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10 Things to Know Before Visiting La Paz, Bolivia

Picture of Harry Stewart
Updated: 10 April 2018
Situated in a sweeping valley amid towering Andean peaks, the lofty heights of La Paz will literally take your breath away. Exotic, chaotic, and brimming with colorful customs, Bolivia’s high altitude capital can admittedly feel overwhelming at times. But fear not, for Culture Trip has put together a list of 10 useful things to know to help you navigate this perplexing city with ease.

How to speak Spanish

Or a few basic phrases, at least. While those in the tourism industry do tend to speak passable English, everyone else will respond with little more than a shrug and a confused “¿Que?

La Paz Bolivia
Locals in La Paz | © Danielle Pereira / Flickr

The altitude is extreme

Situated some 3,600 meters (11,800 feet) above sea level, new arrivals inevitably struggle with the thin mountain air. Be sure to take it easy for the first few days and try the local remedy known as mate de coca to help mitigate those altitude blues.

Coca leaves for altitude sickness
Coca leaves help with altitude sickness | © Anthony Tong Lee / Flickr

There’s a fantastic cable car system

New lines on the city’s famed Mi Teleferico cable car system have been opening at breakneck speed, with a total of six currently operating to date. Rather than exploring the city in tired old taxis or cramped minibuses, jump on the teleferico to marvel at La Paz from the sky.

La Paz Teleferico Cable Car System
Read line Teleferico | © Eneas De Troya / Flickr

It’s a great hub to explore Bolivia

Strategically located between the Amazon and the Andes, many find themselves passing through again and again. Travelers can use La Paz’ convenient location as a base to discover further afield.

Jump on La Paz’s cable car for an unbeatable view of the city
Jump on La Paz’ cable car for an unbeatable view of the city | © saiko3p / Shutterstock

Indigenous culture is alive and well

The native Aymara form the majority in La Paz, whose colorful traditional outfits can be seen proudly on display. For a different kind of indigenous experience, watch a team of fiery cholitas do battle in a WWE-style wrestling free-for-all.

Cholitas Wrestling
Cholita working the crowd | © Jonathan Hood / Flickr

Everything is really cheap

Prices have risen sharply over the years, yet La Paz remains one of the best value capitals on the continent. Accommodation, food, and alcohol can all be purchased for a fraction of what they cost elsewhere.

Wide shot of La Paz
Aerial view of La Paz | © Jimmy Harris / Flickr

The nightlife is intense

Lonely Planet rated La Paz as having among the best nightlife in the world, partly thanks to a series of boisterous backpacker orientated party hostels where all night booze-fueled celebrations are the norm.

The restaurants are amazing too

For a relatively impoverished city, La Paz’ foodie scene is surprisingly robust. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, check out the city’s plethora of excellent eateries for an exquisite high altitude dining experience.

Gustu restaurant La Paz
Gustu | © Gustu

Natural splendor is just a short bus ride away

The city may indeed be chaotic at times, which is all the more reason to explore the pristine surroundings that lie just a stone’s throw away. Multiday treks such as Takesi or El Choro are an excellent option, while Palca Canyon, Valle de las Animas, and Tuni Condoriri are all wonderful one-day escapades.

The Death Road is not to be taken lightly

One of La Paz’ most popular attractions is hurtling a mountain bike down the World’s Most Dangerous Road. Keep in mind, however, that true to its name people do in fact die. At the very least, be sure to get a good night’s sleep and take it easy on the descent.