It was 15 minutes into our second attempt at La Paz, when the cabin lost pressure, that I started thinking maaaybe the Universe didn’t want us anywhere near the world’s highest administrative capitol (the city has an elevation of 11,942 feet) (!). I remember grabbing for the oxygen mask – in a straight up panic – while looking at Thom like WTF. IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING? It was. And somehow my husband of a mere two months managed to keep his cool and whip out his phone to get a picture of me losing mine (this is one of the reasons we work so well together, despite being total opposites: we balance each other out).
The pilot decided to make an emergency landing back in Santa Cruz, and I thought about saying fuck it and going to spend another night with our new friend, Chiquitín. But an hour later we were on a new plane and making our way to La Paz. And an hour and a half after that, we were walking off the plane and there were our bags and a nice guy holding a sign that read MR. CASSIDY.
(I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved in my life.)
Maybe it was the fact that I had no expectations going into our honeymoon, but never in a million years would I have guessed I’d have fallen for La Paz the way I did. Sure it was loud and chaotic and stuffy (you know, all the things we’re taught to dislike about cities), but it was also alive and bursting with the kind of energy I’d only ever read about in lengthy novels. That energy was the reason I couldn’t get to sleep at night. The reason I’d wake up at 4 the morning. The reason we spent hours walking around town – just so we could soak it all up. That energy was also part of the reason we turned our two day stay into four.* Well, that and the fact that the city is so massive and sprawling that we realized we were fools to believe we could actually cover some good ground in a measly 48 hours.
It goes without saying: one of the things that enriched our experience in La Paz was the fact that I got to meet up with an OLC reader (HI ANDREA!). She lead Thom and me around on a private tour which was 1) insanely generous (I still owe her a thank you package) and 2) just really fucking awesome to be able to see the city through the eyes of someone who’s lived there their entire life. While I understand not everyone will get to have this experience, I’d highly recommend hiring a private tour guide when visiting La Paz – not only to see the city through the eyes of a local, but also to better understand the city’s cultural significance and the impact history has had on the people and the surrounding urban environment.
If you’re thinking about visiting Bolivia, La Paz most certainly deserves a chunk of your time.
*I can’t stress the importance of planing a longer trip as you go. Yes it means you’re probably going to spend a bit more for a hotel or get stuck with the leftover Airbnb apartments, but I promise that the experience is more than worth it. And if it’s not, hopefully you’ll get a good story out of it (we’ve got more than a few of ’em).
– Carry bills Bs 50 and smaller (unless you’re planning on making a large purchase). Yes it’s the equivalent of about $7 but there were so many times that we tried to pay with Bs 100 for a Bs 40 bill and the vendor couldn’t make change.
– All the money you need to exchange has to be in perfect condition; crisp and no marks. Official banks will, however, accept flawed bills (though they’re few and far between).
– Unlike what you’ll read online/in travel guides, La Paz is not any more unsafe than New York, Chicago, etc. Like any big city, just be smart. Oh, and don’t wander around alone, at midnight.
– Make sure you negotiate taxi price before you get in the cab.
– Speaking of taxis, do not get in unmarked vehicles. If you stay at a hotel, they’re more than willing to hire a taxi for you (though it may come with a hefty price tag).
– If you shop at the local markets, you’ve got to bargain; it’s part of their culture.
More from our South American honeymoon: Lomas de Arena Regional Park
Gustu – One name: Claus Meyer. GO.
Namas Té – Hearty menu with delicious vegan options. We had the burrito (make sure you get the side of guac), pad Thai, and each of the sides. It was simple but delicious.
Red Monkey – Don’t miss the veggie burger. Or the cake.
MagicK – Funky atmosphere and delicious eats. Their meal of the day is insanely affordable and the vegan options were plenty.
Etni – Vegetarian pizzas, sandwiches, etc. on Calle Jaen.
Tierra Sana – The food was a little bland but the bean + peanut stew was a home run. They make a mean fruit salad, too.
Sol y Luna – A really great restaurant for vegans and meat eaters, alike.
Sweets + treats
El Ceibo – From seed to consumer chocolate. The sea salt bar is divine and the dark chocolate covered peanuts are worth their weight in gold.
Api Happy – Purple api and deep fried goodness.
Mercado Rodriguez – The largest food market in La Paz. It lines the streets (there’s an indoor section, too) and is filled with vendors selling everything from exotic fruits and vegetables to street food and the local favorite: salteñas.
Mercado Camacho – A great local market. Pick a stall and get yourself a sándwich de palta with a mug of black coffee.
El Mercado de las Brujas – The Witches’ Market is more of a spectacle than a market, but it’s definitely worth checking out. Heads up: they sell dead (baby) llamas and while some might find it disturbing, keep in mind it’s a part of their culture.
Calle Jaen – A perserved colonial street in the heart of the city, surrounded by interesting shops and museums (and restaurants, too).
Calle Linares – Lined with small shops and restaurants, one of my favorite markets for (woven) souvenir shopping.
Mirador Killi Killi – One of the best views of the city, in the city.
La Paz Cemetery – Unlike any cemetery you’ll ever visit. I can guarantee you that.
Mi Telefèrico – Though highly contested, it’s one of the largest aerial cable car systems in the world and gives way to an unparalleled view of La Paz.
We wound up staying at La Casona Hotel, which was totally worth the splurge (especially considering our second time back in La Paz, I’d just gotten over a three day stint of food poisoning) (more on that next time). It’s on the main street and can be noisy, but we live in the city so the noise isn’t anything new to us. The rooms were insanely spacious and the beds were comfortable but a little heads up: it’s haunted. We had planned on staying at Hotel Rosario on our second time through (you know, because Thom woke up to a ghost at the end of our bed and it freaked me out), but we decided the breakfast at La Casona – the fresh baked bread and pastries, fruit, vegetables, and fresh-squeezed juice (amongst a table full of other delicious things) – was just too good to pass up. Some of our friends stayed at the Rosario, though, and highly recommend it.