Culture vultures rejoice, for La Paz has enough galleries and museums to keep the sophisticated traveler amused for days on end. Sure, these may not be internationally renowned exhibition halls with high-tech displays, but the city’s cultural spaces are rife with interesting information nonetheless. Best of all, they only cost a few dollars each. Here are the most worthwhile options in the city.
The showroom of Bolivia’s most renowned artist, this small gallery on colonial Calle Jaen exhibits the colorful creations that brought Roberto Mamani Mamani to international superstardom. Drawing from the works of his Tiwanaku ancestors, his art incorporates vibrant colors and psychedelic form to convey a unique interpretation of the coveted Andean cosmovision. After perusing the collection, consider picking up a print or perhaps even an original, for the ultimate Bolivian souvenir.
A must for the traveling musician, the privately run Museum of Musical Instruments exhibits an extraordinary selection of 2,000 string, wind, and percussion instruments from all corners of the country. Highlights include a flute made from pure volcanic rock, an armadillo shell guitar, and an unconventional panpipe fashioned from a huge palm leaf. Check out their workshop to learn a few new tunes or drop in on a Saturday evening for a unique Andean jam.
Bolivia still mourns losing a coast, the result of an ill-thought-out conflict with Chile that occurred way back in 1879. This small nationalistic museum proudly displays artifacts from the War of the Pacific such as maps, cannons, uniforms, and photographs. To this day, efforts continue to return the ocean to sovereign control.
Ever wanted to learn a little more about Bolivia’s most nefarious export? At the Coca Museum, visitors can learn the history behind this sacred leaf and how indigenous populations have been using it for centuries to obtain the energy they need to perform laborious tasks. Of course, there are some sections on the refinement and trafficking of cocaine as well.
The La Paz Precious Metals Museum, sometimes referred to as the Gold Museum, exhibits a glimmering collection of pre-Colombian treasures, many of which hail from the Tiwanaku empire which thrived near Lake Titicaca until around 1000 AD. Some 2,000 shiny jewels are on display, the highlight of which is the impressive Treasure of San Sebastian collection. A series of sensor lights, which illuminate the ornaments as visitors pass by, adds a nice touch to the museum.
One of the drawcards of Bolivia is the country’s diverse indigenous culture, of which 39 independent ethnic groups call the nation home. For some insight into this rich cultural tapestry, pay a visit to the modern MUSEF museum which showcases intriguing displays and artifacts from numerous different ethnicities. Those keen for a little more immersion may choose to join one of their regular folkloric dance classes.
Textile lovers would be mad to miss this hidden gem. Situated well off the tourist trail in the suburban Miraflores district, it’s worth the drive for the colorful selection of creative indigenous textiles on display. Visitors can try their hand at navigating a traditional loom, while a generous percentage of any purchases get sent straight on to impoverished weavers who made them.