It’s a Tale of Two Cities here in Bolivia and by that I mean the straightforward question of what is the capital of Bolivia is not so straightforward. While most believe that the capital is La Paz, there are strong sentiments that it is, in fact, Sucre and La Paz at more than 3,500m is merely the administrative capital. Interesting huh?
Valley de la Luna a/k/a Moon Valley
Valley de la Luna a/k/a Moon Valley brings to mind the famous Psalm “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” especially given it’s “sister” property known as “El Valle de las Animas” a/k/a The Valley of the Souls which is said to be an important site in Boliva for the famous holiday – Dias de los Muertos a/k/a Day of the Dead. Valley de la Luna; however, is a mere 10km from downtown La Paz and can easily be reached by taxi or the famous La Paz Mi Teleférico (more specifically, the green line of La Paz’s famous cable car). Here you will find a truly unique landscape of tall spires of clay formations and caves caused by persistent erosion of the mountains near La Paz from wind and water over time. It lends itself to a view like nothing I’ve seen to date and is absolutely worth a visit when in La Paz. In fact, in a city surrounded by dramatic terrain, Moon Valley is undoubtedly La Paz’s piece de resistance. It is also the home of “Espiritu de los Andes” or the Spirit of the Andes statute. The entry fee is a mere 30BS or $4.30USD and worth every penny. Alternatively, you can get some incredible views of Moon Valley while playing the back 9 at the La Paz Golf Club and, in particular, at the 12th hole. The backdrop of this lunar-like terrain is bound to make any round of golf special regardless of how over par you are on any given day. The price is a hefty 400-560BS or $57USD to $73USD for 18 holes depending on what day you go but that is only your green fees and doesn’t include club rentals, caddies, golf carts, etc. Make sure that you bring some khaki’s and a collared shirt though or you won’t be allowed on the golf course.
- Mercado de Las Brujas or the Witches Market
Where does one go when one needs spiritual advice or a potion to exact revenge on a cheating lover, some llama excrement for some Aymaran ritual or llama fetus to honor Pachamama (Mother Earth) or maybe just to purchase an alpaca sweater? The Witches Market in La Paz, Bolivia, of course. I was fascinated during my saunter through the various stalls in and around Sagarnaga Street near Iglesia de San Francisco. I had my eyes wide open looking for the infamous Witch Doctors (also known as the Yatiri) which are often seen in these parts and are allegedly powerful enough to cure illnesses and perform spells to address money problems or fertility issues and the like. The closest I got to this was a Senora de Pollera a/k/a Chola (don’t call them this) and a native asking for money which I gladly gave, in part, in hopes of getting a photograph of her. While she was happy to take the money, she refused to allow me to photograph her in her authentic dress. And while I did not purchase any fetuses or other sundries, I did find a hat which I quite like. While you are there, you will find Richard at All Transport Travel Agency located at Sagarnaga Street 229, Paraixo Gallery Office 10 and he will take care of all your tour needs including, without limitation, a very risky trek up Huayna Potosi and a not so risky trek down to Salar de Uyuni. Now, remember, when in the Witches Market be respectful of the culture of the locals and ask permission before taking photographs and don’t just touch things to touch things. You never know what kind of spell could be placed on you if you do.
- Mí Teleférico
Mi Teleferico brings the public transit system to new heights. It is an aerial cable car urban transit system providing fast and reliable transport between the city’s major attractions. Operating at 4000 m (13,000 ft) above sea level, the world’s highest cable car ride has revolutionized the way locals travel between La Paz and El Alto and every place in between. As of March 2018, the system consists of 20 stations along six lines: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, Orange, and the new White line (which opened about a week before I arrived in La Paz) with a lot more scheduled to come on line soon. In fact, Mí Teleférico is the first urban transit network to use cable cars as the backbone of the public transportation network. As educational as that is, what I was most interested in was the views of the city and the surrounding landscape that make up La Paz and boy did I get some stunning views of this lovely city.
- Iglesia de San Francisco
Seeing this historical landmark is one thing but seeing it during Semana Santa on the heels of the Pilgrimage that leaves this lovely church for its annual procession to Copacabana is a whole other thing. The Pilgrimage begins here at the church on Good Friday and 157km later ends on Sunday in the church in Copacabana where the Bolivians’ patron saint resides – The Virgin of Copacabana. It is said that some 35,000 penitent souls make this march. Impressive huh? Anyway, the Basilica of San Francisco – which is in the center of La Paz in the Square that bears its name – was built between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries in the so-called baroque mestizo style. It was built on this site originally in 1548 one year prior to the founding of La Paz itself but, was reconstructed 200 years later after it collapsed under the weight of, if you can believe it, snow. The Square is generally covered in tents with vendors selling just about anything you can imagine but, during Semana Santa, you are likely to find more chocolate bunnies and colored eggs than any other items. (Last photo is compliments of the Latin American Travel Association and a pictorial representation of the Pilgrimage.)
- Murillo Square
The Plaza Murillo is the central plaza of the city of La Paz and the open space most connected to the political life of Bolivia. Prominent buildings on the plaza include the Presidential Palace which has been gutted by fire twice, the National Congress of Bolivia, and the Cathedral of La Paz. The Plaza was named after Pedro Murillo who was a signatory on the document establishing Bolivia’s independence. One of the coolest things I learned here was that the US Dollar has two symbols on it that came directly from the decorative façade of the Cathedral of La Paz. Moreover, I learned that despite all the government buildings being in La Paz, the actual capital of Bolivia is Sucre. Surprisingly, most people don’t know that. Finally, I encourage you to have a seat Indian style in the plaza, have some helado (ice cream!), feed the pigeons and people watch. It is quite a dichotomy to be surrounded by such history including political battles such as the unfortunate hanging of a President from a lamp post back in 1946 vs. the current tranquility you will experience today as children play and locals socialize.
Where to Stay in La Paz: Stannum Boutique Hotel and Spa is hands down the best hotel I have stayed at for under $100/night in all 80 countries to date. Every whim….every need….every desire….was met by the staff at Stannum. I’ve never had this kind of service at any hotel ever. You cannot buy service that good even though you are technically buying it by spending the money to stay there. If I needed something from the store, the staff went and got it. If I needed a SIM card, it was taken care of. If I needed food, a tour set up, a taxi, a laugh, a smile, whatever, it was provided. Stannum also had great water pressure, hot showers, spot on wifi that never missed a beat, comfortable beds and rooms with views, an incredible yet tranquil ambience, fantastic decoration and good food. The location is superb. It is central to everything and is on top of a mall so if you need anything from groceries, to fast food, to a movie, to an ATM machine or a pharmacy, it is an elevator ride away. It just doesn’t get any better than the Stannum for the price especially if you are coming from other parts of Bolivia. I highly recommend this hotel on every level. Stay here. Period!
That’s all for now so send your questions and comments if you have any and then go Unlock the Travelirvana in You.