Catching our breath in La Paz

The roof of the San Franciscan church

La Paz is the capital of Bolivia… or so we thought… Having double checked we found that Bolivia actually has two capital cities: La Paz (administrative) and Sucre (judicial). After a quick scan through the capital cities list we found that South Africa has three capital cities! According to this list these two countries are the only countries in the world with more than one capital city.

La Paz is another South American city with a high altitude and similar to Bogota is located within a large basin high in the mountains.

The last couple of weeks have been hectic following our arrival in Lima. From there we moved to Cusco, had a day in the Sacred Valley, trekked to Machu Picchu, transferred back to Cusco, travelled to Puno, had a trip on Lake Titicaca and then travelled to La Paz.

San Franciscan Plaza

We stopped in La Paz to catch our breath and start to think about the next month or so… we had nothing booked from the next day onwards. The plan was to stay in La Paz for two nights en-route to the Bolivian Salt Flats however as we sat down and started to plan and book our continuing journey south through South America we realised that things were getting booked up!

The gateway to the Bolivian Salt Flats begins at a town called Uyuni. There are three main choices to get there:

  1. By plane
  2. By day bus
  3. By night bus

The flight is expensive and having read a couple of horror stories about the plane being so small and cramped that you can’t stand up and with so much turbulence everyone starts feeling sick we were not to keen on option 1.

We considered taking the long journey over two days, stopping at a mid way point such as Oruro. However having been to several towns and cities recently we were more attracted to the idea of getting to the Salt Flats.

So we decided on option 3, the night bus. This would take us through Bolivia quickly and would also save on the cost of a nights’ accommodation. Having survived night buses in the Philippines we felt up for a Bolivian night bus.

We tried to book our tickets with Todo Tourismo who, after some research, appeared to be the best overnight bus company. Unfortunately all of the seats were taken for the following night so we had to book a third night in La Paz and take the next available bus. Usually we book things a few weeks in advance and this shows that forward planning has advantages!

Following the Bolivian Salt Flats we were planning three nights in the Chilean town of San Pedro de Atacama. However the buses from there to our next destination were also booked up. The next bus available was after 5 nights… The accommodation in San Pedro was also booked everywhere… Other than a couple of beds in cheap hostel dorms or a luxury 5 star bust-the-budget-big-time hotel there was practically nothing on, Expedia, Trivago or TripAdvisor.

After a couple of excellent AirBnB stays in Hawaii and Moorea we turned our thoughts to AirBnB and have found what we hope is a great AirBnB for San Pedro de Atacama.

All that was left was the immediate future and to consider a tour of the Salt Flats. We called in and spoke to three different travel agencies in La Paz but later when we checked on TripAdvisor none of them had great reviews. Eventually we booked a Salt Flats tour via email with Salty Desert Avantours so after a day of planning all was finally sorted!


This is our agenda for the next week or two:

  • Overnight bus from La Paz to Uyuni with Todo Tourismo (booked)
  • One night in a hostel in Uyuni (booked)
  • Three days/two nights tour of the Bolivian Salt Flats (booked)
  • The tour will end in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile where we have five nights in an AirB&B (booked)
  • Bus to Salta, Argentina (booked)

A quick check on suggests there is a lot of available accommodation in Salta so we were not in such a hurry to book this…

Murillo Street

While most of our La Paz time was spent planning the next stage of our trip and catching up with publishing overdue blog posts we did have a wander each day around the streets close to our centrally located hotel.


As we walked around the streets of La Paz we noticed that a large number of local women wear bowler type hats as part of their day to day attire. Apparently this is a tradition of Quechua and Aymara women that began in the 1920’s when bowler hats as shipped over for Europeans were found to be too small and thus given to indigenous people.


Above is a typical central La Paz street… cobbled roads, colourful shops and scruffy graffiti. We had a couple of meals in Layka restaurant, situated on the first floor of the pink building above which were tasty especially with the free healthy buffet which accompanies each meal or sandwich.

This was an unusually quiet Thursday as there was a transport protest and road blocks just outside of the city.

San Francisco Church

We were given a short tour around the San Francisco Church by a young guide who explained the early settlement by the Franciscans.

He told us that in 1612 an extreme snowfall caused areas of the church to collapse. You can still see exhibits of the original church.

You can climb a very narrow stone staircase to the roof where you see some great views of  the San Francisco Plaza and surrounding narrow streets.


Coca Museum

Another central attraction worth a short visit was the Coca museum. Although this required a lot of reading it gave us an interesting history of the coca plant and its cultural relevance to indigenous people. There was an exhibition on the extraction of alkaloids from the coca plant which are mixed with other chemicals to make cocaine. But… coca is also still an ingredient of coca cola!


Other tours

There are other activities such as the ‘Death Road‘ where you can cycle down what is considered the World’s most dangerous road or a take a tour to the ‘Moon Valley‘ a lunar landscape a short drive from La Paz. These and a number of other tours can be booked at one of the many travel agents which line the streets of central La Paz. With another hectic few days coming up we decided not to do any tours from La Paz.


Delicious food to be found in Cafe Vida

Our hotel was located in the centre of La Paz and we had most of our meals in Layka as mentioned above. On the last day we discovered a fab little vegan cafe called Cafe Vida where we had delicious healthy vegan food. This happens to currently be number 1 of 324 restaurants in La Paz! Incredible for a country well known for being large consumers of meat.

While we probably didn’t do La Paz enough justice by not exploring much further than the city centre we both agreed that the first impressions of this hectic yet colourful city had a certain rough and ready charm about it…




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