Our last capital city awaited, the highest national capital in the world at over 3,000m – La Paz.
Getting there involved the most bizarre method of transport I can remember. In order to avoid a huge detour taking the road, buses from Copacabana get loaded onto tiny barges across a river. Passengers have to get out, and of course pay extra to cross in another boat, and then watch as your bus floats across. It looked slightly unstable but it made it across fine.
As we made our way across town to our accommodation, it struck me that La Paz really was what I expected South American cities to be like. Crazy driving, people milling about everywhere, street stalls, and everything was a bit run down but it all looked so exciting.
Our idea of doing a walking tour in the city was scuppered when I found out they had been suspended due to intimidation, presumably from rival tour companies. However they had published the tour route online so we decided to take a risk and try it ourselves.
I say it was a risk because La Pas is supposed to be the most dangerous city in South America (depending on who you listen to – equally people will swear it’s Quito, or Bogotá) but I can honestly say, as always, we never once felt intimidated there, and nothing untoward happened.
We started at San Pedro Plaza, the site of the infamous prison of the same name, which is essentially run by the inmates and in years gone by tourists used to go in for tours with hardened criminals. No doubt you still could today if you waved enough bolivianos around but it wasn’t something we were desperate to try!
Next we went onto Rodriguez Market, which as with most South American markets, was full of colour and craziness.
After this we ended up at the witches market which famously specialises in llama foetuses which are used for a ritual when a new house is built and the foetus is buried under the doorway (or something to that effect).
Around the corner from the witches market is San Francisco church and plaza, the main one in La Paz. This wasn’t the most interesting plaza to be honest, but the market (from where I took this photo) is well worth a look for cheap and delicious food (if you don’t mind eating in a 2m wide wooden shack)
We finished our tour in Plaza Murillo where I made friends with some pigeons.
With not much idea of what to do on our second day (I wanted to cycle the death road, but at a surprising £60+ per person it was just a bit too much at this point in our trip) we headed to one of the 3 cable car lines at the station nearest to us, Sopocachi, to get a birds eye view of the city. Much like the one in Medellin, the cable car in La Paz connects poor hillside neighbourhoods with the rest of the city. There isn’t too much to do at the top apart from admire the view, but it is quite a view and shows just how sprawling La Paz is.
Later on we headed out to I’d always wanted to go to a South American football match, and La Paz was going to be my last chance. As luck would have it, one of the 2 most successful teams in the country – Bolivar – were playing on our second night in the city. I figured we didn’t need to worry about buying tickets in advance, so we simply took a taxi out to the stadium.
We were soon in an enormous melee for tickets – it turned out this match was the last of the season, and having just won the championship, naturally the people of La Paz wanted to celebrate with their team. Arriving at the front of the queue after a good half an hour, we just about managed to get tickets before kick off. It became a bit nerve racking as people who presumably couldn’t be bothered to queue were holding out fistfuls of money to us and shouting in Spanish. However a glance at one of the security guards told me it probably wasn’t a good idea to help them for fear of causing a riot further back in the queue.
We finally got in and were greeted by virtually no facilities. Instead we had to clamber over people to find any free seats, and any refreshments had to be bought from sellers roaming the stands carrying it on their heads…and then clambering over fans to get your drink to you. Strangely you couldn’t get a beer inside?!
The match itself was fun, though the atmosphere was a bit lacking, since they had already won the league and nothing was riding on the game, but there was a fantastic 30 yard strike late on which left Bolivar 1-0 winners. We then got to see the trophy presentation and all the celebrations, plus a massive firework display. Good timing!
We stayed at Landscape B&B which was recommended to us by another traveller we met on Isla Del Sol. It was so, so good. It was essentially a large house with locks on the bedroom doors, complete with living room, cosy kitchen and family bathrooms. Our room had a wonderful view out over the city, and was furnished with a lot of dark wood and the comfiest bed we’d had in months. A double room cost us 183 Bs (£18.51) a night. The best thing was the staff, they were so so friendly and took care of our backpacks when we went to the Amazon for a few days.
The Red Cap walking tour which we had to do ourselves, is now running again.