Whether Sopocachi, El Centro, San Pedro, Zona Sur or Miraflores, the neighborhoods of La Paz may be close in proximity but they’re as distinctive as siblings. Bold surrounding mountains, a rich history of gold, silver and conflict, a huge melting pot of traditions and proud people mean discovering the city all in one trip is impossible. With so much to see and do, we’ve put together a list of the essential activities in La Paz, with the expert help of our local insiders.
Museo de Textiles Andinos Bolivianos
Bolivian textiles are traditionally made with sheep, alpaca, vicuna or llama wool. Each animal is carefully sheared, its wool cleaned, dyed and woven to a yarn. The bright colours typical of Bolivian Andean fabrics are chosen with meaning and represent dignity and identity to the wearer. The Museo de Textiles Andinos Bolivianos is an absolute treasure trove of textiles, clothing and history of production. Buy yourself a snippet of Bolivian history in the gift shop. Recommended by local insider Lucas Cosentino
A salteña is similar to an empanada, but this typically Bolivian pastry is baked instead of fried and has a stew-like filling, as opposed to just meat or vegetables. Salteñas are a must-eat for anyone looking to sample local food, and the best place to try them is at Paceña la Salteña, an award-winning salteñería. With its peach walls and gold trimmings, this local joint literally glows. Vegetarian salteñas can be found here on the weekends, otherwise, they’re usually filled with meat.
The star of La Paz, this elegant cathedral sits proudly on the main plaza offering a glimpse into the religion of many Bolivians. Started in 1835, the building is Neoclassical in style with a nod to the Baroque, and took a whopping 90 years to complete. The cathedral is open every day of the week for visitors seeking a brief respite from the busy La Paz streets. Recommended by local insider Lucas Cosentino
Head to Calle Sagárnaga if you’re looking for the perfect present to take back home. Here you’ll find stalls piled high with Andean textiles, alpaca ponchos and handcrafted talismans as well as enough fridge magnets and keyrings to last many a lifetime. Packed with other tourists looking for that perfect something, it makes for great people-watching too. Recommended by local insider Andrea Puente Mancilla
Explore Bolivian history at the Museo Nacional de Etnografía y Folklore
Conveniently close to Plaza Murillo and packed to the rafters with textiles, masks, basketry and crafts typical of Bolivia for you to browse, this spot also has exhibitions on folklore and nature. A visit here will leave you armed with knowledge on the birth of Bolivia and its development through the ages. Tours are available, but get there early if you want to nab a spot. Recommended by local insiders Lucas Cosentino and Andrea Puente Mancilla
If you’re ready to stretch your legs in La Paz, the Eagle’s Path is close to the city and offers staggering views. The walk itself isn’t too difficult, but you’ll still feel a satisfying weariness afterwards that calls for a sit-down and a cold beer. Bouldering and mountain biking is popular too, so your route is shared with other outdoor fanatics. Views of eagles are not guaranteed, but it got its name for a reason, so keep your eyes peeled. Recommended by local insider Shaina Brassard
The Valle de las Ànimas, meaning Valley for the Souls, isn’t for the fainthearted, with winding paths and steep, tricky bits – but the views and nature are tremendous and offer the perfect respite from the big city. Make sure to follow path guidance, as it’s quite easy to lose your way here, and it’s best to carry a stick to ward off over-friendly street dogs. Lookout spots are placed along the route for picnics, and photos of the stunning cityscape in the distance. Recommended by local insider Andrea Puente Mancilla
Catch an independent movie at Cinemateca Boliviana
Bolivian, Latin American and avant-garde films are shown at this independent cinema in the heart of La Paz. Expect the unusual – they don’t show the blockbusters here, and most movies are shown without subtitles. With a film library and gallery space usually exhibiting photography or art, this is a pleasant stop off for culture cats in the city. Recommended by local insider Shaina Brassard
Muela del Diablo Hike, otherwise known as Devil’s Molar, is tantalizingly visible from the centre of La Paz, tempting you to get up close to the teeth of Lucifer himself. Public transport can take you fairly close and you can earn your photo at the top by going to rest of the way on foot. It’s a steep incline, but not too tricky, so don’t be put off! The shots for the ‘gram at the top make it all worthwhile. Recommended by local insider Shaina Brassard
This viewpoint is smack bang in the middle of the Central Urban park and offers panoramic views of the city. A small entry fee will get you unparalleled views of La Paz and access to the children’s playground complete with a hella giant slide. The best time to hike up Mirador Laikakota is sunset for those incredible skyline shots. Recommended by local insider Lucas Cosentino
Study Bolivian musical instruments at Museo de Instrumentos Musicales
Amongst the beautiful buildings of the Calle Jaen is this extensive collection of unique indigenous instruments. If you want to know your charango from your ronroco, and your pinquillo from your pututu, this is the place to go. With 15 rooms packed with different musical instruments, and a touch of humour from the curators, it’s an entertaining visit. Find armadillo guitars, volcanic rock flutes in the shape of erotic figures and ingenious instruments made of goat heels and mules’ teeth. Recommended by local insider Lucas Cosentino
Views of the city and mountains are sprawling and beautiful in this relatively quiet spot close to Sopocachi. Its picturesque location and rich history of love stories mean it is popular for wedding photography. Keep your eyes peeled for happy brides and grooms in this slice of city-centre nature. Recommended by local insider Shaina Brassard
Bolivians are proud of their traditions, and the music, dance and song that comes with it. So, it’s no surprise that a performance from local heroes – the Orquesta Criolla Música de Maestros – is popular with the locals. The shows, which are a riot of colour thanks to the matching outfits worn by the musicians, are performed throughout the city as well as toured internationally. A renowned, professional group, the performances are a fantastic insight into the instruments, songs and dances that Bolivians know and love. Recommended by local insider Shaina Brassard
Ride the Teleférico
A single ticket to ride the La Paz cable car system is an absolute bargain. For a small price, you can experience uninterrupted views of the city, meet Bolivians from all corners of La Paz and get to your chosen destination. Having opened officially in 2012, the Teleférico has transformed the way of life for thousands of Bolivians who now have cheap and quick transport across the sprawling city. It’s a thing of beauty, and a perfect example of the journey being just as good as the destination. Recommended by local insider Andrea Puente Mancilla
Immerse yourself in traditional Bolivian culture at this high-energy peña, a traditional celebration of song, music and dance in Andean culture. Grab yourself a table at the on-site restaurant before the show, and feast on traditional foods before your evening of entertainment. Don’t be surprised if you’re invited on stage to join the dance – audience participation is encouraged and expected! Recommended by local insider Lucas Cosentino
Learn about Bolivia’s roots at Museo de Metales Preciosos
The La Paz Precious Metals Museum, sometimes referred to as the Gold Museum, exhibits a glimmering collection of pre-Colombian treasures. Over 2,000 shining 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. Informative guides are on hand to ask questions about anything that takes your fancy. Recommended by local insider Lucas Cosentino
In spite of its name, the witches’ market is nothing to be afraid of. A key tourist attraction, this market is found between Calles Jiménez and Linares, between Sagárnaga and Santa Cruz, and sells locally handcrafted items. There’s no scary witchcraft to be found here, and the spookiest things you’ll find are some herbal and folk remedies and a few people ready to read your fortune. You can find beautiful leather goods in the market – such as rucksacks and handbags – for incredibly low prices, and if you manage to get your bartering skills in check you can do a fair bit to get the prices down even more.
A stumble across Calle Jaen will bring color to your day with its murals, unique buildings and cafés either side of the quaint cobbled street. Visit the gallery of popular Bolivian painter Mamani Mamani before stopping off at Cafe Etno (its absinthe drinks are not for the fainthearted). A particular highlight is the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) which displays beautiful old jewellery and homeware, all reminders of the country’s grand past. Rumour has it that the street is haunted, so you’ll see a cross at the start to ward spirits away. Recommended by local insider Shaina Brassard
Head to the Tupac Katari Mirador for some of the best views of the entire city. Grab a taxi to this viewpoint which has long been a sacred Inca site where Tupac Katari, an early independence activist, was conquered by colonialists. Close to the mirador, you’ll find a line of houses which belong to curanderos (healers) who provide advice and – you guessed it – healing. Their advice is to be taken seriously and not to be considered a mere tourist activity – something to bear in mind if you’re considering a visit.
Experience rich Bolivian history at the Cementerio General
La Paz’s largest cemetery is bustling and loud – in stark contrast to the typical sombre affair – and is unique in its layout. The city’s booming population meant an ingenious solution to a lack of burial plots was needed, so instead of growing outwards, the cemetery has grown upwards, with graves placed on top of one another. If you’re in town on Halloween, you’ll see crowds of locals paying homage to their ancestors with food, flowers and music. Book a tour to hear about the history of the country and learn about some of the prominent Bolivians buried here. Recommended by local insider Andrea Puente Mancilla
Visit the Museo Nacional de Arte (National Museum of Art)
The former Palacio de Los Condes de Arana is home to the country’s national art museum, and the building – replete with its original architecture – is a work of art in itself. The exterior of pink Viacha granite was recently restored and is a stunning example of the Baroque style. Permanent collections of Bolivian colonial artwork are complemented by rotating exhibitions of modern art. Take the time to explore the Museo Nacional de Arte’s many nooks and crannies, as you never know what you’ll find. Recommended by local insider Andrea Puente Mancilla
One of the largest open-air markets you’ll find anywhere, the Feria 16 de Julio is a trove of delights well worth diving into. From fresh fruit, traditional foods and clothing to traditional medicine of donkey milk and car parts, whatever you need – or don’t need – you’ll find it here. With breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and La Paz, it’s a must on the itinerary. Open on Thursdays and Sundays, bring your wallet and common sense – the market is always busy, so be aware of pickpockets. Recommended by local insider Shaina Brassard
The coca plant carries huge importance in the region, and this informative museum attempts to displace the stigma attached to its use. Focussing on the leaf’s role in Andean religious ceremonies and its healing properties, you’ll also learn about its use in soft drinks and pharmaceuticals. A highlight is an interactive display teaching you how to correctly chew the leaf – have a go and feel the stimulating effects yourself. Recommended by local insider Lucas Cosentino
An ideal place for food lovers, Mercado Lanza lies between Plaza Pérez Velasco and Calle Figueroa. As one of the capital’s main food markets, here you can find an incredible variety of products, from top quality local produce to perfectly cooked local dishes. Everything is good value and you can snap up a lunch for around £1. Try some exotic juice or snack on a salteña while you marvel at all the exciting food on offer.