La Paz has become increasingly popular over recent years, not just for its stunning topography and fascinating indigenous culture, but also for the numerous awesome day trips just a stone’s throw away. From high altitude hikes through glacial mountains to death defying bike rides through steamy tropical valleys, learn about the very best short excursions this bustling metropolis has to offer.
The Death Road
An extreme attraction that has become extremely popular. Throttle a mountain bike down a treacherously narrow road that has been given the unenviable moniker of being the most dangerous in the world. With sheer drop offs of several hundred feet, random assortments of jagged rocks and the occasional oncoming bus to contend with, this bike ride is guaranteed to get the adrenaline pumping. Be careful though, as it’s called the Death Road for a reason. The trip must be done with a tour company and Gravity are the best of the lot.
Known as the Moon Valley in English, upon entering this surreal nature park it’s not hard to see why. A short but enjoyable series of walking trails lead through a maze of bizarre rock formations, the work of millions of years of erosion. This classic half day excursion can be part of a tour; head there by taxi for around 35BOB ($US5) or any bus heading to Mallasa for 2.60BS (US$.040).
Not far from the city center lies Palca, where a tranquil rural paddock opens up into a spectacular canyon that is brimming with surreal formations of eroded sedimentary rock. The canyon goes on for miles, with plenty of twists and turns, waterfalls and streams. Most people visit on a guided tour to avoid getting lost, but those who prefer a little seclusion can get there by jumping on any minibus (2BOB/US$0.30) heading south (marked Ovejuyo or Palca) and asking the driver where to hop off.
A glacier and former ski resort that has long since melted, thanks to the onset of climate change, Chacaltaya is a fun day trip from the city, especially for those who want to set a personal altitude record without actually doing much climbing. At 17,785 feet (5420 meters) above sea level, the short walk from the road to the mountain’s peak is enough to leave you breathless. But it’s worth the effort, as from the top there are stunning views of La Paz, El Alto and Lake Titicaca. There’s no public transport so book yourself on a tour, which usually includes Valle de la Luna as well.
This expansive pre-Columbian city was built by the most powerful indigenous empire of the time, who out date even the mighty Inca. The two hour drive is worth it to explore this fascinating archaeological site with its intricately carved stone faces, impossibly large building blocks and the monolithic Puerta del Sol (Sun Gate), believed to be an early astrological calendar. Tours depart daily, or jump on a bus heading to Desaguadero from the Cementerio district in La Paz and get off at the Tiwanaku intersection.
Known locally as 16 de Julio, the market is one of the biggest in the entire continent. Everything imaginable can be found in this sprawling outdoor space, where tens of thousands of shoppers hustle for a bargain every Sunday and Thursday. The best way to get here is via the city’s scenic cable car (red line) but be careful with your belongs as crafty pickpockets thrive in its endless crowded streets.
Sunday evenings play host to one of the country’s weirdest and most wonderful sporting events. A crowd of dedicated locals and curious travelers come together to cheer on a group of feisty Cholitas (indigenous women) as they punch, kick and body slam men who are representative of their abusive husbands. Despite the somber theme, it’s a rowdy and colorful affair that draws in many a laugh from an appreciative crowd. Most people go on a tour but it’s possible to get their via the red cable car line.