After a month, we left Samaipata bound for La Paz, a city we had heard very mixed reviews about.
After 24 hours travelling, we arrived in bustling, busy, polluted but very cool La Paz. We found a ridiculously good value double room (70 Bs night) in Hostel Austria and set out to explore the city and its surrounding area.
La Paz is the highest capital city in the world. At 3600m to 4000m above sea level, the city sprawls across spectacular cliff faces and mountain ranges. It’s steeped in history, political chaos, has a colourful culture and a wide gap between the rich and poor; this city is a real marmite place, you either love it or hate it. We think you should love it for all it offers both in the city, and the surrounding area!
6 Reasons We Love La Paz
- The Death Road
Despite being advised to go with a company priced at the higher end of the spectrum, we chose to go with Eco Jungle Tours which, at 350 bolivianos, was priced at the very low end. Despite this, we felt that our safety was a real concern for them, and the Trek bike we were given would do the job just fine!
After an early pick up, we headed out of La Paz to a mountain pass situated at 4,600 meters. After a speedy safety talk we were let off the leash!
The initial part of the journey is on tarmac and you’re free to do the speed that you want, as long as you do not take over the guide!
I quickly figured that if I waited at the back of our group for the rest to pass me, I could then “go for it” until I’d reached the lead of the group again! Lottie wisely kept to the back, freaking out when I was taking selfies whilst riding (not advised). After about 30km you swap a nicely tarmac road for a 4/5 meter wide dirt track with a 600 meter drop off on one side! This, for me, was when the fun really started!
Applying the same riding technique as previously, Ben (our french friend we met in Paraguay who we bumped into on our first day in La Paz) and I actually started racing each other down the Death Road, which with an expired insurance made for a right BUZZ!
Lottie, slightly less inclined to race remained at the back! The ever changing scenery really blew our mind away! Two hours, 3,400 meters later we had reached the village of Coroico where the temperature had risen by 20 degrees!!
After a quick swim and a feed, we were on the mini van back to La Paz.
- Wrap up but be prepared to strip off as you descend.
- Take full suspension bikes. Lottie had bruised hands and arms from the vibrations.
- Take insect repellent. We all got badly bitten whilst eating lunch.
- Ensure the company you go with provides FULL helmets like we have in our pictures.
2. Ascend Peak Austria at 5350 metres
Ben and Max wanted to climb Huayna Potosi, a mountain with a summit of 6088 metres so we thought it would be great to do a pre-climb hike at high altitude to see what the lack of oxygen feels like. Peak Austria (5350) is situated a few hours drive from La Paz and is easily done without a guide, although many choose to do it guided.
You can create a loop; 1 night, 2 days and it’s really spectacular. All we organised was transport through a company called Travel Tracks.
After a very bumpy 3 hour drive from La Paz, we arrived near a Laguna Tuni where we began the trek to base camp of Peak Austria. I immediately felt the lack of oxygen.
After an hour of walking, we pitched our tent, had a quick bite to eat and started the ascent.
The scenery is some of the most beautiful we have seen.
After a gruelling 2 hours 20 minutes, I hit the 5100 metre pass.
I felt breathless with a light headache but looking up now, from this point, the peak didn’t seem so far away and Max stuck by my side encouraging me to keep going.
I reached the peak 2 hours 45 minutes after we started and really couldn’t quite believe I had made it. It was tough but rewarding, which I guess is what this mountain climbing stuff is all about.
After a few photos on the summit we started to descend which is when my headache got worse actually, but bearable after a few tablets.
The descent took an hour and 20 and by the time we were down, the weather was much colder.
We made food in the very rustic little refugio and had an early night. However, sleeping at 4600 metres isn’t easy. You feel breathless just sorting out your sleeping bag. We were then woken up again at one AM when the others at the campsite left to ascend Mount Condoriri before the sun rose. As we woke up, they were coming back with the tales of those who made it and those who didn’t.
We left to complete the loop and hike to Laguna Tuni where a taxi would collect us. Carrying my big rucksack made the ascent to the 5000 metre pass possibly more difficult than the day before.
Lunch was enjoyed at probably one of the best view points ever. With Huayna Potosi ahead of us, the boys discussed how excited they were about tackling it.
As we descended, the rest of the walk was relatively easy as we followed a river along a valley full of llamas.
The road back to La Paz was not actually a road used by everyone, but only by miners and to say it was narrow in part would be kind, it was a rather petrifying journey back.
- Look up weather conditions and ensure you have enough warm clothing
- Acclimatise properly
- Download ‘Maps Me’ or another application as there isnt a track, although its not hard to get lost as you have to aim for the huge lake.
3. Huayna Potosi
I should think that most people with a penchant for the outdoors and hiking in particularly will aspire, at some point in their lives, to ascend a 6,000 metre summit.
The challenge in doing so is not to be underestimated with low temperatures and especially the distinct lack of oxygen found at these altitudes. Although no previous experience is required, I strongly recommend doing a smaller ascent before so you know you’re able to get up to 5,300 for instance (see above, Peak Austria our climb).
The Cordillera Royal in Bolivia offers plenty of summits with ranging difficulties including Huayna Potosi, which is believed to the most accessible six thousand(er). It’s a pretty straight forward route up, with very little technicality, and can be done in two or three days depending on experience and acclimatisation. Ben and I chose to do our ascent with Club Huayna Potosi who stand out from the rest of the agencies, as they have a refuge of their own at base camp but also at high camp (5,300 meters) which is a little higher than the other refuge meaning you get to sleep in a little longer!
We managed to get the price down from 1400 to 1050 Bolivianos which we thought was very reasonable and this included everything (gear, transfer, food and guide). The gear we got given, Ben especially, was pretty shabby and I would recommend you take the stuff you already have, if you think its suitable for mountaineering. We left at 3am and reached the summit just in time for sunrise and the views from up there were incredible! Over all, an unforgettable experience which I highly recommend.
4. The Foodie Scene
We are foodies, so finding good places to eat is one of the most enjoyable things about travelling. We dive in and out of local markets, dodgy looking cafes and also enjoy meeting ex pats who have set up restaurants to earn a living in their dream country. La Paz was full of great foodie spots so we thought we would share some of our favourites.
La Cueva – This traditionally decorated slice of Mexican heaven is ideal for group outings or a good value filling meal. I recommend the Chilli Con Carne or the Quesadillas, divine.
Cafe Del Mundo – Our ‘go to’ cafe for anytime of the day. This beautifully decorated multi storey cafe was started by a Swedish girl who has travelled the world and along the way fell in love with a Bolivian man. It’s exceptionally good value for what you get and the atmosphere is great too. I met lots of other backpackers in there and exchanged some great stories. Most of their food is homemade; you can get anything from tomato soup (the best I have ever eaten), mexican dishes, homemade bread and cream cheese to healthy dessert choices. I really rate this place.
The Market – for those with a hardened stomach, the market is a dirt cheap option; 2 dishes for £1.20 and you’ll leave full! We found a particularly good place selling chori pans, something we haven’t had since we left Argentina. The sausage was not fluorescent pink which makes a change, it was a proper sausage and the bread was crusty. Winning!
The Adventure Brew hostel – Although slightly on the pricey side, the food at this notorious party hostel was really great, especially the pasta dishes which are around 35Bs. I highly recommend the creamy avocado pasta.
Roadside stalls – The Bolivian empanadas (50p) we found on the roadside stalls in La Paz were epic. Lightly fried in batter, the juicy beef mincemeat inside oozes with flavour. Its traditional for there to be a row of different sauces too so you can stand there and add a different sauce with each mouthful (oink-oink). Another cheap option are the avocado and chicken sandwiches (50p) which are sold on the road side by indigenous woman in colourful outfits. These were our two favourite quick feeds but there is also hamburgers and the traditional Bolivian dish, Pique a lo Macho, widely available for a £1.
5. ‘Teleferico’ yourself around the city
La Paz is really well connected for a developing country. You can hop on and off mini-vans for peanuts, cabs are cheap, but the cherry on the top in this city are the teleferico cabins that run over the city, connecting El Alto, the poor area, with the main city.
This is a really great initiative for the locals as many of the poor people can now work in the city and get home more easily. It’s also a great way for tourists to view the city from above. Just like the underground, the teleferico lines are different colours with various exits points. When we were there, we saw they were in the middle of building at least two more lines, so watch this space for more to come!
6. Wander the streets and explore!
I spent lots of time wandering around La Paz as I decided not to climb the mountain. You can do a guided walking tour, or just go alone! Its not a pretty city by any means, but it certainly has plenty of character.