Bolivian National Museum of Art or El Museo Nacional de Arte. The artwork is housed in a colonial era palace and below in the picture, you can see the Courtyard of the National Museum of Art. The colonial building itself is a piece of art, due to the intricate architecture when it was built in 1775. It is a historic and beautiful building to see in person. They have everything from paintings to sculptures from a large number of Bolivian artists that showcase scenes from the colonial conquest to religious ceremonies.
Plaza San Francisco & The Basilica de San Francisco
This is a second plaza in La Paz that you must visit. This plaza is actually larger than Plaza Murillo, but with fewer pigeons. It is located in the heart of downtown La Paz and is a huge open plaza where many Bolivians gather for a multitude of different demonstrations. Due to the plaza’s large size, many people make it location to meet up with friends and family and just hang out to relax and socialize.The Basilica de San Francisco is La Paz’ largest Catholic church located in Plaza San Francisco. It’s a beautiful church and for religious individuals it’s a wonderful place to visit, not only to view the sanctuary of the church, but also because it has a nice museum filled with religious relics. Below the ground the Basilica has catacombs similar to the ones you can see at the Basilica de San Francisco in Lima, Peru.
This lookout spot offers excellent views of the Sopocachi neighborhood and the surrounding area. There are multiple raised walkways along with a playground where you will see many Bolivian children enjoying the park during their free time, especially after school.
Last, but not least is Mercado Rodriguez, the busy market where you can see Bolivian life in action! There are vegetables and fresh fruit everywhere at very inexpensive prices. This market is La Paz’ biggest outdoor food market and can be busy during the week, but the weekends is where you can experience the hectic market in full fledged action. Generally, Bolivians will be buying huge quantities of food to feed their families.
La Paz is a wonderfully unique and fascinating city with its abundance of culturally rich heritage and should be on your treasures of traveling list while visiting Bolivia and South America!
— Luke Keeler
Check out the map below to see where La Paz is located at!
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