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Plenty has been written about La Paz’ many interesting attractions including the numerous natural wonders that lie just outside the city. But what about those who want to get well and truly off the beaten track? Thankfully, there are a number of ways a gringo can settle in and experience the real Bolivia, far away from the camera-toting tourist crowd.
Sure, most people head to Sucre to learn Spanish, but those who have already fallen in love with La Paz needn’t despair as there are several high quality language institutes and private teachers throughout the city. Spending some time studying Spanish is the perfect way to get to know the people, culture and customs of this enthralling city, especially when a home-stay with a Bolivian family is included in the deal. A few recommended teachers and institutes include Instituto Exclusivo, ABC Spanish and Rita Clavijo.
Volunteering is a great way to become fully immersed in the local lifestyle while giving something back at the same time. No visa is required for short stints, and there are plenty of options in La Paz to choose from, including supporting underprivileged communities or working with an organization that supplies prosthetic limbs to local amputees.
Although not strictly legal, it is pretty easy to pick up some bar work in La Paz. The bigger party hostels and tourist orientated watering holes are always looking for a gringo to help out behind the bar, so don’t be afraid to ask around. Pay is literally around the US$1 per hour mark, but often includes sweeteners like free food, accommodation and heavily discounted drinks. Bar work is a great way to have fun and meet new people while getting to know the city, with the added bonus of being able to brag that you’ve “worked all over South America.”
Fancy yourself as a budding writer or journalist? Then check out Bolivian Express, La Paz’ only English language magazine that covers everything from local politics to football and music. The company offers internships to English speaking foreigners who receive accommodation, writing classes, Spanish lessons and guidance in contributing their very own articles in return for a monthly fee.
Native, English-speaking teachers are in high demand in La Paz, so landing a job is all too easy. The pay isn’t great, but the low cost of living in the city means it’s easy to get by on a modest salary. Teaching English is a great way to interact with local people while making friends and learning new skills at the same time. What’s more, an experienced English teacher has the opportunity to live and work all over the world. Contact Instituto Exclusivo to see if there are any vacancies, or consider taking their TESOL course which will get you skilled-up and ready to go in no time.
Every Tuesday night an event known as Parlana takes place in a trendy downtown bar that brings locals and expats together to practice their language skills. Most people speak Spanish or English, although a few other languages can be overheard throughout the night. Parlana hasn’t really taken off with tourists yet, so it’s still a great opportunity to have a fun night out and get to know some locals at the same time.
Plenty of tourists line up to watch La Paz’ wonderfully colorful and exuberant folklore parades, but very few get the chance to actually participate. Bear in mind that quite a bit of preparation is required, such as practicing the steps for days on end, participating in a full-day mock event and organizing the collection and fitting of your outfit. It’ll all be worth it on the day though, as you’ll be the only foreign face among a sea of local dancers as they strut their stuff through the city streets on a euphoric journey of music and dance.