Nuestra Señora de La Paz

At 3,650 metres above sea level a city glistens in the foreground of the cordillera, the triple-peaked Illamani at centre stage, as brick-coloured buildings clamour up the steep mountainsides of Bolivia’s administrative capital.

La Paz. You either love it or hate it. In our case we had planned to stay a couple of days, and ended up staying more than a week. Our deep curiosity for this sprawling metropolis, which can either captivate or intimidate, was enhanced by the fact that we had eaten better here than for most of our trip so far.

La Paz was founded in 1548 (originally titled “Nuestra Señora de La Paz”) by Spanish conquistadors to mark the end of the civil war in Peru. The Spanish controlled the city until 1781 when a siege by the Aymara people of Bolivia started a series of blockades that eventually led to the city’s independence from Spain in 1829, during the Spanish-American War of Independence.

As the city grew over the centuries it climbed up hill. Now the affluent live in the lower valley of the city’s centre, while the poorer suburbs are located in the alto areas surrounding La Paz.

The city was built on the now dried up Choqueyapu River. The main street follows the river right the way through. Now most of the city’s water supply comes from glaciers in the surrounding cordillera, however it is becoming less and less reliant with climate change becoming more apparent. In fact NASA, helped by hydrologists from Montreal’s McGill University, is currently undertaking studies on the recession of glaciers in the cordillera.

The day we arrived in La Paz another blockade was happening in the centre of town – the arrival march of the TIPNIS, who were warmly greeted and welcomed by the Paceños.

We chose to stay at the Adventure Brew Hostel on Avenida Montes, a Kiwi-Bolivian owned hostel and microbrewery, not only for the free artesanal beer and pancakes, but also for its proximity to the bus station after a long overnight bus from Montero (near Santa Cruz). Despite the groggy name, it was one of the most comfortable hostels we’ve stayed at in Bolivia, with very friendly staff, a good atmosphere and solar hot water to boot.

Most of our time in La Paz was spent wandering aimlessly (and breathlessly…the altitude can take its toll) around the city’s centro, finding new places to eat, locals to chat with or just being mesmerised by the bright colours that adorn every nook and cranny.

Cholas and Cholitas are perched on every street corner selling everything from chocolate bars and batteries to clothing and shoes. Competing beats of traditional Bolivian music rise above the beeping horns from the city’s traffic. There are few (if any) road rules, and more street stalls than walled shops, which adds to the folly of this place.

One Sunday we took a micro from the city centre to the famous ‘Mercado del Alto’. We had heard about this open-air market on several occasions. The market operates on Thursdays and Sundays high above La Paz in the barrio el Alto. Some people had told us it’s the best place to get a bargain, others recommended that we just visit and absorb the high-altitude craziness that is the market. It was just that, loco.

Finally we were allured by the snow-capped mountains beyond and we took a side-trip from La Paz to the Cordillera Apolobamba where our next adventure awaited us – a week-long trek through the lofty mountain ranges.

Good Eats in La Paz

  • Armonia, Calle Ecuador, Sopochachi – vegetarian all you can eat buffet for 25 Bolivianos
  • Star of India, Calle Cochabamba, Centro – for a good curry
  • Marrakech, Calle Linares, Centro – great Moroccan food.
  • Café International, Calle Colón, Centro – yummy traditional Bolivian almuerzo (soup, main and dessert) for 10 Bolivianos (A$1.50).
  • Mama Mia, Calle Llampu, Centro – Israeli pizza house with fantastic hummus and falafel
  • Street stalls on Plaza Alonzo de Mendoza (Centro) for a great fruit salad with everything from mangos to starfruit and figs.


8 Responses to “Nuestra Señora de La Paz”
  1. Great post and pictures! Can’t wait to make it there one day, thanks again for sharing!

    • munyivaresponsibletravel says:

      Thanks for your lovely comments. You really should go! It’s an extremely interesting city for all its madness.

  2. Phoebe Everingham says:

    wow – you should be a travel writer natasha! this is awesome!!!

  3. Michelle says:

    This is amazing. Almost makes me feel like I’m there with you!!

  4. Carole Malinda says:

    The colours are fantastic would love to be there to see it Live.Those dolls would be my choice Plus of course the ponchos ,materials etc,etc,What we all need……. more colour in our lives.

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  1. […] three hours drive from the high-altitude, cold climate La Paz is a neotropic ecozone with dense lowland forest and cloud forest. The road there follows the […]

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  • Natasha Malinda from Melbourne, Australia
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