La Paz (Bolivia) for beginners
During my long stay in Peru, I’d been reading about the Bolivian Capital La Paz in the Lonely Planet Travel Guide.
According to this guide, La Paz is an unsafe city. It says that criminals often work together with the police and it tells you how to act when being kidnapped. So I was a bit scared and had proponed my trip to La Paz and ended up living in Cusco for several months.
But now, after an amazing tour to Lake Titicaca and the islands, we thought the time was there. So we headed to La Paz. By bus from Copacabana, the small city where you arrive soon after you’ve crossed the Peruvian/ Bolivian border, it takes about 7 hours to get to La Paz.
And now, after a few days here, I really don’t get where all these warnings for La Paz are good for. At least so far, I feel pretty safe here.
La Paz is a city on its own for sure. Going for lunch in a local Bolivian restaurant I was surprised to find the TV showing what appeared to be a soft porn movie. The next day, at a different restaurant, again the same erotic tales on TV. Mothers and kids would just watch together. I don’t know yet if this is common throughout Bolivia, or just in La Paz or may be just in those two restaurants..? I’m about to find out.
Talking about restaurants: for vegetarians it will not be easy to find good vegetarian food in La Paz. My travel partner is a vegetarian. Unfortunately for her, most restaurants serve mainly chicken or beef with fries. She is lucky she does eat fish. Quite a few restaurants serve ‘trucha’ (trout). But for the veggies only’ people it might be a bit of a challenge to find a good vegetarian meal in La Paz. There are pizza places with vegetarian options. Other than that, it comes down to fries and salad.
Another thing that struck me in La Paz is the smoking inside. Apparently it is still allowed. In my hostel the guests would smoke not just in the hostel bar, but in the communal living area as well. My room smelled of smoke so I’m guessing people even smoked in there. I’m not a smoker so for me it wasn’t too comfortable. On the other hand, going outside will have about the same effect: the traffic pollution makes it uncomfortable to breath. I would often walk around with a shawl wrapped around me to cover my mouth and nose.
Going to the capital of Bolivia, don’t forget to visit the intriguing Witches’ Market, located at the Calle Jiminez and Linares, between Santa Cruz and Sagarnaga). This “Mercado de Brujas’, is number 12 out of 42 tourist attractions on Trip Advisor and 82% of the travelers love it.
Just like in many other places in South America you will find nice and cheap handicrafts here – but there is more. What makes this market so special are the dead corpses of baby lamas, used in traditional Andean rituals. The fetuses are actually buried in the foundations of new business or new constructions. This offering is called cha’lla and the (poor) Bolivians think that the fetuses will protect the workers from accidents and bring good luck for the business.
Other common products at the Bolivian Witches’ Market are dried toucan beaks, various parts of frogs dried and insects, all used in rituals, as well as herbs and seeds for different folk remedies.
The yatiri (witch doctors) that often walk around at the market, identifiable by their dark hats and coca pouches (with coca leaves), who offer fortune-telling services to the locals, make this market makes it extra ‘witchy’.
As far as my experiences go, I never felt unsafe in La Paz. It is a modern city with traditional people. Surrounded by high mountains, the scenery of the city makes for good photos. As a backpacker travelling on a budget this city is possibly the best place to go to in South America. I don’t think I have ever lived
as cheap as here. Having a piece of pie with a coffee and a bottle of water I spent less than 1 Euro. A huge lunch in a local restaurant was a little under 2 Euros. I hope during the rest of my travels in Bolivia it will be as cheap as in La Paz!