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La Paz Bolivia

La Paz, Bolivia

 

The City that Touches the Sky

Under the protection of the majestic Mount Illimani a city emerges from the depths, within the harsh climate of the Royal Cordillera of the Andes. At 3000 to 4000 masl (10,000 to 13,000 ft), La Paz literally touches the Andean sky.

The original inhabitants of the city were Aymara gold and silversmiths, although Alonzo de Mendoza claimed to have founded it in 1548. The lure of the city, of course, was its gold, found in the Rio Choqueyapu; and inhabitants found themselves somewhat protected from the inhospitable Altiplano weather. The city also enjoyed the benefit of being on the main trade route between Potosi and Lima.

By 1800, La Paz was the largest city of Upper Peru (Bolivia’s pre-republican name), serviced by large estates (haciendas) on its altiplano hinterland. After independence from Spain in 1825, increased revenues from royalties previously destined for Spain allowed for investments in the infrastructure of La Paz, although the city grew slowly during the 19th century as a series of unstable, often military, governments ruled the country.

In the last 40 years La Paz has also expanded south, down the valley, where despite limited flat and stable land, middle- and upper-class subdivisions have blossomed. The area houses many of the international diplomatic core as well as exclusive American, German, and French schools, and the types of services common in international and elite enclaves throughout the developing world. The southern zone is characterized by large, modern homes surrounded by trees, open streets, paved roads, and pedestrian areas.

One of the most cosmopolitan and complex urban areas in South America, La Paz is at least three cities in one. A bustling and clamorous indigenous city in the high El Alto suburbs. A Spanish colonial city that crowds around the Plaza San Francisco and other downtown squares. A modern, elegant European city that flourishes along the tree-lined avenues in the lower valleys of Calacoto and Aranjuez towards the famous Valley of the Moon.

Andean history comes alive in La Paz as indigenous descendents of the pre-Inca, Aymara culture fill the streets and markets every day of the week. Ask us for a comprehensive introduction to the city of La Paz.

Your visit should be tailored according to your specific interests and divided into three parts: Cultural, Panoramic, Popular. Also reserve some time for a visit to La Paz’ fascinating markets of crafts, traditional medicines, fruits and vegetables.

 
City Profile - A Global Village, Gateway to Bolivia

Visitors stepping off an airplane at La Paz international airport (actually in El Alto, at an impressive 4000 metres above sea level), are immediately struck by the windswept and almost treeless altiplano. Leaving the airport, visitors pass billboards advertising luxury hotels and global goods and confront a totally different reality.

Rapidly dropping 500 m into the canyon from the indigenous gateway to the city, the visitor is in the midst of a bustling, mestizo urban center. Continuing 10 km beyond the downtown area, the highway descends another 500 m to wealthy residential neighborhoods that resemble suburbs in the US or Europe.

The conurbation of La Paz and El Alto — aptly described as the city that touches the sky — is one of the world’s most spectacular urban environments and can be depicted as an indigenous urban center overlooking a colonial city. In this metropolitan area of 1.5 million people, location and altitude accurately reflects class and ethnicity as well as the level of city services, demonstrating how social relations adapt to and shape the built environment.

La Paz, the seat of the government and administrative capital of Bolivia, is the largest city and center of commerce (Sucre is the constitutional capital and seat of the supreme court). The city that touches the sky is also the center of Bolivian culture and tourism.

Originally founded under the name of La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de La Paz, now known only as La Paz, the city is a vibrant mix of ethnic, colonial and international heritages. Located high above sea level, La Paz sits in a bowl surrounded by the high altiplano. Overlooking the city is towering triple-peaked Illimani, an always snow covered and majestic Andean mountain. As it grows the city climbs the hills resulting in varying elevations from 3000 to 4000 m, making it a dazzling and breathtaking adventure, and the point of departure for exploring outstanding Bolivia.

Nearby attractions include Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku) archaeological site, Lake Titicaca (including Copacabana, Sun and Moon Islands), the subtropical valleys of the Yungas and the World's Most Dangerous Road that connects La Paz to the Amazon basin via the little town of Coroico. Other activities include hiking or trekking the pre-Columbian trails that crisscross the Royal Mountain Range of the Andes.

Unique expeditions, exclusive hotels and tours for people who don't like tours in Bolivia.

Culture and Museums in La Paz, Bolivia

The area around Plaza Murillo contains government buildings and the city cathedral. A couple of blocks away, Calle Jaen contains some well preserved colonial buildings, currently housing several interesting museums which relate Bolivia's history, traditions and musical culture.

Museo de San Francisco (San Francisco Museum) is a restored religious complex that housed some of Bolivia's most important historical moments, including the birth of the Independence Revolution of 1809.

Within walking distance of Plaza San Francisco, Museo Tambo Quirquincho features old photos, paintings and exhibits focusing exclusively on La Paz' history and culture.

Museo de Tiwanaku (Tiwanaku Museum) is an archaeological museum that exhibits not only the Tiwanaku culture, but also the Chiripa, Mollo, Inca and various other ancient cultures from Bolivia. The ground floor displays pottery and stone works from different periods as well as some mummies. The Inca collection (sculptures and tools) on the second floor is quite famous.

Museo Nacional de Arte (Art Museum) is dedicated to preserving Bolivia’s cultural heritage. Here, you will find the works of some of the most notable artists from the Americas during the colonial era. One of the museum’s highlights is the “Adoración de los Reyes y Adoración de los Pastores” by Gaspar Miguel de Berrio, as well as a room filled with the works of Melchor Pérez Holguín. You’ll also see various galleries containing modern Bolivian art works.

Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (Museum of Contemporary Art) houses a permanent collection of works by Bolivian artists.

La Paz Painting

Have a coca experience at Museo de la Coca. An “Only in Bolivia” experience can be enjoyed at this unique museum dedicated solely to the coca plant, whose leaves have served as a vital part of Bolivian culture through the centuries. Here, you’ll find various exhibits where you will learn the history of the plant, its healing properties, and nutritional values. You’ll also know more about how the leaves are made into the notorious drug, cocaine. Your guide will even teach you the proper way of chewing the coca leaves.

Museo de Instrumentos Musicales de Bolivia (Musical Instrument Museum) exhibits a large variety of sound-producing devices from Bolivia and beyond, some of which you can play yourself.

Museo de Metales Preciosos Precolombinos (Museum of Precious Metals, better known as Gold Museum) displays pre-Columbian treasures in copper, silver and gold.

Museo Nacional de Etnografía (Ethnography Museum) has been established to chronicle Bolivia’s rich local culture and particularly its folkloric and ethnic diversity. Here you will find exhibits displaying artifacts and art forms belonging to the country’s different indigenous tribes. One popular exhibit is the so-called “Tres Milenios de Tejidos”, which means literally “Three Thousand Years of Textiles”.

Museo de Textiles Andinos Bolivianos (Bolivian Andean Textile Museum) is another must-see for weaving lovers. It displays a fine collection of hand woven textiles and garments, mainly from the Bolivian Andes.

Panoramas - What to See in La Paz, Bolivia

Sky-high La Paz is an outstanding sight in itself, and there are several viewing places or miradores offering impressive panoramas such as Mirador Killi Killi, Parque Laikacota, El Montículo... They all offer some of the best views of La Paz. Avenida Camacho in the heart of downtown La Paz points straight to Mount Illimani, framed by skyscrapers in an interesting juxtaposition, especially at sunset.

Valle de la Luna. Some 20 minutes from downtown, ancient erosion molded a topography that looks and feels like the moon. The Valley of the Moon is composed of accumulations of sediments, pressed by solid volcanic rocks. The strange chalky, stony sculptures were carved by hundreds of tributaries descending from the Andean glaciers, and these sculptures may suddenly alter under the effects of an especially violent rainy and windy season.

Popular La Paz - What to Do in La Paz, Bolivia

Calle Sagarnaga, the Witches' Market and Plaza San Francisco. La Paz' main tourist strip is mainly a market area with artisans and souvenir stores (Bolivian musical instrument, handicrafts, pewter and silver jewelry, alpaca sweaters and much more). It also includes the famous "mercado de las brujas" (witches' market), where vendors sell a variety of artefacts for Aymara rituals, including figurines and aphrodisiac formulas. In the upper area (Calle Eloy Salmon) you may shop for cheap electronics, while the lower area of the market houses the beautiful baroque San Francisco basilica – another famous La Paz landmark.

Many markets can be found in La Paz, each more or less specialized such as the huge El Alto market where you can find just about anything from iPhones to onions...

Ask us for a random Public Transport Guided Tour of the city. Experience real La Paz and explore at your own pace as we jump on and off public transport minibuses and micros at random, go to the end of the line, turn around and jump off at any place that looks interesting...

click here to openWhat else to do in La Paz...

Sky-high La Paz must be savored over time, not only to acclimatize to the altitude, but to experience the city’s many faces. Wander at leisure through the alleys and lively markets, marvel at the interesting museums, chat to the locals in a comedor or relax over a coffee at a trendy café.

Getting There & Around: No worries, we'll take care of all arrangements. Also note that all transfers from&to La Paz airport are included in our tours (click on the links on the right for details).

Entertainment and Nightlife in La Paz: Peña folk shows, bars, pubs, clubs, discos, and live music abound in La Paz. Let our guides suggest the places to go for the best atmosphere.

Shopping in La Paz Bolivia: La Paz can be defined as a market on top of a market on top of a market... Whether you want to buy handicrafts, maps, equipment... let us guide you through the maze according to your specific interests.

Restaurants and Places to Eat & Drink in La Paz: No visit to La Paz is complete without trying a Bolivian salteña or eat at one of these "novo andina" restaurants. At Fremen Tours Bolivia we love Bolivian cuisine and are eager to share our favorites with you.

Hotels - Where to Sleep in La Paz: The city offers a wide variety of hotels and accommodations for all budgets. Ask us for an unbiased opinion or our favorite places to stay in La Paz. In any case feel free to contact us for suggestions and tips.

 

Health and Safety

Beware of altitude sickness, especially when arriving directly from sea level. There is nothing worse than having to battle the effects of altitude sickness when you just want to enjoy the sights. First of all, rest and drink plenty of fluids. Give your body a chance to adjust to the altitude. Don’t try to start climbing up and down Sagarnaga street right away – take a day or two to relax, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol. We provide all our customers with a complete pre-departure dossier including tips and background information so you can fully prepare for Bolivia.

Medical facilities in La Paz are good and they are acceptable in the main tourist areas. In smaller cities facilities may not meet the standards expected. You should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.

Traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a "wealthy gringo" are some of the factors that can put a traveler at risk. Most travel warnings for Bolivia give the same general advice, which is good to follow no matter what country you are visiting from.

Safe Travel Environment

More than just a priority, the safety and welfare of our customers is a top value, and is always of paramount importance to us when we design and operate our trips. We strive to provide a safe, comfortable, and relaxed environment for all.

click here to openSafety issues and travel precautions while in La Paz

Emergency phone number is 110.

La Paz is arguably a very safe place, at least when compared to other major metropolis in South America and worldwide. (Read more in this article about safety in La Paz.)

However, remember it is a big city in a poor country with high unemployment. Together these factors deserve special attention.

Staying Safe: don’t be a target for crime

Apply common sense and take precautions that apply elsewhere. Be vigilant and cautious at all times. When on your own, look out for established transport companies and ask widely for guidance. Petty thieves are common in central La Paz and other destinations popular with tourists, e.g. Sagarnaga Street. They are a common danger, especially on buses and in crowded areas.

Note that there is an ongoing risk of civil unrest, including roadblocks, protests and strikes in La Paz (remember this city is the seat of the government while social protest is the traditional way of gaining government attention to address local, regional and national issues of concern). Although civil unrest/political tension rarely turn violent, you should remain vigilant and avoid large crowds and demonstrations.

Exercise caution when arriving in, and travelling around, La Paz on your own, and be aware of the general risks of crime for visitors. Use a registered taxi firm if a taxi is required. (Remember that all transfers to&from airport are included in our tours for added safety.)

While on excursions, we recommend using our overland vehicles to store your valuables. They do not carry a safe on board but have secure doors and windows. However it is never foolish to be cautious.

Upon entering this website you have chosen a trusted and reputable company for your Bolivia tour and we will outline the risks you can expect to be taking. A stray dog is just one example of the many "natural" risks that are commonplace in Bolivia, so this and all other hazards will be explained to you in due time so that you can take necessary precautions.

 

Experience, learn, and grow in a new culture. Of course, travel in Bolivia is different from travel in a developed nation and certain logical cautions will be taken, based on our recommendations. However, one of the goals of a Bolivia trip is to really experience a culture, so participants can expect a unique, “off-the-beaten path” experience. We want to immerse the team in the culture, the food, the music, the language, the colours, and the nuances of a country and its people while at the same time ensuring safety for our clients.

Remember that our clients must be insured for medical costs and repatriation in an emergency. We recommend insurance for baggage, personal liability and cancellation as well. (If you would like advice on insurance please ask.)

Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America and it is a good idea to avoid tap water, unwashed fruit, ice and all seafood. Vaccinations for tetanus, typhoid, polio and hepatitis are needed! Malaria and yellow fever precautions are not necessary in La Paz. (Note however that you may be visiting other sites, including mosquito infested areas during your trip with Fremen Tours Bolivia — e.g. Rurrenabaque...)

Bolivia is a friendly and relatively safe country to visit but it is important to stay alert when in busy public areas and to guard your belongings carefully. Muggings and violent crime against tourists are rare. We issue further advice on security to all participants before departure.

click here to openWeather in La Paz – When to Go

There are two main seasons in Bolivia — the rainy season (austral summer) and the the dry season (austral winter). The rainy season runs between November and March, with the dry season usually running between May and September. Summer weather is fair and rainy, while winter is cold and dry.

The following chart describes the typical weather at the El Alto International Airport (Airport Code: LPB, La Paz, Bolivia) weather station over the course of an average year.

According to the Bolivian Senamhi, which is the National Institute providing the right information, the weather chart mentioned here is for El Alto suburb where the airport of La Paz is located, not La Paz which is 1600 to 3000 feet lower in altitude and as such, has much warmer temperatures.

Weather in La Paz, Bolivia

Weather Facts for La Paz, Bolivia

  • La Paz has an average rain fall of 512 millimeters (20.17 inches) per year.
  • On average, the warmest month is November.
  • The average coolest month is July.
  • January is the average wettest month

Best season to visit La Paz, Bolivia

The dry season is a good time to travel to La Paz (from May to October) due to the better road conditions, generally sunny skies and warm temperatures during the day but cold during the night.

Travel within the department of La Paz (and to most regions of Bolivia) is certainly possible year round, but you have to keep in mind that during the rainy season (December to March) access to a number of places may be more difficult depending on the weather & road conditions.

 

 

Weather in La Paz, Bolivia
 

La Paz is located in the western part of Bolivia.

La Paz, Bolivia

Through our intimate, small-group tours and private expeditions in this area you will be able to visit sites most tourists, even seasoned travelers, never find.

Join us on a discovery of a lifetime in La Paz.

Check our selected excursions in this area:

ESSENTIAL LA PAZ — 4 days

La Paz & Lake Titicaca
{ short bolivia excursion - fully customizable }

The following packages also include this area
among other destinations.

ESSENTIAL BOLIVIA — 5 days

La Paz / Tiwanaku / Lake Titicaca / La Paz
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

DISCOVER CULTURAL BOLIVIA — 8 days

Santa Cruz / Sucre / Potosí / La Paz
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

BOLIVIA's NATURE RESERVES — 8 days

La Paz / Sajama & Lauca National Parks / Rurrenabaque / Madidi & Pilon Lajas National Parks / La Paz
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

BOLIVIA CROSSING — 8 days

From Peru to La Paz via Lake Titicaca / Uyuni Salt Flats & Sud Lípez / to Northern Chile or Argentina
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

GENESIS OF THE ANDEAN CULTURE — 10 days

La Paz / Tiwanaku / Lake Titicaca / Puno / Cuzco / Machu Picchu
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

ARTS & CRAFTS OF BOLIVIA — 13 days

Santa Cruz / Cochabamba / Sucre / La Paz
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

BOLIVIA EXPLORER — 15 days

Santa Cruz / Sucre / Potosí / Uyuni / Sud Lípez / La Paz / Lake Titicaca
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

BOLIVIA ANDES & AMAZONIA — 15 days

La Paz / Cochabamba / Trinidad / Santa Cruz
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

BOLIVIA SPECIAL DEPARTURES — 13 days

Santa Cruz / Sucre / Potosí / Uyuni / La Paz
{ special itinerary - small group travel }

Feel free to customize any travel package according to your own personal interests and the specific activities you expect...

Join us on one of our Natural History Tours or a Cultural Exploration into the heart of South America. Our programs are offered throughout the year, on a (very) small group basis and mostly in private.

You may also want to make an enquiry or design your own program of activities in this area.

Plan A Trip

Not the Bolivia Trip you're looking for?

Go back to our Trip Selection Page or design your own special itinerary using our Bolivia Travel Planner.

Bolivia Group Tour & Fixed Departures

Call us to help you plan the best active, outdoor exploration to meet your interests, time, budget and abilities. You will be accompanied by expert local guides specializing in each region.

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Speak to a member of our team. We'll answer your questions, provide advice, help you book your Bolivia Trip, and most of all we'll help you customize your tours for people who don't like tours in Bolivia.

You may also check other Special Interest Travel and unusual tours or expeditions around Bolivia, including:

• La Paz, Tiwanaku, Lake Titicaca
• Uyuni Salt Flats & Sud Lípez Red & Green Lagoons
• Colonial Cities of Sucre and Potosí
• Central, Inter-Andean Valleys of Cochabamba
• Santa Cruz - the Lowlands & Jesuit Missions
• Bolivian Rainforests & Amazon Basin
• Cuzco & Machu Picchu Extensions

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