A few years ago, La Paz in Bolivia was one of the places we visited on a ’round-the-world trip’. At 3,550 metres above sea level, it’s the highest capital city in the world. Its Spanish name is ‘Nuestra Señora de La Paz’, meaning ‘Our Lady of Peace’. The airport El Alto stands at 4,000 metres, and I had been warned about the possibility of altitude sickness.
My first view of La Paz
On the journey from the airport to our hotel, I began to feel the effects of the extremely high altitude, and that night I really felt as though I was going to die, in spite of being plied with copious amounts of Coca Tea, which many Andeans believe to be a very effective cure. Thankfully, it did seem to work, and the next morning I was as right as ninepence, and off we went to explore.
In the city centre is the beautiful Baroque style ‘Basilica of San Francisco’.
At first glance, La Paz looked like most other cities, with its tall buildings and nicely laid out streets.
Although the country is rich in mineral and energy resources, Bolivia is one of South America’s poorest countries, and the majority of Bolivians are low-income, subsistence farmers, miners, or small traders like this mother with her children.
I think these bored-looking people must have been waiting for a bus or taxi. Note the beautiful decorated building behind them.
There was no shortage of tourism police keeping an eye out for any criminal activity. We had been warned to watch out for pickpockets and bag-slashers, just as in any big city.
Fortunately for us, we weren’t booked into The Hotel Majestic. I’ve since read a review on Trip Advisor, which said “Calling yourself ‘Majestic’, won’t necessarily make it so, and while its pink bathrooms, smart parquet floors and cable TV provide some distraction from the dirty baths and ‘stanky-like-a-field-mouse’ rooms, The Majestic is one of those last-ditch choices that’s good for a night and not much more.”
The gift shops were bursting at the seams with locally made items. The best buys were knitted and woven goods, such as rugs, ponchos, sweaters, and wall hangings made from Alpaca wool. I bought a sweater, but sadly, it turned out to be really itchy, and I had to d’itch it.
These guitar cases were so colourful, although I didn’t think my son would appreciate one, so I restrained myself.
Internet cafes were plentiful, but tended to be in the not very salubrious parts of town..
Many informal traders sat on the sidewalks, selling their wares to the passers by.
The shopping streets were very steep, but we put our best feet forward and got the exercise, both climbing up,
A very popular tourist attraction is the Witches Market, also known as El Mercado de las Brujas. It’s run by the local witch doctors, the Yatiri, and there you can buy a cure for every ailment imaginable. There are lotions, potions, dried frogs, medicinal plants and even dehydrated llama foetuses, which are buried under the foundations of many Bolivian houses as a sacred offering to the goddess Pachamama.
The truly affluent residents are housed in the lower ares of the city, whilst the middle-class tend to live in the high-rise condos near the centre. As we drove out of the city on our way to Lake Titicaca, we could see the makeshift dwellings of those less fortunate, crowded onto the surrounding hillsides.