La Paz - Abbey Travel, Ireland

La Paz


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Welcome to La Paz

La Paz

The air is indeed rare in La Paz, the world's highest capital city, at two and a half miles (4km) above sea level, or 11,910ft (3,630m). Living in La Paz is a bit bizarre because it is akin to living in a giant bowl. Around the rim are brick buildings and workshops, the inside slopes are scattered with houses, and across the bottom is the dense city centre. Rising up in the background is the most well known of Bolivia's lofty peaks, Illimani, standing at 21,188ft (6,420m). The most pleasant way to explore the diminutive city centre is on foot; the alternative is to sit on a crowded bus in congested traffic. Expect your sightseeing to leave you breathless. Steep, narrow streets lead into an assortment of little alleyways while well-used staircases wind their way up between crooked houses and colourful hotels.

More than a million people live in La Paz, adding colour, culture and vibrancy to the otherwise dusty barrenness of a high altitude city. The most rewarding (and least exhausting) activity is to people-watch. Andean women dress in brightly coloured, multi-layered skirts and thick knee-length stockings with bowler hats perched jauntily over long, plaited strands of hair. There are also smartly dressed businessmen and scruffy street urchins wrapped in woven blankets, shoe shiners and fruit sellers, trinket vendors and alpaca wool weavers.

The city also has some interesting museums, modern and comfortable hotels and is an excellent place to purchase authentic local souvenirs. Beautiful hand-spun alpaca wool products, paintings, silver handcrafted jewellery, music and musical instruments are just some of the many things on offer.

Information & Facts


The weather in La Paz is usually bright and sunny all year round, but in summer rain occurs in showers most afternoons. Temperatures year round are cool to mild, the average in summer being 72°F (22°C) and in winter 59°F (15°C).

Getting Around

La Paz is a small city with one main road running along the bottom of the valley, and satellite streets reaching up the sides of the canyon. It can be explored on foot, unless you find the hillsides a bit tiring in the high altitude. There are buses and mini-buses plying various routes, and plenty of taxis available. Transport is extremely cheap. Expect to pay at most $1 for any journey within the city.

Spanish is the official language, but only 60 to 70% of the people actually speak it, and then often only as a second language. The other main languages are Quechua and Aymar.

The official currency is the Boliviano (BOB), which is divided into 100 centavos, and is tied to the US Dollar. Money can be exchanged at exchange bureaux called casio de cambiosin the main centres, at banks and hotels. Banking facilities are good in the main cities and ATMs cater for Visa, Cirrus and MasterCard. Many hotels and other tourist-oriented institutions accept US Dollars. Major credit cards, including MasterCard, Diners, Visa and American Express, are accepted in the bigger hotels, restaurants and shops. Travellers cheques can be exchanged in casio de cambiosin the major cities and are best taken in US Dollars to avoid additional charges.

GMT -4.

Coroico is a popular weekend break for La Paz locals and a welcome low altitude chill-out spot for visitors. The trip from La Paz traverses the so-called World´s Most Dangerous Road, which makes for a photogenic and adrenalin-charged entrance into this laid back resort town. Perched atop the peak of Cerro Uchumachi, Coroico offers gorgeous views of cloud covered mountain tops, forested canyons, orchards and in the distance on a clear day, the snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Real. Coroico is a good base for some interesting hikes into the jungle and for mountain-biking trips into the local area, including guided descents of the precipitous highway.

People congregate in the plaza in front of this imposing church, a mixture of neo-classical Spanish and mestizo architecture. Construction began in 1549 but it was only finished in the mid-18th century. On Saturday mornings it is often possible to see colourful Quechua or Aymara wedding processions leading to and from the church while on any day of the week this is an ideal place to pass the time and watch Bolivian life go by. Don't miss the atmospheric stairway to the fabulous rooftop, offering great views of the city below.

Founded in 1912 by British railway workers, the La Paz Golf Club members built a 9-hole course in a suburb of the city El Alto, but the course has long since moved to the nearby Mallasilla area of La Paz. Laid out at a dizzying height of 3048 metres (10,800 ft), the La Paz Golf Club is established 18-hole golf course can stake its claim has the highest golf course in the world. With breathtaking views of the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) below, well maintained greens and rolling fairways, the course was rated by Golf Digest among the most attractive courses on earth. Probably one of the most exciting holes on the course is the 12th hole, where the island tee box is reached by two bridges and golfers are required to drive the ball 180 yards (165m) to the verdant fairway across the plummeting gorge below - an experience of a lifetime!

This is a relatively new museum that describes the place of coca in the traditions and culture of the Bolivians. From as far back as they can remember, coca has been a part of their culture and has a place in legendary history when the gods and goddesses used the divine coca leaf to alleviate hunger, cold, fatigue and pain. At first the chewing of leaves was restricted to use in religious ceremonies and by upper-class families but the Spaniards soon became aware of its stimulating effects. They began to promote it widely among the Indian labourers to increase output and numb the senses against the hardships and anxieties they faced. The displays are very provocative and educational, and also include the use and exploitation of coca in the soft drink and pharmaceutical companies.

Situated in a maze of narrow alleyways in La Paz is one of the most bizarre markets in the world. An unusual collection of merchandise is sold here, from herbs and remedies used in Aymara traditions to potions, charms, and dried llama foetuses. Stretching up and around it is the traditional market scene, selling a huge variety of goods for everyday needs, as well as Andean art and handicrafts. Expect to see yatiri(traditional healers) with their dark hats and coca pouches offering to read the fortunes of locals.

Not an attraction for the faint of heart, the dangerous Yungas Road, which has been dubbed the 'El Camino de la Muerte' (Road of Death), stretches between La Paz and Coroico in Bolivia and is estimated to claim the lives of approximately 200 to 300 travellers each year. Built during the 1930s Chaco War by Paraguayan prisoners, the road is situated high in the Yungas region of Bolivia and has extreme drops of up to 610 meters (2,000 ft) and has ironically become a popular tourist destination, drawing some 25,000 thrill seekers each year, particularly mountain bikers who love the adrenalin of the continuous downhill riding along 40 miles (64km) of treacherous road. The beautiful location of the road also adds to its allure, but it remains a serious danger as at least 13 cyclists have died since 1998, and trucks have serious problems passing each other. Crosses dotted along the road mark the spots where cars have plunged off the edge of the steep cliff. Drivers on Yungas Road must obey a strict set of rules, as rain and fog often reduce visibility and there are no guard rails. Contrary to normal Bolivian driving, drivers keep to the left, and uphill vehicles always have the right of way. Yungas Road has been upgraded in the last decade with many new safety measures, but the original route, now called North Yungas Road, is still in use by tourists.

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