La Paz is fast becoming a must-visit destination on the South American gringo trail, partly due to its convenient location between many of Bolivia and Peru’s greatest sites. But this bustling metropolis at a breathtaking 11,600 feet (3,600 meters) above sea level has plenty of worthwhile attractions of its own. Let’s take a look at the top 20 things to see and do in what was recently declared one of the New Seven Wonder Cities of the world.
Plaza San Francisco
San Francisco is the city’s biggest and most important plaza. Situated right in the heart of downtown, this massive open space is a popular meeting point and landmark, not to mention the site of regular passionate demonstrations.
Basilica de San Francisco
Built between the 16th and 18th centuries, the San Francisco Basilica is La Paz’ numero uno Catholic church. Inside is a worthy museum which holds various religious relics, some spooky catacombs and a bell tower that can be climbed for unbeatable views of the center.
Every Thursday and Sunday afternoon the neighboring city of El Alto puts on one of the continent’s most bizarre sporting events, Cholitas Wrestling. A group of hardy Aymara indigenous women jump in the ring and pull off a death defying array of WWE inspired theatrics in front of a roaring crowd. It really is quite the spectacle.
With four different lines and counting, the massive cable car system known as Mi Teleferico has rightfully become one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions. From the posh suburbs of Zona Sur to the dizzying heights of El Alto, there is no better way to see La Paz than from the air.
Home to the Government Palace, the House of Congress, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Municipal Government House, Plaza Murillo is the most important political site in the country. This grand, leafy plaza is a pleasant place to relax for a while, despite the relentless flock of pigeons that seem to cover every square inch.
Mirador Kili Kili
Just above the city center lies a charming look out that has been largely neglected in recent years, particularly since the arrival of the moving mirador known as Mi Teleferico. Nevertheless, Mirador Kili Kili still offers excellent views of the entire center in a peaceful and relaxing setting.
Fancy a bit of adventure right in the heart of downtown La Paz? Then check out Urban Rush, a crazy abseiling experiences that sees brave tourists leaping down the face of a 17 story hotel that overlooks the central Plaza San Francisco. Punters can even don a ludicrous Spider-Man outfit for an outrageously instagrammable photo opportunity.
Get a taste of the real Bolivia at Mercado Rodriguez where locals frantically snap up huge quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables for rock bottom prices. La Paz’ biggest outdoor food market is busiest on weekends and provides a real insight into Bolivia’s hectic and largely unregulated day-today commerce.
Mercado 16 de Julio
South America’s biggest flea market takes place in neighboring El Alto every Thursday and Sunday, with countless city blocks dedicated to any kind of goods imaginable. Best reached by the red line Teleferico, the sheer enormity of the market is a sight to behold. Be careful of your belongings though, as 16 de Julio is a favorite spot for local pickpockets.
Overlooking the trendy Sopocachi neighborhood is Mirador Laikacota, a pleasant series of raised walkways that lead to a child-friendly park and playground. The lookout offers excellent views of Sopocachi and surrounding neighborhoods and serves as a great way to escape city congestion.
Valle de la Luna
Just outside the city limits lies the spectacular natural attraction known as Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). With a lengthy labyrinth of bizarrely eroded rock formations, it isn’t hard to see how the site got its namesake.
The Witches Market
Browse for potions, lucky charms, hallucinogenic plants and traditional natural medicines at La Paz’ famous witches market. Those looking for a different kind of souvenir can even pick up a dehydrated llama fetus, perfect for burying under the house to curry favor with Pachamama (Mother Nature).
La Paz’ best preserved colonial street is filled with cafés, restaurants and numerous worthwhile museums. This cozy little pedestrian only thoroughfare is an excellent place to enjoy some great food, coffee and culture.
Calle Sagarnaga and Linares
Get all your souvenir and gift shopping out of the way at once at the city’s best tourist market. From alpaca jumpers and instruments to colorful trinkets and ponchos, there are plenty of quality Bolivian handicrafts on sale here at rock bottom prices.
La Paz has been declared by Lonely Planet and other renowned publications as having among the best nightlife anywhere in the world. From cozy pubs to pumping all night dance parties, there’s somewhere to wet the whistle for everyone in this enticing hedonist’s paradise.
There are plenty of different museums to check out in La Paz, more than can be mentioned in this brief article. Whether your interests lie in indigenous crafts, pre-Colombian gold artifacts, the sacred coca leaf or modern art, you’re bound to find something of interest in La Paz.
The amazing food
There aren’t any Michelin Star restaurants in La Paz… yet. What can be found instead is an amazing array of local eateries, delectable street food, traditional breakfast treats and upscale international restaurants that prepare high quality tucker for a fraction of the cost back home.
The world’s highest golf course
The La Paz Golf Club is the highest tournament standard course in the world. Aside from this claim to fame, it’s also an extremely well maintained establishment with luscious green thoroughfares flanked by leafy green pine trees, all under the watchful gaze of the city’s guardian angel, Mount Illimani.
San Pedro Prison
Tourists aren’t allowed inside on tours anymore, so don’t even try. But the prison can still be viewed from the outside and women and children can regularly be seen going in to visit their beloved incarcerated relatives.
Watch a football match
It won’t exactly be Barca vs. Real Madrid, but a game at the city’s Estadio Hernando Siles is a great way to spend an afternoon. The best match to watch is an El Classico between the two top teams, Bolivar and Tigre. This is when club loyalty reaches fever pitch and the atmosphere becomes electric.