Looking for the best things to do in La Paz, Bolivia? This is the article for you! You will find lots of information about where to eat, where to sleep, how to get around, other useful tips and of course – the best things to do in La Paz!
Resting on the Andes’ Altiplano plateau at more than 3,500m above sea level, La Paz is the highest administrative capital in the world! It stretches to El Alto city in the highlands (4,058m), with snow-capped, 6,438m-high Mt. Illimani as its backdrop. Cosmopolitan and full of modern cafes, museums and restaurants, La Paz is best explored at a slow pace, taking the time to soak up the city’s rich culture and fascinating sights.
Things to do in La Paz
In the Witches’s market, unusual and colourful objects like dried llama fetuses, love potions and voodoo dolls are littered on the stalls, each holding a special relevance or power when used by the right person. Pachamama (Mother Nature) holds huge significance in Bolivia and the “brujas” (witches in English) are still called upon to bring about fortune, put someone under a spell, or cure someone’s issues. Stroll through the market and talk to locals to have a better grasp of the traditions and their meanings.
San Francisco Church
One of La Paz’s most important landmarks. This restored religious complex has housed some of Bolivia’s most important historical moments, including the birth of the Independence Revolution of 1809. The beautifully church decorated with catholic and native art was built entirely by indigenous Aymara workers. During the tour, you can climb the church tower to get a panoramic view of both the indigenous and Mestiza quarters.
Today, San Franciscison Plaza is the main square of the city and where everything happens. It is a great spot to just sit and enjoy the vibrant energy. There are frequent performances of local dancers and other street artists.
Located in La Paz’s Casco Viejo, or old town, Plaza Murillo is another lively spot framed by the government buildings and Presidential Palace. Take a sit on one of the benches or stairs and contemplate the country’s tumultuous history while observing a rich culture that lives on through the city’s locals.
San Pedro Prison
This is La Paz’s main prison and defies any incarceration system you may have learned about so far. Structured like a small city inside La Paz, San Pedro’s inmates have jobs inside the walls and can even live with their families who come and go during the day to work, go to school, etc. They have to pay a monthly rent for their cells or can even buy them. Tourists are no longer allowed to enter to visit but the square outside the prison is the spot where the free walking tours meet to learn more about that unique ecosystem.
Jaen Street (Calle Jaén)
Beautiful and picturesque, Jaen Street is a quaint, cobble-stoned street, home to a range of shops, cafes and restaurants. One of the few places in the city with preserved colonial buildings, this historic and colorful street also houses several interesting museums.
The Coca Museum
If you want to learn more about the powerful coca plant, take a trip to the Coca Museum. This small museum details the history and significance of the coca plant. It educates about the science of coca and its evolution from traditional medicine to the base of Coca-Cola and, eventually, cocaine. The displays are in Spanish, but booklets of complete translations in other languages are provided. After the tour, you can sample everything made with coca, from teas to alcohol shots.
Established in 1826, the Cementerio General is a vast necropolis of facades painted with colorful murals in an intricate series of alleys. Spread over 1.5 miles, it is a unique place of mourning. The compact tombs stacked one above another are beautifully decorated with flowers, photos, and other memories that are placed there by bereaved families. Those ornements aim to help the deceased’s journey into the afterlife, and are part of a tradition where death is seen as a continuation of life.
El Alto: cable car, market and cholita wrestling
The best way to see La Paz is to take the Teleferico cable car to El Elto. Located at a dizzying 4,060 meters above sea level, don’t forget to bring some warm clothes. Once you arrive in El Alto, you’ll be amazed by the bustling streets. On either Thursdays or Sundays, El Alto becomes Bolivia’s biggest open air market. You can buy anything from clothes to food to electronics.
After strolling through the market, make your way to attend a Cholita wresting match, also held every Thursday and Sunday. The show, while quite unusual, is great fun . You’ll be watching Bolivian women battling in a spectacular fashion, acrobatically jumping from corner to corner. You can either attend the show with a tour or on your own, but be aware that El Alto is not the safest place to wander around at night.
Mirado Kili Kili
You can get the best panoramic view of la Paz from the mirador. Take your time as you walk up the stairs as the altitude can easily exhaust. It’s a great way to get some exercise and get acclimitise to the heights though.
Fun and adrenaline activities around la Paz
If you’re looking for an exhilarating experience with some of Bolivia’s most beautiful scenery, I highly recommend biking the world’s most dangerous road! You will have a fantastic day riding down the 3,345 meters of bumpy vertical descent!
With its spectacular views, accessibility to beginner climbers and close proximity to La Paz, climbing Huayna Potosi summit is a must-do for avid adventurers traveling in Bolivia. Upon reaching the summit, you will be rewarded with stunning views of the Cordillera Real, Lake Titicaca (3810m) and the Altiplano (4000m), along with a sense of achievement you will never forget.
If you have a spare day during your stay in La Paz, get out of the city and head off to the Yungas Valley. Vertical Route offers 5 main activities: rappel, tibetan bridge, via ferrata, zip line and rope swing. Located about 1 hour and a half away from La Paz, this fun day trip will reward you with amazing landscapes.
Where to eat in La Paz
Swedish owned, this lively three story cafe has a comfortable atmosphere and very international crowd. This is the perfect place to hangout or meet other travelers over a delicious cake. They also serve plenty of healthy options.
This high-end vegetarian restaurant will delight even carnivores with its degustation menus. Very creative plant-based recipes – you will taste the flavors of Bolivia like never before.
Located in a lovely patio, this italian restaurant offers a great menu of the day (40BS) with a soup, your choice of pasta and a delicious dessert.
This is a cozy restaurant with a nice small terrasse and tasty, traditional food.
With a sunny outdoor patio and gorgeous floor tiles, this hipster coffee-shop offers good coffees and panini sandwiches.
Nice spot to hangout with delicious desserts and coffee.
Authentic Bolivian food at its best. The owners are very knowledgeable about what they serve and interested in introducing local food to travelers in a homely environment.
Launched by the Danish culinary entrepreneur Claus Meyer, the food is focused on seasonal and local products, transforming them in a trip through Bolivian richness and diversity.
Great coffee place with comfortable couches to relax when it’s cold outside. Good sandwiches as well.
Dutch owned, this restaurant offers a tasty mix of Dutch and international food, as well as a large selection of cocktails and local craft brews. The restaurant hosts live music every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday as well as other fun activities including open mic and salsa nights.
Great armosphere to relax and read a book while enjoying an amazing coffee and exquisite carrot cake.
One of La Paz’s main food markets, this is a great spot to have a juice, sandwich, soup, salteña (filled pastry shells), or empanada. Choose a busy stall – it’s a good sign that you’ll receive good service.
I joined the 3-hour food tour organised by HanaqPacha and it didn’t disappoint! It’s a great way to learn about Bolivian culinary culture and sample traditional Bolivian food from street food stalls and local restaurants.
Where to sleep in La Paz
If you’re looking for a party hostel, this is the one for you. With a gilded bar, a rooftop terrace, several sunny hangout areas with games and TVs, you’re sure to meet plenty of other travellers there. Set in a central location and a gorgeous new building, it also offers panoramic view of La Paz.
The highest Irish owned hostel in the world, Wild Rover is located just 3 blocks from the famous Plaza Murillio in a beautiful ex-president’s house. Very popular with British/Irish backpackers, the place organizes numerous activities.
The Adventure Brew Hostel lies in a 19th century colonial house conveniently located just 5 minutes from the terminal bus station. With the best craft beer in town to enjoy, they also organize daily activities (afternoon BBQ, beer pong games, karaoke nights, etc).
Take a walking tour
Walking tours in La Paz are a great way to learn about the history of the city and the local culture. I did two walking tours with Red Cap, the walking city center tour (they meet everyday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. in Plaza San Pedro, no advance booking required) and the extented La Paz adventure and cable car city tour. I absolutely loved both of them. The knowledgable English-speaking guides shared numerous insightful stories and helped me understand the city and its traditions much more than I would have been able to on my own.
Transport within La Paz is safe and reliable. Make sure to only take official taxis though. They have a yellow sticker on the windshield and a back passenger side window which displays a 4 figure number. Uber is also now available in la Paz, but will be a bit more expensive than a taxi. A cheaper way to get around and see the city is to take local buses or the Cable Car.
At 3,650 m (11,975 ft) above sea level, altitude sickness is a real thing when you arrive in La Paz. Go slow and give yourself a few days to acclimitise before going on any serious activity. Drinking lots of water and coca tea is a great way to help adjust to the altitude.
Given its altitude, La Paz remains pretty chilly all year round, especially at night. Be sure to bring a warm jacket, liner gloves and a beanie. I also recommend bringing a sleeping bag liner. It saved me quite a number of times on cold nights.
There are plenty of ATMs around the city to withdraw cash in bolivianos or US dollars.
You can find free Wifi in most restaurants and hostels but it doesn’t always work very well. If you’re staying for a while, consider getting a SIM Car and registering it at an Entel Office. You will need to present a photocopy of your passport or ID. You will then be able to recharge it anywhere in the streets. Entel is quite cheap and you get good coverage in all main cities and town, including in the Amazon. I purchased the Combo Navegador where you can choose the amount of data you need with a few voice minutes. All tour companies use WhatsApp so you don’t really need voice minutes.
Getting to La Paz
Located in El Alto, La Paz’s international airport is the highest airport in the world at 4,058 m (13,313 ft). Airport services include ATMs, internet, souvenir stores, a small ‘sleepbox’ hotel and a storage service. The aiport is located about 30 minutes from the centre of La Paz. The price of a taxi to and from El Alto airport is Bs 70 ($10 US).
La Paz has three bus terminals: the main bus terminal for most national and international destinations, Villa Fátima for the Yungas or Amazon, and the cemetery bus terminal for Sorata, Titicaca and Tiwanaku. Most national destinations are serviced hourly for major cities and daily for less visited spots. International departures generally leave several times a week – check ahead as schedules change.