At almost 3700 meters altitude, La Paz is one of the highest cities in the world. Being so close to the sky, its energy is a continuous ripple across the cone shaped valley that it occupies. With narrow streets going up and down the mountains, just walking around the city centre felt like running for a marathon. Yet, every step of the way was worth each hard breath I took.
We reached La Paz close to the middle of the night. In a moment of inspiration we asked one of the security guards in the bus station to help us find a decent cab, hoping to go to the hotel where we were supposed to meet the group next day for the tour we book. Unfortunately, the hostel reception seemed closed so our cab driver ended up taking us to another hostel in the same area. So, although we had no idea where to go we still ended up in a decent place.
First day adventures
The next morning, we went back to the hotel where we were supposed to meet up with the group and this time everything worked out. We spent the first day in La Paz just wandering the city streets to wherever they took us. Just like in Lima, we had no map and no idea where we were going. But unlike in Lima, this time we were able to discover things on our own. For lunchtime we stopped at Banais café, where in addition to enjoying the best cheese I’ve had in my life and other amazing food, we also enjoyed their cute ceiling décor made out of traditional skirts.
The big plaza and the church
The café was right around the corner from the San Francisco cathedral, which is located right next to a large plaza. The old architecture of the church overshadows the small buildings surrounding the plaza and their mix of old and new architecture.
We later returned to this plaza and visited the San Francisco museum and church. With our entrance fee we received a guide and she took us through the history of the church and of Bolivia. The Franciscans played a very large part in the Bolivian revolution for independence from Spain, and their support was very well known. Therefore, this cathedral represents a very important pin point in the Bolivian culture. The tour also took us up on the roof from where we had a beautiful view of the city through the little towers and bells of the cathedral.
In our exploration of La Paz we managed to find Plaza Murillo, the place, which is considered the city centre. It was named after Pedro Murillo, one of the revolutionaries who was hanged by the Spaniards in 1810 for their attempt to gain independence from Spain.
The plaza is surrounded by important buildings, including the government building, the parliament and the cathedral of La Paz.
We even found the sign for km 0. And as bonus we found out that pigeons are protected in La Paz…
Other things we discovered in our wonders include a monument for the unknown soldier, quotes imprinted on the street pavement, and our own shadows!
Valle de la Luna
We went to the Moon Valley the second day of our stay in La Paz. The story of its name is that Neil Armstrong was playing golf at a resort across from it, and after returning from the moon he concluded that these formations look like the ones on the moon. Hence, why the name has remained the moon valley. I was expecting a more mythological explanation, but that’s all I got.
The Moon Valley is made of clay and changes forms when it rains. The changes are not drastic but they are noticeable. But, as we are in the dry season all we saw was how the formations started drying after the end of the rain season.
The valley is beautiful, and although not unique in the world, it does have a special feel to it. The government of La Paz build a walking path to be used for visiting, and as we were following it we were becoming more and more used to the landscape and the pale yellow of the formations. During a certain piece of the path, a view of the city can be admired between the mountains hiding it.
Killi Killi View Point
The next stop of our second day adventure in La Paz was Killi Killi. From here we had a beautiful view of the city and its surrounding mountains. Although a little bit cloudy, we managed to see the snowcapped peaks of Illimani mountain, which is the highest in western Bolivia at 6,438m.
The Witches Market
Stretched on one street, the witches market is one of a kind. Ladies in the stores sell the expected souvenirs, clothing, and jewelry, as well as the unexpected potions, charms, and dried llama fetuses. I haven’t taken a picture of the last one as it was disturbing enough to see it.
The name of the market goes a long time, back when Spaniards first came to this area. Seeing their products and rituals as heretic, they named them witches. However, many of these women have kept traditions and practices rooted into cultures that have evolved even before the Incas. In our modern times, seeing the mix between the old and the new in one single place is quite fascinating.
In addition to the regular charms, we discovered Ekeko, the god of abundance who brings people who host him all the things he’s carrying: health, love, money, etc. He’s kind of many talismans in one. And the fun part is that once in a while he craves for smoking cigarettes so to make him happy you just have to light him one.
The future prediction factor
Since I was quite fascinated with the wittiness of this place, I decided to spend some of my souvenirs money on a fortune-teller. I did it for fun, but It was quite creepy as he “read” in his cards some pretty personal things about me… The great news is that he told me more good things than bad things. Now, I guess I have to wait and see how accurate his predictions were.