Nothing will quite prepare you for La Paz; it is a capital city like no other. Arriving by air or land you get an overwhelming sense of being in the middle of nowhere – whether you pass the uninhabited highlands, the dense jungle or the water world of the world’s largest lake, Lake Titicaca. La Paz is the highest capital city in the world, and it beggars belief how it came to become one of the most important cities in South America.
Flying into the airport you get off the plane at a dizzying 4060 meters above sea level. The altitude is so high that this is one of the few airports in the world with emergency oxygen tanks there waiting for any queasy passengers. Fortunately, the hub of the action in the city is some 1000 meters lower in altitude, as La Paz city centre sits in a canyon surrounded by mountains and beautifully jagged rocks. Without a doubt, this is one of the most jaw-dropping cities to visit and the cable car running across the city gives you the perfect excuse to get an aerial view.
For those who really want the best view of the city, it requires a seriously good fitness level and a few days of acclimatisation. You can reach the best view by climbing one of the neighbouring mountains and volcanoes, which attract mountaineers from all over the globe. Illimani, Huayna Potosi, Mururata and Illampu are the most famous mountains around the city. However an hour away from La Paz you can also find the Sajama Volcano, the tallest peak in Bolivia.
In La Paz, you have a true buffet of climbing options – from very challenging ice climbs through to rock climbing for beginners.
The other great outdoors attraction in Bolivia is, of course, Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America, that at first glance appears like a sea because of its size and stretches from La Paz in Bolivia to Puno in Peru. There are many islands to visit on the lake, but the most unusual of them all are the floating artificial islands made of reeds.
Where to stay
Down in one of the lowest parts of the city, Camino Suites is a perfect resting spot to recuperate and rest, as well as use as a base for exploring the city before moving onto the wine regions. With an action plan in place for helping you cope with the inevitable altitude acclimatisation process, Camino Suites has oxygen tanks ready and an on-call doctor included in your stay.
On your first day in La Paz, plan to relax in your room and take it easy so you can get your body acclimatised to the lower oxygen levels. The views from the hotel give you a great sense of the city outside, and you can rejuvenate in the spa and pool. By Day 2, you should be fighting fit to enjoy the city.
Where to eat
The top restaurant in Bolivia is in downtown La Paz, GUSTU. Started by Claus Meyer, who is founder of world-famous Noma restaurant in Denmark, the philosophy of GUSTU is ‘km zero’, using all local ingredients and serving all Bolivian wines and spirits. The kitchen team make creative and beautiful dishes from the vast array of native ingredients, and the bar team make the best cocktails with local spirits including Singani, which is well worth trying.
La Paz is also a haven for street food, which you shouldn’t miss on your visit. To avoid any contamination risks, check out the special street food route planned by GUSTU, which highlights some of the local food stalls with authentic dishes that have also been approved for their health and hygiene measures.