Here's Why La Paz is Becoming South America's Coolest Capital

Street art La Paz | © Demian CARPE DIEM/Flickr
Street art La Paz | © Demian CARPE DIEM/Flickr
Photo of Harry Stewart
18 October 2017

Crowded, noisy, and decidedly rough around the edges, on the surface La Paz doesn’t conjure up images of a hip bohemian paradise. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find a city undergoing rapid change. A string of hipster cafes, chic boutiques, fine dining restaurants and a burgeoning art scene have established a presence in recent years, steadily transforming La Paz into the continent’s coolest urban center.

Paving the way for this cultural revolution is the city’s booming upmarket culinary scene. Trend setting foodies first started eyeing the city in 2013 upon the arrival of Claus Meyer’s Gustu. Meaning ‘flavor’ in Quechua, this fine dining establishment offers exactly that, serving up a creative menu of locally sourced ingredients which has earned international praise and a spot on South America’s Best Restaurants list. Then there is Ali Pacha, a newcomer to the scene whose carefully curated vegan degustation menu is becoming one of the most respected on the continent.

Inside Gustu | © Courtesy of Gustu

Although café culture is still in its infancy in Bolivia, a number of hip local venues have found success in recent years. Catering to a sophisticated and mature audience is the widely acclaimed Writer’s Coffee, a reflective and refined café adorned with antique typewriters and staffed by classy fedora-wearing baristas. For a more youthful vibe, the millennial friendly MagicK brings in the punters for its colorfully creative decor and delectable vegetarian menu. More than just a coffee shop, MagicK puts on regular music and performance arts events which are a hit with the city’s bohemian youth.

Magick | © Jules Tusseau.

Looking for a cool place to stay? A decade ago, wealthy visitors were restricted to generic international chains. Nowadays, a number of awesome new boutiques have opened their doors to the fashion conscious traveler. The talk of the town at the moment is Atix in Zona Sur, a luxury hotel with an eccentric architectural design. Marketing itself as the new face of Bolivian hospitality, each room features exquisite local artworks, while their restaurant and bar are run by renowned hospitality superstars. On the other end of town, Stannum Boutique is loved for its distinct avant garde style, bringing a little New York chic to the streets of La Paz.

Hotel Atix | © Hotel Atix

Even shopping aficionados now have a reason to visit the mountain city. These days La Paz boasts a number of trendy boutiques that are a delight to peruse. Most trade in upmarket international designer goods, although local newcomers Mistura and Walisuma are a welcome addition to the scene. Situated in the center and south respectively, they both offer a creative range of fashion, home wares and handicrafts from a select group of talented local designers.

Ceramic goods | © Courtesy of Mistura

Throughout La Paz and its neighbor El Alto, a new style of architecture has sprung forth. Spearheaded by local legend Freddy Mamani, Nuevo Andino (New Andean) reinvents traditional indigenous design by adding curious elements of color and form. The bold and controversial style has been a hit with the newly wealthy Aymara elite who see the works as a symbol of indigenous pride.

Cholet | © Grullab/Wikicommons

Then there is the art. Visitors have long been drawn to the colorful geometric patterns of Bolivia’s indigenous weavers. Nowadays, painter Roberto Mamani Mamani is turning heads with some creative surrealist interpretations of his ancestral Aymara traditions. Meanwhile, longstanding legend Gastón Ugalde continues to inspire with his visual arts masterpieces that are heavy on political themes. Aside from the greats, a number of fresh up-and-coming artists and photographers fill exhibition halls throughout the city’s trendier neighborhoods.

Mamani Mamani painting | © Courtesy of Ivan Orellana Flores

La Paz’ cultural revolution has undoubtedly transformed the face of the city. But as the scene continues to build momentum, it is interesting to note that it preserves a sense of cultural identity. Despite modernizing at an incredible pace, the newer, trendier La Paz manages to retain a distinctly Bolivian flair.

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