La Paz is a city of energy, exuberance and mountain vistas. After spending five months in South America, we ranked Bolivia’s capital as our favourite city in the continent. In a word, the city is busy! A cauldron of bustling activity from morning to night, we fell a little bit in love with the place. Heading there soon yourself? Here are our ideas for fun things to do in La Paz, Bolivia.
1. Take a city walking tour
Whenever visiting a city for the first time, it’s a great idea to begin by taking a walking tour. We did this all over South America, and we found it was the perfect way to find our bearings, learn about the place and its history, and get some ideas for our stay.
The free walking tour model popularised in Europe is being replicated in South American cities. In La Paz, you can take a city centre walking tour with Red Cap for just 3 US dollars. Not quite free, but it nearly is!
The tour meets every day at 11am in Plaza San Pedro, next to the prison made infamous by the book Marching Powder. From here the tour takes in some of the city’s most distinguished features, weaving through Rodriguez Market, San Francisco Church, Plaza Murrillo and more.
2. Go to a cholita wrestling night
Cholita wrestling in La Paz is a truly one-of-a-kind event. Held every Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon at Multifuncional Ceja de el Alto, Bolivian cholita woman take to the wrestling ring clad in full traditional dress.
‘Cholita’ was once a derisory word, but women of the indigenous Aymara and Quechua cultures have reclaimed it. The wrestling nights are a showcase of cholita pride, power and athleticism.
The style is inspired by Mexican lucha libre wrestling, but with an authentic Bolivian twist. It’s a night of entertainment and high drama the kind of which you won’t find anywhere else in the world. For more background, read our article on cholita wrestling.
3. Mountain-bike down Death Road
One of the most popular activities within the vicinity of La Paz is the challenge of mountain-biking down the notorious Yungas Road.
Sometimes known as ‘Death Road’, it has often been touted as the world’s most dangerous road due to its soaring fatality rate before safety measures were introduced in 2006. In the most part it is a narrow, uneven gravel track that winds through miles of mountains, with terrifying precipices just inches from the edge in places.
We took on the 64-kilometre route with Barracuda Biking, which has an excellent safety record. It’s all downhill, so there’s very little exertion required, and the views are jaw-dropping all the way. To round it off there’s a cold beer waiting for you at the bottom.
4. See the city from Mirador Killi Killi
The lofty setting of La Paz high up in the Andes mountains makes for some incredible sweeping views of the city. One of the best spots is at Mirador Killi Killi, a viewing point perched on a hill in the Villa Pabón neighbourhood.
It’s easy enough to walk up to the mirador from the city, but depending on your starting point you may want to take a taxi or bus to the base. At the top, you’ll be greeted with a panorama of the sprawling city, with Illimani Mountain looming in the background.
5. Take the world’s highest cable car
Another way to absorb La Paz’s spectacular mountain scenery is by hopping aboard Mi Teleférico, the city’s cable car system. Reaching higher than 4,000m altitude, it is the highest cable car ride in the world.
With the mountainous setting not conducive to a metro system, the electric cable cars have proved a brilliant alternative for getting around the city. They’ve also helped to bring down air and noise pollution.
There are few city transit systems in the world that provide as pleasing a visual experience as Mi Teleférico. For the best views, take the red line from Estación Teleférico Central up to El Alto via Jach’a Quathu.
6. Go shopping at El Alto Market
Stepping out of the Mi Teleférico station in El Alto on a Thursday or Sunday, you will emerge into the organised chaos of El Alto’s open-air market.
Covering an area of over 5 square kilometres, it’s the biggest market in Bolivia and a great place to get immersed in local life. We were taken aback by the seemingly limitless range of goods on offer in its hundreds of stalls. Old tyres, tools, medicines, building materials, car parts, you name it – they had it.
There are loads of places in and around the market to try local food, but make sure you confirm the price before you start eating. We learnt that the hard way!
7. Ascend to the peak of Chacaltaya
There aren’t many cities of the world where you can easily access mountain peaks higher than 5,000 metres. One such summit near La Paz is Chacaltaya, which stands at 5,486 metres and is just a couple of hours’ drive from the city.
Tour agencies in La Paz run group trips to Chacaltaya, or it’s possible to take a taxi and go independently. Don’t forget to negotiate! You can find more about getting to and from Chacaltaya on Wikitravel.
There isn’t a lot of climbing required. The road leads close to the summit, leaving just a couple of hundred metres for you to scramble over. Beware of the altitude, though. If you’re flying to La Paz from a low-altitude destination, you should allow a couple of days to acclimatise before going any higher. Wrap up warm, too – it gets chilly up there.
Oh, and avoid drinking too much the night before you go. I can tell you from first-hand experience that it’s not so much fun with a hangover.
8. Climb a 6,088-metre-high mountain
If you want to take peak-bagging to the next level, then you could consider scaling Huayna Potosí, which is close to Chacaltaya in the Cordillera Real range.
Huayna Potosí is reputedly the easiest 6,000m+ mountain to climb in the world. If you’re passing through La Paz and mountaineering is your thing, you may never get a better opportunity to reach such heights.
Although Huayna Potosí is accessible to novice climbers, it still requires proper training and preparation. Don’t try this if you’re expecting a walk in the park.
9. Visit Valle de la Luna
We combined our trip to Chacaltaya with a tour to Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). It’s not really a valley in reality, more a riddle of strange rock formations and canyons.
A path weaves through the clay crags and steeples, created after Andean weather eroded the mountain away. High on a rock above, we saw a man in traditional dress playing the charango, a miniature Bolivian guitar.
Valle de la Luna is a peaceful place to explore colourful and intriguing scenery. It’s not bad for your photo collection either.
10. Have a giant ice cream at Mercado Lanza
Back in the city, there is much more to explore and experience. Get lost in the labyrinth of Mercado Lanza, a multi-floor market and food hall that epitomises the fast pace of local life in La Paz. From the outside, Mercado looks more like a giant car park than a market.
Skip past the craft and clothes vendors on the lower floors and head up to the top floor for the grub. There is a great choice of stalls where you can find some of the cheapest Bolivian food in the city.
Best of all, a small handful of stalls serve giant fruit cocktails and ice creams. Ours were just 10 bolivianos each, and would probably have been enough for lunch on their own. Good luck eating them without making a mess, though.
11. Explore the Witches’ Market
One of the more outlandish attractions of La Paz is the Witches’ Market. Where else can you buy llama fetuses, dried frogs and exotic potions from women in bowler hats?
The Witches’ Market is located on Calle Jimenez in one of the tourist hotspot areas of the city. The street is lined with rows of shops selling bizarre trinkets that hail back to the old rituals of the Aymara indigenous people.
Aside from the strange medicines, owl feathers and dried amphibians, which are believed to bring good fortune and prosperity, you can also find more conventional souvenirs such as local craft and jewelry.
12. Look out for street art
One of the most striking features of La Paz is its vibrant colours. From above, the scene of houses and rooftops looks like something from a Leonid Afremov painting. The city has a colourful soul, and this is embodied in the street art that you can find throughout its winding backalleys and passageways.
When out walking in the city, keep an eye out for the captivating murals on walls and buildings that show off this artistic spirit.
13. Have a fancy coffee in HP Bronze
Lost in the suburbs and in need of a drink, we stopped for a coffee at HP Bronze. The wooden chic interior oozed luxury, and we soon saw on the menu that the prices were reflective of that.
This is a place where it’s definitely helpful to know a little Spanish. Struggling with the language barrier, I mistakenly ordered a tiny shot of coffee while Lisa lucked out with a mug that dwarfed mine.
If you’re looking for somewhere to get your head down and do some work, HP Bronze is a good option. If you don’t mind paying a bit of a premium for the artisan coffee, it’s one of the better spots for wifi in the city.
14. Go for a night out
No visit to La Paz would be complete without seeing how it comes to life at night. Bolivians like to party, and the capital city is where it’s at.
The Sopocachi district is one of the best areas of the city for bars and clubs. All over the city, though, you can find party joints that are open until the small hours and beyond. For some of the best nightlife spots, check out La Paz Life’s recommendations.
Things to do in La Paz: stay in Loki Hostel!
Disclaimer: this section contains affiliate links, which means that if you make a booking after clicking them, we will be paid a small commission at no extra cost to you.
If you’re seeking places to stay in La Paz and you’re on a backpacker budget, you can’t go too far wrong with Loki Hostel.
In general, we found our accommodation search for La Paz quite difficult. Not many hostels had good ratings, and those that did seemed exclusively to be party hostels.
While Loki does fit into the party hostel bracket, we found that it was fine for chilling out and getting a good night’s sleep too. It has a rooftop bar on its seventh floor which is banging every night with different themed parties, and has a great city view to boot. But the dorms and private rooms on the lower floors are well separated from this.
You might get unlucky with roommates, but that can happen anywhere. We had a great time in Loki and we’ll be back again when we next stop by in La Paz.
If it doesn’t sound to your taste, there are tons of hostel and hotel options for La Paz available on booking.com.
Further reading on Bolivia
If you’re planning a trip to Bolivia, you might find our other articles useful:
- Bolivia itinerary and travel guide: the classic two-week route
- How much does a Bolivia trip cost? Here’s what we spent
- Salar de Uyuni tour: a guide to Bolivia’s ultimate adventure
- Two days in Copacabana: Lake Titicaca Bolivia style
- How I conquered my fears to bike down Bolivia’s Death Road
- Cholita wrestling in La Paz: a unique Bolivian showpiece
- Bolivia’s Cerro Rico mines: a journey into the ‘mountain that eats men’
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