Sick and tired in La Paz

It was quite the shock to arrive in the cold, dark and rainy Bolivia after three hot weeks in Brazil. Yes, I knew it would be cold but it always amazes me how in these cold Latin American places it’s also cold inside the houses (coming from a cold country where it’s warm inside the houses, not cold). And in La Paz – at the altitude of around 3600m above sea level – it was cold inside, outside… Only during the days when there were those nice moments that the sun came out it was actually enjoyable to be outside (and it was still cold inside). Luckily there were those moments too.

The first morning when I woke up it was raining in La Paz so I just went to have breakfast and climbed back to bed. At around lunchtime I finally stepped out of my hostel to see this high altitude city. I wondered up and down the small streets in the center of La Paz… There were lots of streets that were so steep that there were actual steps, not a flat pavement. The center is full of shops, cafes and restaurants, tour agencies and exchange offices.

Mostly you’ll see small arts & crafts stalls selling alpaca sweaters, scarfs, hats, mittens, shawls, socks and legwarmers; leather and canvas bags; jewelry of all sorts; all kinds of textiles and paintings. Everything looks cute, warm, soft and most of all colorful. And best of all: cheap. Like for everything there (food, accommodation, transport…), you’re paying just a fraction of the prices in Argentina, Brazil and Chile. So if you want to (or can – I can’t fit anything more in my bags) buy some souvenirs, this is the country to do it! Mexico was the same. It kills the shopaholic-me to pass by all those shops and not to buy a ton of things. If I could only buy a containerful of stuff and ship it home...

The steep hills of La Paz, rising up to around 4km in altitude

The steep hills of La Paz, rising up to around 4km in altitude

La Paz is also an interesting place for people watching – there’s lots of ladies in traditional clothes, usually with their bowler hats and carrying big canvas bags on their back. The poverty is also very striking there, lots of people begging, more than what I’ve seen in other countries on my trip.

After a lovely 4€ four-course lunch I continued my stroll around the town. I started to feel the altitude in my head and went back to the hostel to rest off the headache. After all, I had big plans for the night: to go have dinner and salsa dancing with a couchsurfing contact, Natalia, and her friends. Tuesday nights you can find live salsa at Mongo’s (Calle Hermanos Manchego 2444, in Sopocachi). It’s a bit out of the center but a taxi from A to B within the city costs around 1-1,5€ so no need to worry about walking anywhere. When we came in around 9pm for dinner the place was pretty empty but around 11 it was already full. There was live salsa like I had expected and a little salsa class. The dance floor was tiny to say the least so people were dancing all around the restaurant. The live music didn’t last for too long though and at some point after midnight they changed into electronic music… that was a pretty weird combination. But the salsa was fun while it lasted – the dancers were great and I seemed to be pretty popular there :D And even salsa felt easy now after an intensive zouk week in São Paulo. Another place you might want to check out for salsa in La Paz is called Traffic.

The next day I still didn’t feel too well so I slept quite late. I didn’t mind having some rest in any case. I went out in the afternoon to do some more sightseeing and "window shopping" for a couple of hours. I wasn’t feeling too great and went back to rest after a couple hours – I think I got my first food poisoning of the trip :/ Or then it was the altitude sickness kicking in. I just went out to get some water, cash and a bus ticket to Copacabana (a town at the shore of Lake Titicaca) and that was all I did the rest of the day… The next morning I got up very early to get the 7.15am bus, luckily it was a big, nice tourist bus that would collect me from my hostel, didn’t have to walk very far.

So there really isn’t too much I can say about La Paz. It wasn’t one of my favourite places due to the sum of the altitude sickness and the cold & wet weather but have to say it was an interesting city for the people and the shopping. For many travelers it’s also a good base for a lot of activities like the “Death Road” bike trips and Uyuni salt plains tours to name the two most popular ones. But you can find lots more – Bolivia has access to the Amazon and is right in the middle of Perú, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. You might want to check out cities such as Sucre and Cochabamba as well, they were highly recommended. Transportation is very cheap (buses), just be careful when you pick your bus company… I'd recommend the more comfortable tourist buses, for example to Copacabana the 5 hour bus was 35 pesos, which is under 4€. All in all I’d say La Paz is an easy place for a traveler to enter Bolivia, all the services are available and you’ll get a lot for your buck. Just brace yourself for the altitude…