We arrive at La Paz airport the highest international airport in the world at 4100m where we are greeted by our driver who kindly gives us a quick run down on the city and the surrounding mountains. He also offers to stop on the way into the city at a fantastic viewing point so we can take a few photos. La Paz is the worlds highest capital city at 3600m and the city itself is located in a valley. We spend the first day just wandering the city streets getting our bearings and taking in the local sites. Its a bustling city and pretty dirty but has a great feel to it. Traditional indigenous women line the cobbled stoned streets selling there wears and street food. We organise a city walking tour which I am never a real fan of but this one turns out really well. Our tour guide, Sergio, is very passionate about his home city and what it has to offer. The tour takes in the local food market the Spanish area and the infamous San Pedro prison.
We visit a small street that houses the elderly and we all chip in a few dollars to by cookies and chocolates for them. One elderly man holds up his fists and Sergio informs us that he use to be the Bolivian boxing champion. We continue to walk the streets past the presidential palace and down past San Pedro prison. San Pedro prison is an infamous place for it’s drug manufacturing, no rules and live in wives and children. It is located within the city of La Paz and you would walk right by and think is was just another building if you weren’t aware. Its best described in the book Marching Powder wby Australian journalist Rusty Young. Basically, its a prison with little or no rules as there are no guards inside the prison only at the entry gates. Inside the prison there are shops, restaurants, women and children, although they have recently been banned. You need to have money when you arrive at the prison as you have to buy your own cell and food. Cells are traded just likes house on the outside and the different zones within the prison are given a star rating increasing the prices. I have also read somewhere that San Pedro prison produces 30% of all cocaine in Bolivia. We continue our tour to the poorer parts of La Paz located at 4000m or 400m about the city centre. El alto is home to South Americas largest produce market and spans 70 blocks. You can literally purchase anything here including bull penis and testicles. And no we didn’t try them. Apparently they are for fertility which I am obviously avoiding. We then head over to the witches market, a very strange place. The locals come here to buy items to take to the local witch doctor if you are searching for something. Health, wealth, good fortune etc. Here you purchase your items to present to the witch doctor to burn. Candy, tinsel, some kind of powder and a Llama foetus. Yes the foetus of a Llama is put of top and burned.
The following day we take the Teleferico (cable cart) to get a birds eye view of the city. Its a the same type of Gondola they have in the ski resorts, and it crosses the entire city giving the poorer people that live higher up easier access to the city centre. From what I could see it’s a fantastic piece of infrastructure for a city like La Paz. They also have the same structure in Medellin, Colombia. Its a great way for tourists to see the city from above and the different area’s of the city. Having used all forms of transport in La Paz from plane, mini bus, taxi and teleferico it was now time to board the chicken bus back to our hotel. The local bus affectionately know as the “chicken bus” is the cheapest form of transport in the city. Its a traditional old style bus that you just pile onto and yell out when you want to get off. It’s about .20c to go across town.