Bolivia, La Paz, South America

Things to do in La Paz: Discovering dirty La Paz

Last Updated on May 9, 2024 by Bryony Clapperton

In a city where there is significantly less oxygen due to altitude, you’d ideally hope there would be a limit on the amount of pollution pumped into the air.

No, not in La Paz, Bolivia – which is why I’m calling the defacto capital of Bolivia, dirty La Paz.

Whilst breathing is almost impossible and altitude sickness is a definite La Paz is still a city I loved.

So here’s everything you need to know about spending a few days in La Paz, Bolivia. Including La Paz hostels, bars and things to do in La Paz, Bolivia.

Discovering the city of Laz Paz, Bolivia

Where is La Paz?

The city of La Paz is located in the North Westerly part of Bolivia, close to the Peruvian border.

La Paz is easy to get to from Peru and most people travel from cities like Cusco and Arequipa.

Although not the official capital of La Paz, the city of La Paz holds the Bolivian government and is often referred to a as a ‘defacto capital’ with Sucre being the actual capital.

The highest administrative seat in all of the Latin World, La Paz is a truly unique city. As the city is sat 3,650 above sea level in an oval mountain bowl, altitude sickness for tourists is very common here but the locals don’t seem to notice.

La Paz and its sister city El Alto, located on the outside of the mountain bowl is home to one of the largest indigenous communities of Latin America.

Making any time spent in La Paz a truly authentic Latin experience.

La Paz Bolivia

Getting to La Paz from Lake Titicaca

Like most people, we visited Lake Titicaca before travelling to La Paz.

We ha spent some time in Copacabana on the Bolivian shores of the great lake to get to La Paz.

The journey from Lake Titicaca takes roughly 4 hours but busses do go direct, then its wise to take a taxi into the city from the bus stop high above La Paz.

Regular busses from Copacabana leave for La Paz tickets can be bought on board. Several busses leave Copacabana from the main bus station on the main street in Copacabana, the station is unmarked but hard to miss. 

To get to La Paz from Copacabana on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca means crossing the lake via bus. You could go round the lake, but that takes a long time so your other option is to go over.

First your bus and luggage and then you on a boat. The journey costs roughly $0.50 and the boat is usually small and packed. 

Although, technically not listed as one of the things to do in La Paz, this journey to La Paz itself is quite an adventure so definitely worth considering if travelling from Titicaca.

Lake Titicaca to La Paz bus
Lake Titicaca bus to La Paz

Arriving in La Paz

Arriving in La Paz you must travel through the neighbouring sister town of El Alto, before finally entering the dusty city of La Paz.

The streets at first glance are filthy and the atmosphere feels rough. There’s pretty much always some unpleasant aroma lurking and the poverty here is hard to avoid.

Like most places in the Latin world, poverty rates are often always highest in areas that are populated by indigenous communities. This is no different in La Paz and El Alto.

However, it would be easy and naive of me to write a bad review about ‘dirty’ La Paz on first opinions.

Scratch the surface and you might just get to know the real La Paz.

Behind the dust, concrete streets and exposed wires there is so much character in the people you meet and the places you see in the city of La Paz.

Latin culture and cosmopolitan life meet in perfect chaotic unison, which is similar to what you can find in other large Latin American cities like Mexico City or Quito.

La Paz in Bolivia

Altitude and pollution

I mentioned earlier, the reason I’m calling the city of La Paz dirty is because of intense mix of altitude and pollution making the air quality in La Paz very bad.

The mixture of classic Latin ‘chicken busses’ – old American school busses, old diesel cars and general population pollution all make breathing in La Paz difficult. You’ll always find yourself feeling slightly dusty and out of breathe.

You should consider the pollution, traffic and air conditions when deciding on things to do in La Paz. Usually when it comes to a place with high altitude and poor air quality its best to avoid lots of physical activity.

Chicken bus in Bolivia

Things to do in La Paz, Bolivia

Despite looking like a concrete jungle metropolis there are some incredible things to do in La Paz and some equally as great places to see.

Plaza Murillo, The Witches Market and all of the stunning colonial architecture dotted around the city. Along with a day trip to The Valley of the Moon and an El Alto Cable Car or Teleferico in La Paz.

The Witches Market

Number one on my La Paz things to do in La Paz hit list is The Witches Market. For what La Paz may be lacking in beautiful spaces it makes up for in culture.

The witches market in La Paz sometimes known as El Mercado de las Brujas is an absolute must see. For the strangest shopping experience that will keep you occupied for hours.

Situated along some of the steepest and busiest streets in La Paz a few it can feel like a mission to get to but it’s quirky and more charismatic than many of the other markets we’ve seen.

Along this area you’ll also find many of the best places to eat and drink in La Paz including some of the best Italian restaurants and take houses in the city.

You’ll also find a gateway to La Paz’s other markets and shopping experiences further up the hilly streets.

I’ve heard mixed reviews of The Witches Market in La Paz but I enjoyed the touristy feel of being in a busy and colourful market space.

Expect mummified llama babies and every variation of coca-leaf tea in Bolivia along with all the touristy Latin tapestries, clothing and more. If you’re heading on to Patagonia, you can stock up on alpaca lined everything here to keep you warm.

Plaza Murillo La Paz

Plaza Murillo and La Paz architecture

Plaza Murillo is another of the great things to do in La Paz. You’ll find all the notable government buildings in this area and unlike the rest of the city it’s clean and well kept.

There is a large open plaza that often fills with tourists and locals alike enjoying their day. Close by you can find a range of some of the popular La Pas hostels and hotels.

The central Plaza is home to the national palace, the government buildings and also the Cathedral of La Paz a must see building on any La Paz architecture tour.

As noted earlier, interestingly the government sitting within La Paz is the highest altitude government in the world.

Plaza San Francisco

Speaking of great architecture and the many busy Plaza’s of La Paz. Plaza San Francisco is a must see during your time in the city.

If you enjoy senseless people watching in busy open spaces then Plaza San Francisco is certainly the place for you. A little dirtier than Plaza Murillo, the urban centre of La Paz’s city is home to the stunning San Francisco Cathedral.

You’ll also find easy access to The Witches Market and many of La Paz’s shopping, bars and restaurants form this area as you navigate through the people up the narrow steep streets.

Plaza San Francisco is a good base to explore the city from and a great place to start any tour of La Paz.

We visited the plaza every day during our time in La Paz before heading off to see various places in the city. After around day 3 we noticed an idyllic hidden gem located high above the busy plaza.

Ichuri Food is probably the only rooftop bar in La Paz and the ultimate people watching spot to grab a beer and enjoy the afternoon burn.

San Francisco Plaza La Paz

Where to eat and drink in La Paz

When spending more than a few hours in city you’ll definitely want to know where to eat and drink in La Paz.

If you eat anywhere in La Paz make sure it’s Mozzarella, originally recommended to us back in Copacabana whilst being told not to eat the poor pizza’s there.

This restaurant didn’t disappoint. Click here to find out exactly how to find Restaurant Mozzarella, some of the cheapest wine and best pizza La Paz has to offer, not to be missed really! 

We actually found ourselves there 3 times enjoying Chilean red and large pizza in the small, clean and friendly La Paz hot spot. 

For drinking on a budget, you can check out and of the popular Irish bars. As with every city in the world you’ll find more than on in La Paz. Naturally, drink the local beers for the cheapest prices.

The only rooftop bar in La Paz

You’ll find the entrance to Ichuri Food through a small shopping arcade just to the left of San Francisco Plaza.

From the roof terrace you can see stunning views of San Francisco Cathedral and more. We did end up finding Ichuri Food by accident. The sun-trap roof terrace is a bar, restaurant and charity organisation all in one.

My TripAdvisor review even claims it’s the only rooftop bar in Bolivia’s city of La Paz. When considering how to spend your days in the city, a rooftop sun terrace should make your list of things to do.

El Alto, Bolivia & the cable car

Along with the other great things to do in La Paz, check out the teleferico across the city to La Paz’s neighbouring El Alto.

The sprawling city of El Alto sits high above the streets of central La Paz and spills down the mountain sides to meet the streets of the historic areas in La Paz’s cultural centre such as Plaza Murillo.

The vastness of the fastest growing cultural hub in Latin America becomes apparent when you leave the mountain bowl you are in Bolivia’s second largest city next to Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

The diverse group of people that fill the dust filled streets each day bring a life and a vitality to La Paz.

Intrigued by these people and their heritage I soon began reading about La Paz’s history, this is when I first read the words El Alto.

El Alto literally meaning The Heights, once a slum, now a suburb of La Paz has the highest concentration of indigenous inhabitants in all of South America.

If you wish to visit El Alto and I recommend you do, you can reach El Alto easily by cable car. The cable cars are standard public transport for the locals so don’t be shocked if upon leaving La Paz for El Alto you find yourself queuing up behind local school children, cleaners, hospital staff and more.

This service is known throughout La Paz and El Alto as the teleferico and the cheap tickets meant we took several journeys to ‘The Heights’ during our stay in Bolivia’s other capital. 

El Alto, Bolivia
Teleferico la paz

Where to stay in La Paz

So, I mentioned previously there’s a couple of Irish pubs in La Paz. One of which is a great place to eat, drink and stay in La Paz.

Wild Rover hostel is one of South America’s popular backpacker hostel chains. It is one of the more well known La Paz hostels along with Loki La Paz.

Backpackers on a budget and looking for a fun accommodation option should head directly to Wild Rover. You’ll find clean spacious dorms and amazing home comforts for anyone on a longer term trip.

The booze is usually cheap at these hostels and the good times are always a plenty with loads of other eager backpackers staying.

If Wild Rover doesn’t sound like your cup of tea then one of the other popular places to stay in La Paz is Loki La Paz. As with Wild Rover, Loki Hostels are a chain in South America and are super popular with backpackers.

We actually ended up staying at both of the popular La Paz hostels. The food in Wild Rover is great but the views in Loki are some of the best as you can see from the top floor bar.

Figure out which one of the La Paz hostels I’ve mentioned you’d prefer before arrival but don’t skip them both.

Wild Rover hostel La Paz

Final days in South America

La Paz for me was actually a bittersweet experience. We spent a week in the city at the end of a 6 month backpacking trip so leaving was always going to feel this way.

The city is kind of curious, a lot of backpackers stick around longer than they had planned to which could be something to do with the wide range of things to do in La Paz and the sprawling city of El Alto.

I guess perhaps people get lost in trying to understand La Paz with its indigenous community combined with concrete cosmopolitan.

However, for me it is a lesson in not to judge a dirty facade on first appearance because there’s always fun to be had somewhere whether at a backpacker hostel or aboard a teleferico.

Bryony Clapperton

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