• Claire

5 Top Things to do in La Paz, Bolivia | The World's Highest City

Updated: Jun 16

Set at an altitude of more than 3,500m above sea level, the city of La Paz is the world's highest administrative capital. It's not just the altitude that will leave you breathless here: the fascinating history, local culture and mountainous setting make this unique and vibrant city a highlight of any South American trip.

La Paz sits upon the Andes' Altiplano plateau at over 3,500m above sea level. I had low expectations for La Paz - I'm not normally a big fan of big cities - but I was blown away with how much I enjoyed my time here. I only had three days in La Paz but managed to do a lot in my time there. In this blog post, I share with you my five top things to do in the city:

1. Red Cap Walking City Center Tour

I have done numerous walking tours in different places around the world, but the one I did in La Paz was by far the best. I went on this tour with Red Cap tours. Our guide was so engaging and hilarious and told the most fascinating stories about the city's history. I've been on tours previously where guides have rambled on for what seemed like hours with an overload of information about historical figures and dates, but this tour was perfect.

We visited:

  • San Pedro Plaza/Prison

  • Rodriguez Market

  • Witches Market

  • San Francisco Church

  • Plaza Murrillo

I was so captivated about the stories our guide told us about San Pedro Prison - an inner-city jail/cocaine lab in La Paz which is operated by the inmates themselves who once ran prison tours for backpackers - that I read the book Marching Powder by Rusty Young which is a true story of a British prisoner that lived there and I loved it!

The cost of the walking tour was only $3 USD/person and lasts just under three hours. Guides greatly appreciate tips at the end. I find that a walking tour is a great thing to do on your first morning in the city.

2. Witches Market

Vendors at La Paz's famous Witches Market (Mercado de las Brujas) sell a wide range of weird and wonderful goods. From dried frogs to owl feathers, aphrodisiacs or llama foetuses (used as a sacrifice to Pachamama/Earth Mother), it's a fascinating place to wander. You can also visit a witch doctor to have your fortune read in coca leaves.

If you don't fancy taking a llama foetus home, this market is also a great place to shop for regular souvenirs like wool sweaters or key-rings.

The witches market is centrally located in the tourist area of La Paz on Jimenez and Linares Street. The walking tour mentioned above does take you to the Witches Market. However, I did come back a second time for a better look!

Witches Market

Witches Market

Witches Market

3. Death Road Bike Ride

The 65km mountain-biking thrill ride down Death Road is the most popular tourist activity in La Paz. This day trip takes you up into the mountains to descend 3,800m down 'Death Road' to a village near the Bolivian Amazon. I'm happy to say I survived the ride in one piece, but this extreme sport is definitely not for the faint-hearted! I wrote a full blog post on my Death Road bike ride experience. See:

I Survived Death Road in Bolivia! Mountain-Biking Down 'The World's Most Dangerous Road'

Death Road bike ride

4. Take a Ride on Mi Teleferico

One of the things that makes La Paz such a unique city is its cable car public transportation system - Mi Teleferico. The cable car system was developed to cut down commuter travel time from La Paz to neighbouring El Alto. And it works! The journey to El Alto now takes only 10 minutes compared to over an hour by bus. The network has since expanded to include 25 stations along eight lines and a one-way ticket costs less than $1AUD.

This public transportation system has created a tourist attraction in its own right. The cable cars provide spectacular views over the city and the surrounding mountains. I spent an afternoon hopping from line to line enjoying the incredible views - and it barely cost me anything!

Mi Teleferico station

Views from the cable car

Views from the cable car

Views from the cable car

Views from the cable car

5. Chacaltaya Mountain

On my last day in La Paz, I hopped on a $20 AUD day trip to tour Chacaltaya Mountain and Valle de la Luna (I didn't actually end up visiting Valle de la Luna as I wasn't feeling well, so I left the tour early and returned to my hostel after visiting Chacaltaya). Chacaltaya is a 5,400m high mountain in the Cordillera Real (Bolivian Andes) just outside of La Paz.

The mountain was once the world's highest ski resort but after the effects of global warming caused the Chacaltaya glacier to completely disappear. All that's left of the resort are the derelict remains of a ski chalet building and some poles that used to be the lifts. Our small van drove one hour out of La Paz and to Chacaltaya along a quite perilous bumpy, one-way winding road. We arrived in the 'ski chalet' car park 200m short of the summit and hiked the rest of the way up. The altitude made the 200m hike quite difficult and slow going. After about 30 minutes I reached the top and the highest altitude I've ever been - 5,400m.

It was a very eerie, stark reminder seeing the effects of global warming first hand. Although I had to leave the tour early because I wasn't feeling well, I really enjoyed the trip to Chacaltaya.

The road to Chacaltaya

All that is remaining of the ski chalet

Climb up to the summit

Chacaltaya summit

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You can read more about my adventures in South America on my blog or by following either of my Instagram accounts: claire_brack / chasingafterclaire