Continuing our South American journey, we took a five-hour drive from Puno, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia. With the few border crossings we’d done on this trip, Bolivia was always the most challenging. To enter Bolivia, the American passport holders would need visas (US $160) so I and another traveler accompanied by one of our guides, exited the bus and crossed the bridge in Desaguadero. The bus continued on, and we would catch up later at the actual crossing point. There were two men who looked like guards on the other side of the bridge but no one approached us as we crossed. We continued on to the passport office. For the visa, we needed passport photos, bank statement showing proof of finances and cash for payment. I was told a photocopy of a credit card would be sufficient, but they wanted to see a bank statement which I didn’t have. Now, I have to find a Wi-Fi connection, pull up a banking app or find an email showing financials, then find a photocopy shop to get printed copies. Back at the passport office, they reviewed the documents and sent me to another booth for more photos. It’s time to pay now and they don’t take credit cards. After that whole process was finished, we made our way back to the bus not knowing the drama that was unfolding with my wife. She has a German passport which would normally require no visa but she entered and left Peru with her American passport so she to her surprise needed a visa. You have to enter Bolivia with the same passport that you left the previous country with. Now she has to go through the process that I just went through.
After the nerve-wracking experience that is Bolivian passport control, our next stop is La Paz. It would be another two hours until we reached our hotel. La Paz is nestled in a bowl surrounded by the Andes mountains and at 3650 masl.,11975 ft., is the highest administrative capital in the world. It’s one of those cities where you’ll either hate the chaos or embrace it. Honking horns, the smell of diesel, hordes of pedestrians and street vendors all trying to fit into the small streets. Our hotel, the Las Brisas Hotel is centrally located on Avenida Illampu in the heart of the very lively tourist district. After that long drive, we just wanted to get checked in, relax a bit, and then venture out. We only have two nights here, so we wanted to take in some sights.
The avenue outside our hotel was lined on both sides with street vendors selling everything from food to Halloween costumes. It’s nonstop hustle and bustle and noisy. What is chaos for some is vibrant for others. We didn’t mind it at all. This is the beauty of travelling, not everything is like it is at home.
As you step off the main street and into the beautifully adorned cobblestone side streets, you’ll find a wide variety of souvenir shops, small hotels and restaurants. Be prepared for a lot of uphill and downhill walking.
Located about five minutes’ walk from our hotel is Mercado de las Brujas (Witches’ Market.) For all those who are interested in the strange, paranormal, occult, rituals etc., this is the place to visit. There are all types of items here like dried frogs, llama fetuses, medicinal herbal remedies, aphrodisiac balms, ritual figurines, and so on. Dried llama fetuses are a popular item here as it’s said to bring good luck, prosperity, protection and are used as offerings to Pachamama (Mother earth.) They are sometimes buried in the foundations of newly constructed buildings for protection against the evil spirits.
At night fall, we enjoyed the beautiful views from the hotel rooftop terrace.
In this densely packed, hilly city, La Paz and neighboring city of El Alto are connected by a series of cable cars. Built by an Austrian Swiss company, with ten lines and twenty-six stations, this aerial transit system is capable of transporting 2000 to 4000 passengers per hour. It’s the longest of its kind in the world. There are plans for an eleventh line which will extend the length of the system to 33.8 km (21 miles.) With the low cost of about three Bolivianos (40 Euro cents) per line this is the most efficient and economical way to get around the city.
Located just 10 km (6 miles) from downtown La Paz, Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) is a nice day trip to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. It is easily accessible by taxi, (US$4:00) or public bus (US$00.35) Getting there independently is quite doable and the entrance fee is around US$2.00. There are plenty of tour operators in La Paz if you opt for an organized tour.
There are a few different hikes you can take, from as little as 15 minutes or as long as 45 minutes. The trails are clearly marked and although not treacherous, care must still be taken as some sections are narrow with unstable edges. Good shoes are a must. There’s an interesting story going that the astronaut Neil Armstrong was visiting nearby and saw the area. He made a visit and remarked that it reminded him of the moon. The name stuck, at least that’s how the local story goes. The dry desert landscape with its canyons and spires is ever changing by the constant erosion of the sandstone and clay. The differencing colors of brown, beige and red that you see in the formations are a result of mineral deposits. Cacti, scrub grasses and shrubs are the only vegetation that grows here. The serenity of this place is sometimes broken in a good way by the hypnotic sounds of an Andean pan flute player perched above a canyon.
La Paz, while not being one of our favorite cites, was quite enjoyable for the short time we had there.