There are few cities on earth as visually impressive as Bolivia’s high-altitude capital, Nuestra Señora de La Paz.
From the dizzying heights of the city of El Alto in the high plain at 4000 meters (13000 feet), to the Valley of the Moon nearly a kilometre down the valley, La Paz is spectacular.
I have been coming to this incredible country since 2003 and have studied its history much longer. Bolivia is the second poorest country in the hemisphere (after Haiti), yet it was the centre of the colonial mining that financed the Spanish Empire, the pirates of the Caribbean and European colonization in general.
Despite hundreds of years of oppression, the Bolivian people (there are over 50 languages spoken in the country) have maintained their traditions and identities.
La Paz has an obvious colonial air, but is, at its heart, an Aymara city. The Aymara dominate the high altitudes and much business in El Alto occurs in their ancient and incredibly complicated language. The style of dress is so iconic, it engenders pride and is reason enough to visit.
There is also an important Quechua (Inca) population in the city and the country. I have written extensively about the Quechua people in my Peru blogs.
I am currently travelling with a small, fun, custom group and we are exploring as much as possible. Of course at this altitude it is important to start slowly, but after two days of walking the city, today we first drove and then walked to over 5300 meters – 17500 feet – on the former ski area of Chacaltaya (it was by far the highest on earth, but the glacier melted).
We then descended two kilometres vertically to the much warmer Valley of the Moon. Its erosion testament to the dry and wet seasons typical of a tropical monsoon climate. At 3500 meters above sea level, a ‘rainy season’ can mean snow high up!
Having visited La Paz many times over the years, I am thrilled by some of the changes. The city now boasts an excellent cable car (gondola) system. This saves people hours of commuting, is alleviated congestion and has become a tourist attraction.
The city now boasts an excellent cable car (gondola) system. This saves people hours of commuting, is alleviated congestion and has become a tourist attraction.
The city is also starting a much cleaner and affordable bus system.
La Paz always deserves at least three good days and I would be happy to stay for months.
Off to Uyuni and the World’s largest salt flats next …
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