La Paz – part I

As we’re doing a loop round Bolivia, rather than continuing on to Peru or Chile, we’ll be passing through La Paz more than once. As well as being the starting point for the World’s Most Dangerous Road bike ride (more on that later), it’s also the main transport hub between the surrounding tourist spots, as well as the best route back to Santa Cruz (paved roads all the way I’m assured!) for our flight to Buenos Aires.

Our first stop in the city is fresh off our Salt Flats trip. After an overnight train from Uyuni to Oruro (from what I hear, much preferable to the incredibly bumpy bus ride) followed by a three hour bus to La Paz, we’re exhausted to say the least. We’re staying at Arthie’s Guesthouse, a nice enough place and quiet, which at this point in time is exactly what we’re after. Needless to say, it’s a lazy day all round, catching up on some much needed sleep somewhere slightly warmer than the Arctic Circle for a change.

The view over La Paz

We’re a 10 minute walk from the main tourist centre. If you trust what the books tell you, then La Paz is a dangerous place, with people trying to scam and rob you left, right and centre. I wouldn’t believe the hype. This might be true of some of the suburbs, but if you stick to the central areas then you shouldn’t have any trouble and we felt safe as houses. Sure, this is no time for complacency and it always pays to be vigilant but I certainly never felt uneasy.

Of course, there’s your fair share of traveller-oriented gaffs – the usual gringo joints, including a rather brilliant English pub called Oliver’s Travels if you’re craving some home comforts, like PG tips (available in pints!) or fish and chips. But that’s not to say you can’t also find authentic Bolivian cooking and cheap eats – there are plenty of set menu joints where you can get a three course meal for 30 bolivianos (£3) or less. And if you’re looking for some souvenirs then this is the place for you – there are literally streets full of shops and stalls selling all kinds of alpaca goodies – hats, jumpers, gloves, ponchos, slippers… the witches market is also worth checking out, although I’m not so sure you’ll want to be going home with a dead llama foetus!!

An interesting interpretation of our man Che

There are a few half decent museums in La Paz (including the cute, if slightly kitsch, Coca Museum), but more than that, there’s just a great atmosphere and it’s a lovely city to explore. Just be mindful that it’s a pretty hilly place, and at nearly 4000m it can be pretty tough on the old lungs. This makes the 10 minute walk feel more like 20, so we decide that next time round we’ll be staying bang slap in the middle of the action. But for now, it’s off to Copacabana for a bit of sun and sea. Well, lake, at least.