La Paz is a big city (over a million people) stuffed into a bowl in amongst the mountains so it feels really busy. It’s also the highest capital (although strictly speaking Sucre is really the capital and La Paz the seat of government) in the world at around 3600m. In addition there is an offshoot of the city called El Alto formed of overspill by indigenous migrants at over 4000m which accounts for another million people.
Actually driving into the bowl of the city is really daunting with a maze of streets some of which are incredibly steep. Fortunately for us overlanders there is an oasis just outside the city in the district of Mallasa, which is slightly below the city at only 3300m, not far from the city zoo. The Hotel Oberland is a Swiss-owned hotel which has a parking lot with its own modern and clean toilet and shower block just below the hotel and welcomes overlanders just like any other guest. It also has a very good restaurant and swimming pool – bonus!
From Mallasa it is easy to get a collectivo/ micro into town and by staying in Mallasa you avoid the noise and hassle of the town at night.
From the Oberland Hotel the following buses go up to Central La Paz:
231, 246, 253, 273, 281 and 902
They cost B2.30 per person and usually take between 20 to 30 minutes.
La Paz is not a city that is immediately that likeable. The historic centre is very small and there are not a lot of colonial buildings to be admired. However it’s definitely a grower. Almost half the centre is given over to street markets where the Aymara people buy their goods. There are almost no modern shops but the market serves your needs from the street of hardware stalls to the witches market with all the magic accoutrements you could want (including dried Llama foetuses !).
The people in La Paz are very friendly, and in fact they are throughout Bolivia, and the city has a relaxed vibe despite the hustle and bustle.
We ended up staying almost a week in La Paz and were never short of things to do – even if it was only hanging out in the market and watching the world go by. We did a few things though – Cholita’s Wrestling and Biking the Death Road were but two of them.
The La Paz zoo is surprisingly good and has a large number of, what seemed to be contented, Jaguars in a big area at one end. Most of the enclosures seemed quite roomy though there were one or two which felt a little small, but unlike many Latin American zoos, it appeared well run and the animals seemed cared for and happy, well as happy as they can be couped up in cages.