La Paz (& the Gringo Trail), Bolivia

“Chelsea, oh my God, so fab to hear from you!” the English girl screamed into her mobile, disturbing the peace in La Paz’s Coca leaf museum. An hour later I overhead a conversation in a cafe held amongst some newly met English gap year students “yeah, well we were in Peru for 2 weeks, we did Machu Picchu, and Cuzco was, like, wicked, then Lake Titicaca blah blah……”. She had just “done” Machu Picchu…. it then struck me that now, we really were on the “gringo trail” in South America. Hello La Paz….
La Paz is so visited because it’s a convenient base to explore elsewhere on Bolivia - there’s little reason to visit La Paz on it’s own. There are, however, various things to do and tours nearby.

Part of the city centre (especially around Sagarnaga street) is pure backpacker ghetto central, full of interesting tourist shops, travel agencies, cheap hotels, beggars and pick pocketers.  It’s not the type of place that is appealing for an evening stroll to find a lovely restaurant - in reality, central La Paz is a complete dump, and the least appealing city for an evening stroll I’ve visited in South America. I’m sorry Bolivia.

Central La Paz is chaotic and unattractive in many parts, but makes the most convenient base for travellers (if you’re not a backpacker, but booking everything in advance, stay in Sopocachi district which is far more relaxing and civilised).

What about yours and things to do in La Paz? We organised a tour that took us on mountain bike down the world’s most dangerous road from 4700 metres to just 1100 metres in about 4 hours - great fun, very scenic, and not as dangerous as it was before the new road was built, which now accommodates all the traffic. It’s one of La Paz’s most popular day trips - I saw maybe 50 other travellers checking their brakes at the start point at La Cumbre when we arrived.

La Paz is also a popular base for organising mountaineering tours, and the ruins at Tiahuanaco are another popular day trip. While there’s plenty of things to do near La Paz, the city itself is pretty un-appealing.  In reality, the most common reason for visiting La Paz is because you’re coming from, or travelling to, Lake Titicaca…..

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