La Paz is quickly becoming a popular destination for those looking for a little adventure on South American Gringo Trail. The cultural capital of colorful Bolivia, La Paz is primed to become the next South American “hot spot”. As La Paz becomes a more popular destination, a growing number of guidebooks are hitting the shelves in an attempt to escort these travelers on their way. The books are a great start to start your trip planning; they share essentials: how to get there, how much it costs, and when to go. However, what travel guides tend to lack is the insider knowledge from people who live here.
In La Paz, the foreign, store bought travel guides direct the hoards to the San Francisco Church and Coca Leaf Museum. These are lovely but typical attractions where visitors are bound to see more of themselves than really experience authentic La Paz life.
Here our pick for four off the beaten path things to do in La Paz. Together, these make a great way to spend one day in La Paz. Add in a couple of leisurely meals or a day tour and you’ll have no weekend making a weekend in La Paz.
Bring a Picnic to El Cementerio
Unlike American cemeteries, the plots in La Paz are rented, not owned. The bodies of the La Paz community are laid to rest for only about 10 years. After the initial burial phase, families can opt to pay for extended periods underground but most elect to have the remains cremated and moved into small, affordable tombs. In el Cemeterio, many of these tombs have glass fronts so that friend and family can view the ornate urns inside.
Bolivian families often opt to rent small tombs safeguard loved ones for eternity, or as long as they can afford to pay.
As elsewhere, ancestors in La Paz are revered. Often the families of the deceased decorate the tombs with gifts and mementos of their loved ones mortal life. As a result, there is a certain beauty of the rows and rows of flowers and colorful gifts lining the tombs in the quiet cemetery.
The cemetery acts as a family gathering space. On weekends, the narrow corridors between the burial walls are filled with family coming to pay respects to their departed love ones.
Saturday and Sunday are two of the best days to visit. In a place built to remember the dead, vibrant flowers scream of life and the emotions of the visiting families create an unusual but alluring energy at the site.
Visit the Fortune Tellers of El Alto
The central district’s Mercado de Brujas, or Witches Market, is a popular stop for people visiting La Paz. Rooted in indigenous Bolivian spiritual tradition, the Witches Market is a great stop for those looking to scratch the surface of Mother Nature bound Bolivian beliefs.
Lots of people wander through La Paz’s famous Witches Market. But if you’re looking to embark on a deeper spiritual quest, you need to go to El Alto.
Positioned on the lip of La Paz’s sister city El Alto, the Shaman’s Market attracts Bolivians from across the country. Fortune-telling is an old tradition in Bolivia, a respected practice passed down from one yatiri generation to the next. Locals take the the mystic craft seriously. The words of a yatiri carry a lot of weight for faithful Bolivians.
Though El Alto is portrayed as a no-go area in many travel guides, the city is ripe for those looking for a cultural adventure.
For a dozen or so bolivianos, visitors who venture to the northern city can have their coca leaves read and fortunes told. A trip to the spiritual grounds is a journey into the psyche of the country and a chance to understand what the spirit of Bolivia is all about.
Enjoy a Fresh Market Lunch
The markets Uruguay and Lanza are two famous stops on the typical La Paz city tour. However, locals flock a little further up the cascading La Paz landscape to shop and eat their way through the market stall scene.
Located adjacent to the General Cemetery, El Tejar market is foodie paradise. From the early morning hours, vendors from across the countryside flock to El Tejar to sell their freshly produce from all of Bolivia.
Citrus is piled in troves and the consistently sweet red bananas brought in from the tropics are, for once, easy to find.
After weaving your way through the various colors of newly plucked fruit, numerous stalls selling tasty street treats are just as exciting to explore.
In the pescaderia section, vendors serve the day’s catch from Lake Titicaca. Crispy fried small Ispi with a side of the local spicy salsa, llajwa, is a must-try.
For those who like less exotic fish, trucha, a native trout, is sure to please any palate. In addition to fresh fish, El Tejar abounds with traditional La Paz bites and a day spent here is akin to a culinary journey across the country.
Buy Yourself Something Nice at Embroidery Way
Parades, festivals and street fairs are a part of La Paz cultural life. Part of what makes these frequent occurrences each marvelous spectacles are the intricate costumes participants adorn.
Gold, glitz and glamour are essential, and as far are the parade costumes are concerned, the bigger, the brighter, the more colorful, the better.
While street parades in the city happen quite often, you don’t have to wait until they come across one to marvel at the intricate costumes that are typical of Bolivian festivals.
Avenida Buenos Aires is a testament to the celebratory Bolivian garb. For what seems almost to be a never-ending distance, the shops that line this thoroughfare all pay homage to festive occasions. Each vendor sells his or her own specialty pieces, ranging from gleaming body suits to ornate headdresses and bejeweled footwear.
A stroll down Avenida Buenos Aires puts visitors in the heart of cherished Bolivian parade culture and is true La Paz experience unlikely to be witnessed elsewhere