La Paz Bolivia: Ultimate Traveler’s Guide
Thoroughly off the beaten path and overlooked by many travelers headed to South America, the capital city of La Paz, Bolivia will surprise you. A unique mix of cultures, history, gastronomy, and landscapes, La Paz is an intriguing destination well-loved by those who visit.
In this ultimate traveler’s guide to La Paz Bolivia, we share the very best this city has to offer, including recommendations for where to stay, things to do, and travel tips to help make your trip unforgettable. Whether you’re just passing through on your way to the Bolivian Salt Flats or you’re seeking out a unique South American city, there is so much to love about La Paz, Bolivia
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La Paz Bolivia
Perched high in the Andes Mountains, La Paz is perhaps best known as the world’s highest capital city at 11,975 ft (3,650 m). Thoroughly off the beaten path and under the radar, La Paz isn’t widely known for much else, though this isn’t for lack of unique things to do and destinations to visit.
La Paz is a sprawling city in a stunning valley with a historic center at its heart. Crawling up the sides of the mountain are the city’s ever-expanding neighborhoods, which you can glimpse from above by riding the cable car system, an absolute must for travelers.
You’ll also spot the breathtaking snow-capped Illimani mountain towering over the city, a cherry on top of the already impressive topography of the city. If you’ve had some mountaineering experience before, you can attempt the challenging climb to the summit.
Beginners can opt for the nearby Huayna Potosi climb, though don’t underestimate this summit, either!
While tourism in Bolivia is growing, it isn’t on par with the visitor numbers that its Andean neighbors like Peru or Ecuador enjoy just yet. We think this is all the more reason to visit La Paz sooner rather than later. You’ll enjoy stunning landscapes, unique cultural experiences, and bucket list destinations, all with minimal other travelers there to alter the experience.
Backpacking in La Paz
La Paz is quite popular on backpacking routes in South America, as many backpackers appreciate how incredibly affordable the city can be and how much it has to offer. You’ll find countless hostels and affordable hotels in La Paz perfect for backpackers, and be surprised by how far your travel dollar will get you here.
Stick to neighborhoods like Sopocachi or el Centro if you’re traveling as a backpacker – you’ll find affordable backpacker accommodations here, great food, and plenty of things to do.
Luxury Travel in La Paz
If you’re looking for luxury, consider staying in Zona Sur where you’ll find beautiful design hotels like ATIX Hotel (our recommendation for the best hotel in the city). Though about 30 minutes by taxi from the bustling historic center, this area has posh restaurants and hotels and is much quieter than the northern part of the city.
Even luxury travel is relatively affordable in La Paz, with the nicest hotels in the city rarely costing more than $200 a night. If you’re looking for a place to travel in a bit more luxury than you might normally consider, La Paz might be the perfect place.
Is La Paz Bolivia Worth Visiting?
La Paz Bolivia is certainly well worth visiting! While it isn’t a major tourist destination, the city has a lot to offer. From charming historic architecture and beautiful mountain views to inspiring ways for cultural connection and countless opportunities for great day trips, La Paz is well worth an addition to your itinerary.
How Many Days Do You Need in La Paz?
Travelers generally need two to three days to enjoy La Paz and see the city’s major attractions. If you’re looking to include a day trip outside of La Paz on your itinerary, choose to spend three days in La Paz!
With this in mind, it’s important to factor in how altitude might affect you during the days you’ve set aside for La Paz in your itinerary. If you’re arriving in La Paz from much lower altitudes, I’d recommend giving yourself an additional day to adjust.
While most travelers will feel slightly more out of breath when walking or hiking, if you don’t know how you’ll react to the altitude, it may be best to budget an extra day.
Things To Do in La Paz Bolivia
Visit the Witches Market
One of the most unique destinations in La Paz is certainly the Witches Market, El Mercado de las Brujas and La Hechiceria. This market in central La Paz is run by traditional healers and sells everything from statues and medicinal herbs to desiccated frogs and llama fetuses, thought to bring good luck if buried in the foundation of a building.
It’s certainly a unique destination, best visited with a local guide to help you make sense of what you see. Red Cap offers extremely affordable (just 3 USD!) walking tours of the market and the historic center of the city, which are a great choice for travelers on any budget.
Read More: 7 Unmissable Markets in Latin America
Take in a Cholita Wrestling Match
You may have heard of Lucha Libre, but what about Cholita wrestling? This incredibly unique and unforgettable wrestling match is a favorite for visitors to La Paz, featuring indigenous women wrestling in a ring all while wearing their colorful traditional skirts.
Tickets are affordable, and you’re bound to have a great time watching these ladies battle it out in the ring. Events can garner hundreds or even thousands of spectators and help support the wrestlers and their families economically in the process.
Ride the Cable Car
La Paz is a city with spectacular views from every corner, but none can beat the views from the city’s famous cable car, known as the world’s highest and longest cable car system. You can ride the cable cars on your own or book a cable car “tour” with a guide who will help you navigate the city’s most popular lines and learn about the neighborhoods and destinations along the way.
Explore the Historic Center
A visit to La Paz wouldn’t be complete without checking out the city’s historic center, including Plaza Murillo at the center with its lovely Baroque architecture. The central historic heart of La Paz isn’t too huge, so it can easily be explored in just a few hours of wandering.
Make sure to visit Iglesia San Francisco, open in the afternoon on weekdays and in the morning on the weekends. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the rooftop of the church for some stunning views!
Read More: Best Things To Do in La Paz, Bolivia
Take in the View at Killi Killi
Situated just above central La Paz, the viewpoint at Killi Killi is one of the best spots to take in a view of La Paz. From the towering buildings of the financial sector to historic plazas and the surrounding mountains, you’ll really be able to see everything from this scenic hilltop.
You can walk to the viewpoint, though with La Paz’s elevation, taking an inexpensive taxi from the historic center might be your best bet.
Day Trips From La Paz Bolivia
Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon)
Located just a few kilometers outside of La Paz, the unique scenery and easy drive to the Valley of the Moon make it one of the most popular day trips from La Paz. With its impressive white limestone chimney formations created by centuries of erosion, the landscape is so other-worldly that it is said that Neil Armstrong himself drew the comparison to the moon.
The Valley of the Moon had a few hiking trails to choose from, all relatively easy and leading to distinct viewpoints over the unique rock formations. The best is to the Devil’s Point viewpoint, though fitting in several is easy even within a short visit.
The Valley of the Moon is so close to La Paz, you can easily travel here by booking an affordable group trip, or organizing your own transportation.
The Death Road
If you’re feeling adventurous, consider choosing to bike down the Death Road on your day trip from La Paz! Small group excursions from La Paz to the world-famous Death Road are actually extremely popular, and guided tours are very well done.
Death Road biking excursions include a practice session before actually getting on the Death Road, and stops for photos, water, and snacks, as well as a van following along in case you’re winded or would prefer to ride along. It’s an unexpectedly fun excursion and not as terrifying as you might think.
Just about three hours northwest of La Paz is the world-famous Lake Titicaca, known as the world’s highest navigable lake and the birthplace of the Incan Empire. Home to the unique “floating islands” called uros made of reeds, Lake Titicaca is both visually stunning and a fascinating place to learn about Bolivia’s history and heritage.
While a visit to Lake Titicaca can be completed in just a day, you’ll enjoy the area much more if you can spend at least a night here. You’ll be able to see much more of the lake and surrounding ancient ruins, learn more about the lake’s unique floating islands, and not have to do so much traveling in one day.
Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats
Hoping for a day trip from La Paz to the world-famous Bolivia Salt Flats? Sorry – the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats are just too far for a day trip. Traveling from La Paz to the small town of Uyuni on the edge of the Salt Flats takes about 11-12 hours on an overnight bus or a 2.5-hour flight.
You’ll have to spend at least one night in Uyuni, though the longer you have to explore this incredible area of Bolivia, the better. Check out our extensive guides to visiting:
- Ultimate Guide to Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats
- The Best Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats Tours
- How to Visit Laguna Colorada, Bolivia
Where To Stay in La Paz Bolivia
Wild Rover ($)
Wild Rover is located in the heart of La Paz’s historic center, steps away from everything you would want to do in the city. Choose from dorm rooms or privates, and look forward to enjoying the on-site restaurant and bar, plus terraces and a game room.
Wild Rover is known as a party hostel, so if you’re not into this type of stay, you might consider looking elsewhere, though rooms are removed from noisier areas, so it’s not unavoidable. But it’s also clean, comfortable, and very well located, making it one of the city’s most popular hostels.
Selina La Paz ($ – $$)
Selina La Paz might be known as a hostel, but don’t let that fool you! With an array of beautiful and affordable private rooms as well as comfortable dorm rooms, Selina has something for budget travelers of all kinds.
With a coworking space, movie room, wellness area, and countless activities to help travelers connect with each other and the city, it’s no wonder that Selina is a favorite place to stay in La Paz.
Hotel Rosario ($ – $$)
Hotel Rosario has long been a favorite place to stay in the historic center of La Paz. Set in a traditional colonial-style building, the hotel has charm, and rooms are comfortable if a bit basic. Service is excellent, and the hotel offers many great amenities and a delicious included breakfast.
While the area surrounding the hotel is a bit chaotic, you’ll find the hotel a relaxing respite from the city, and appreciate just how close you are to all the attractions, especially if you’re just here for a day or two.
Stannum Boutique Hotel and Spa ($$)
The modern, streamlined Stannum Boutique Hotel and Spa is located in the heart of the desirable Sopocachi neighborhood and is an excellent choice for a comfortable stay in La Paz. Large rooms have stunning city views, and the hotel has plenty of amenities, including a fitness center, full spa, and excellent on-site dining with friendly service.
ATIX Hotel ($$)
Located in the heart of La Paz’s upscale Zona Sur, ATIX Hotel is arguably the nicest hotel in La Paz, featured in Travel + Leisure’s “It List” of the best new hotels in the world when it opened in 2017. This lovely design hotel has a delicious on-site restaurant, a gorgeous atrium with mountain and city views from the pool, and comfortable rooms.
ATIX Hotel is the best place to stay in La Paz if you’re looking for a memorable stay. You’ll be shocked at how affordable it is.
Where To Eat in La Paz Bolivia
Widely considered one of the best restaurants in South America, the award-winning Gustu is a must for fine dining in La Paz. Head chef Marsia Taha has a policy of only using the freshest local ingredients, making her menu a love story to Bolivian cuisine and ingredients you’ll find nowhere else.
Located in La Paz’s posh Zona Sur neighborhood, it will take about 25-30 minutes by taxi to reach from central La Paz, though this is a meal well worth traveling for.
Located in the heart of the Sopocachi neighborhood, Mi Chola is contemporary Bolivian cuisine at its best. The shockingly affordable tasting menu (less than $15 for four courses!) is a treat and a great way to learn more about Bolivia’s unique flavors and culinary traditions.
This welcoming and unpretentious restaurant will be one you remember long after your trip.
Cafe Vida is a vegetarian paradise that even carnivores will love. With giant portions of healthy favorites like salads with every topping under the sun, smoothie bowls, homemade sweets, burritos, and more, this cozy cafe is an easy favorite.
For inexpensive, plentiful servings of truly local Bolivian classics, you can’t go wrong with eating at the food stalls at Mercado Lanza in the heart of La Paz’s historic center. This giant covered market has three stories filled with vendors selling fresh and prepared foods (and just about everything else you can think of).
Make sure to get fresh fruit juice with your meal!
La Paz Travel Tips
Take Altitude Seriously
Even if you’re young and fit, the altitude in La Paz is likely some of the highest you will have ever experienced, which can affect you in surprising ways. It’s quite common to feel lightheaded, tired, and a bit out of breath when walking or exerting yourself for the first few days when you arrive.
Plan your itinerary accordingly: don’t plan a major hike right after you step of the plane, for example. Give yourself at least a day or two!
You’ll also want to make sure to drink plenty of water, avoid coffee and alcohol, and get lots of sleep to help you get adjusted. Make sure to drink tea made from coca leaves, an ancient Bolivian remedy for altitude sickness, or bring along some supplements designed to help altitude acclimatization.
Learn About Bolivia’s Indigenous Populations
Home to 36 unique people groups, Bolivia is defined by its indigenous populations and their languages, cultures, and histories. Taking some time to learn about Bolivia’s indigenous peoples isn’t just a unique thing to do – it’s crucial to understanding Bolivia.
Almost half of Bolivia’s population (41% as of the 2012 census) identifies as indigenous, and you’re certain to hear indigenous languages like Quechua and Aymara no matter where you travel in Bolivia. You’ll also want to visit La Paz’s Mercado de las Brujas and La Hechiceria (Witches Market) to learn about indigenous traditions or consider a food tour with a local guide.
A Little Spanish Goes a Long Way
Don’t underestimate how far just a little Spanish will get you! English is not commonly spoken in La Paz, and is even spoken less than you might expect in the tourism sector, so learning just a few key phrases will be a lifesaver. Check out our beginner’s guide to Spanish for travelers for a few pointers!
Practice Travel Safety
La Paz can get a bad rap for being unsafe, but the city actually has lower crime rates than many others that are probably already on your South American travel itinerary. However, wherever you travel, it’s important to practice travel safety to keep yourself and your belongings safe.
For example, carry your backpack or purse in front of you while using public transport or in crowded areas like markets. Use an s-biner micro lock to clip your backpack or purse zippers closed. Keep your cell phone or camera secured in your bag, and only take it out when you’re using it. These are just a few easy ways to stay safe while traveling.
Read More: Ranked: 9 Safest Countries in South America