One of the highest cities in the world, La Paz is the country’s largest city and delivers no shortage of things to do and see. From the frenzied street corners and cobblestone sidewalk markets to the high-rises and fine dining, here are our picks for the 10 top things to do La Paz, Bolivia.
1. Cheer on the Fighting Cholitas
Grab a front row seat, a couple of snacks and join the locals of El Alto as the Fighting Cholitas take center stage in the city’s Multifunctional Center. A pastime favorite for locals, the cholitas luchadores–Fighting Cholitas– is a weekly wrestling match between Aymara and Quechua women dressed in traditional attire. As the sun sets on a Sunday afternoon, the sports facility quickly fills with the jeers and whistles of the crowd as the wrestling women jump from the top ropes of the wrestling ring and crash into the stands. The main attraction starts around 5pm, and for just a couple Bolivianos, you’ve got a solid night of entertainment ahead of you.
2. Get Your Fortune at the Witches Market
The Mercardo de Hechecería, known as the Witches Market, is one of the most unique and unusual sites in the city; yet it is a staple of La Paz. Stands fill the open market street, each bursting with merchandize and color. Women dressed in traditional bowler hats and petticoats sit out in front of their stalls offering everything from medicines and herbs to superstitious artifacts and trinkets. The ancient beliefs of the Aymara people are still extremely relevant and sacred to the vendors selling the items in this truly one of a kind street market. Each stall overflows with items like the good luck charms that bring you wealth or good health–most notably the llama fetuses for sale. The Aymara believe if you bury one of these under your house, it is a powerful way to bring blessings to your new home and provide your family with good health. In a city full of street markets, seemingly each having their own personality, the Witches Market is one of those things to do in La Paz that you won’t forget.
3. Browse the Shops at Calle Jaen
While surprisingly vacant at times, this timeworn street is sure to be found in any guidebook as a must-see in La Paz, but with great reason why. This narrow, cobblestone alley of preserved, colonial buildings boasts vibrant colored stonework and serves up a number of museums and shops. The charm of the oldest street in the city really feels as if history stopped in its tracks here. You half expect an artist or poet to be hanging from a wooden balcony above serenading you as you jump between museums and stroll past the buildings of past centuries.
4. Have an Ice Cream at Plaza Murillo
In the heart of La Paz, the central square of Plaza Murillo is an open space dominated by pigeons and local city dwellers taking a break on the stairs near the government buildings that surround the plaza. A central monument of the Bolivian patriot Pedro Domingo Murillo, for whom the plaza was named after, stands in the middle of the main plaza. With the immense cathedral, quintessential façade of the Presidential Palace and building of congress acting as the surrounding structures, the plaza feels like an epicenter of Bolivian history. If you can find an open bench, it’s quite pleasant to feed the swarming pigeons and watch the city’s idlers pass through the famous city center.
5. Take in the View at Mirador Killi Killi
If you’re looking for things to see in La Paz, why not the city itself? The sprawling city is quite simply spectacular when seen from a distance. Potentially one of the best lookout points in the entire city is from Mirador Killi Killi. After you’ve stopped to catch your breath from the trek up the stairs to the top, the 360 panoramic views are absolutely breathtaking and well worth the trip. Used as a lookout by both the military as well as revolutionists throughout Bolivia’s history, you really get a sense of how massive the city is, even with the towering Illimani Mountain in the background.
6. Bow Your Head at San Francisco Church
Another spot with excellent views of the city is from the bell tower at the San Francisco Church. Right in the thick of things, the Igelsia de San Francisco is a combination of elaborate baroque and mestizo architecture. Intricate stonework adorns the walls and inside you’ll find notable colonial-era religious art. It’s one of the oldest churches in the city, in fact, construction begin before the city was even founded, in 1548. Check your watch before your visit, as it is only open in the evenings, Monday through Saturday, but it’s a great afternoon activity before dinner in the city.
7. Get a Snack at the Fruit and Vegetables Market
Everyday you’re sure to wander across a food and veggie market on the way to attractions in La Paz, but major market days are on Sundays. Street markets are around every corner it feels like and the crowded streets become full of women in traditional dress selling fresh fruits, warm breads, and empanadas to any passerby. Head to one of the traditional food markets in the morning like Mercado Lanza, where you can grab a mug of the Bolivian favorite Api, a sweet, thick breakfast drink. Or try some of the tasty Bolivian snacks like Salteñas and tucumanas; pastries stuffed with fresh meats and veggies. Always fresh, the markets are the best way to taste the diversity of Bolivia’s ingredients for just a few bolivianos.
8. Visit the National Folklore Museum
This small, but authentic museum provides an opportunity for visitors to take a look into the tradition and diverse culture of the Bolivian people. Built in the 1700s, the Museo Nacional de Folklore features exhibits from the Chipayas and Ayoreos cultures like the display of masks on the first floor. Escape the busy streets of La Paz, and spend an afternoon learning about the Uros or discovering any of the many indigenous cultures of Bolivia. The highlight of the museum is the exhibition of ancient weavings at the 3,000 Years of Textiles display.
9. Hike the Moon Valley (No Spacesuit Necessary)
Just a few kilometers outside of the city is one of the most remarkable and bizarre landscapes in Bolivia–which is saying a lot for a country that offers salt flats, the amazon jungle and the windswept altiplano. The Valle de Luna or Moon Valley is a lunar-like setting of giant eroding stalagmites, jagged gorges and set of trails with steep drop offs. Buses and tours provide easy access to the park; which feels like something out of a science fiction novel. The fascinating landscape provides a great opportunity to duck out of the city for the afternoon and offers up some quality views of the Cordillera Real in the background as well. Grab a few extra bottles of water and some sunscreen before you head out.
10. Tap into History at the Tiwanaku Ruins
A little further outside of La Paz, about an hour and a half or so, the Pre-Incan ruins of Tiwanaku sit high up on the altiplano. Being that South America is predominantly known for its Inca history, this site is extremely important in Bolivian history and offers a fascinating look into the Tiwanaku civilization that dominated modern-day Bolivia and Peru for many centuries before the Inca arrival. The most well-known monument, Puerta del Sol, a nearly fifty ton gateway into the ruins, is absolutely stunning, especially when the sun shines through the massive gate. With no system of writing, not much is known about the ancient civilization, which only adds to the mystery of how they were able to raise these massive stone structures up on the barren plateau of the altiplano. Check out the red stone monoliths flanking the Kalasasaya Temple, or the stone faces covering the walls of the underground temple.