3 things to do in La Paz besides Death Road
I arrived in La Paz on Halloween.
On my way to a party that night, I passed what felt like half the citys’ 2.3 million inhabitants dressed as little spidermen, tiny princesses and more than a few grown werewolves.
Unlike Lake Titicaca, there are no open spaces in La Paz. Every corner of that city is taken.
A girl I’d met at the hostel was leading me through the backstreets of downtown La Paz, weaving us through stalls pilfering electricity from the houses around them. The stolen light was effective. I stopped off en route to purchase a couple of toys for later use on the Salt Flat tour.
Feeling ambivalent about Death Road, I asked around that evening for what else people had enjoyed about La Paz.
Partying at 3,640m makes for a tough wake up the next day, yet I dragged myself out of bed to set out for some recommended sight seeing.
Here’s where I ended up.
Valle de la Luna - Valley of the Moon
Valle de la Luna is 10km from downtown LA Paz, in the Pedro Domingo Murillo Province.
It’s a bizarre landscape. Hundreds of different sized stalagmites that have eroded over time are staggered all around, rising up from the earth like a surrealist painting you can walk through. The best view point’s is Devils’ Point, which is at the end of the longest track.
I spent an hour meandering through the giant, rocky formations. The whole time, all I could smell was fresh baked bread. Confused, I looked for the source. I found it back near the entrance. It was coming from a stall loaded with bread baked into different sized people, like doughy Russian dolls. Bottles of Pepsi lay in-between the bread dolls, next to colourful flowers that were displayed on each shelf.
My first thought was it must be some kind of a competition. Those loaves were Pinterest good. What it really was, was a bread effigy. Each loaf was a baked dedication to the friends, family and loved ones who have passed on. It’s a Halloween tradition in Bolivia.
(Bolivians have great traditions. One morning in Copacabana, I’d passed a long line of cars queued outside the local church. Each car was decorated with some kind of floral display. Wreaths lay on bonnets, individual flowers lined dashboards, petals were strewn about everywhere. I had paused to wait for some kind of a precession to start, but when nothing happened, I’d continued on my way. It was in La Paz I learnt that when Bolivians buy a new car, they christen them. What I had seen in Copacabana was essentially a car baptism).
In case your wondering, the bread people tasted delicious.
Mi Teleferico - Cable Car
Mi Teleferico is La Pazs’ cable car system, proudly transporting people to the 4000m heights of El Alto.
It’s an hours travel that rises up with enough time for you to look down upon the rows of unfinished terracotta houses. La Paz is the only city I know that, on account of the altitude, the wealthy live at the bottom of town. At the top, no-one finishes their houses so they can avoid the taxman.
The day I went up it was Halloween, so I looked down to see hundreds of people filing through the citys’ old, grey cemeteries, leaving colourful flowers on all the graves.
El Alto Markets
‘The Heights’ is the largest city in Latin America inhabited by indigenous Americans.
It’s a seperate city to La Paz, with a self governing entity influenced by the Bolivians who have migrated from more rural areas to live there.
It’s cold, there’s frequent protests, lots of traffic and over 1 million people.
There’s also some great markets.
Because it was Halloween, the markets were less busy than usual, so I meandered my way through with ease.
I discovered all kind of curious things, like strange little potatoes, known as chuno.
These chalky white potatoes give off a pungent cheesy smell due to being grown, then essentially freeze-dried, at incredibly high altitudes.
The witches markets were open up there. Dried, shrivelled llama foetuses were strung up outside each stall. There were fortune tellers, figurines, and more than one aphrodisiac formula available.
I couldn't help but feel beckoned in for a closer look at the herbs, spices, plants, and animals carcasses floating alien-like in rows upon rows of glass jars.
I was fascinated by it all.
I spent quite a bit of time up at El Alto, just taking it in. It’s a whole new world up there.
On my last day, I visited the quaint cobbled stones of Calle Jaen street.
Home to a colourful array of charming restaurants, cute cafes, museums and boutique art stores Calle Jaens a slice of tranquility tucked inside the chaos of the city.
From the quietness of Lake Titicaca to the craziness of La Paz, Bolivia had done a three sixty, yet things were set to take another turn.
This time across the wide, open desert landscape of the Salt Flats.