When we first planned our trip to La Paz we had lots of different activities on the agenda. Dan was going to bike down the death road (while I was going to watch the go pro footage when he got back), we were going to do a few hikes in the surrounding area, and Dan was even thinking about climbing the 6,000m Huayna Potosi mountain just outside the city. However, even after our month recuperating in Sucre we both still felt a little travel weary. On top of that we were starting to look ahead to Argentina, which we knew was going to be much more expensive than any location we had been to so far. So with these things in mind we decided to have a much more relaxed week in La Paz wandering around, eating and drinking – but when we return to Latin America at some point to teach English we will definitely go back to La Paz to do all the things we missed!
The city of La Paz is a pretty odd place. At 3,500m above sea level it is the highest capital city in the world, and as our bus descended into the city centre from the mountains that surround it we both started to wonder how on earth this crazy, sprawling, fascinating place came to exist. The city layout is the very definition of higgledy-piggledy, with the streets crisscrossing and winding up, down and around hills in such a haphazard way that you wonder if there was any planning at all when it came to construction, or whether the city founders simply started building with the attitude of, “let’s just see where we end up”. Although this makes it feel a little chaotic at times, there is a lot of unique charm to be found in the streets of La Paz – though not when you’re trying to climb one of its many steep hills!
Our Airbnb was situated at the top of one of these hills, about a 20 minute walk from the town centre. We had a private room in a shared apartment, but we had the place to ourselves for almost the entire week – which was handy because, for me especially, the altitude in La Paz was a bit of a struggle, so it was great for us to have our own place to relax and unwind after entire days spent feeling out of breath.
As well as the city layout, La Paz is definitely an interesting place in terms of its architecture. We spent a lot of time there wandering around and marveling at the buildings that surrounded us, which were an odd mix of the traditional Latin American red brick, grand stone facades, ugly industrial looking apartment blocks and gaudy, brightly coloured buildings that made us feel like we had traveled back in time to the 70’s.
On most of our wanderings we found ourselves in the Sopocachi district, which is a popular area with travelers and is packed with cafes, bars and restaurants. It also has a cinema where we were lucky enough to be able to see IT in English (with subtitles though, of course). We also got to try some awesome food in Sopocachi – the Vietnamese restaurant Vinapho was so good we went twice, once for dinner and once for a delicious set lunch, and at the tiny Danish restaurant Hygge we tried a tasty gourmet burger and hot dog, washed down with even tastier mojitos.
We also found a couple of gems back towards the centre of town. One of these was an English pub where Dan was pleasantly surprised to discover that they were showing an Arsenal football match on TV! Another was possibly the most wonderful cafe that we have ever come across called The Writer’s Coffee, which was a small, snug little cafe inside a bookshop. We took shelter there on a particularly rainy afternoon, enjoying delicious rich coffee, warming up by the toasty heaters and admiring the range of beautiful cakes on that were display. A combination of three of my favourite things – books, coffee and cake! Cafes don’t get much better than that!
After about a week in La Paz we took a minibus to the small town of Coroico, just a few hours outside the city. To get there the bus takes you along the new and improved alternative to the death road – which in practice, thanks to the erratic bus drivers, is only marginally less terrifying than the original, but you are rewarded with some stunning views along the way which somewhat makes up for it!
We had booked a few nights at a new hostel called Las Flores, which was lovely but turned out to be even newer than booking.com let on – they hadn’t actually finished building it! Nevertheless our room was clean and comfy, and we got to have breakfast every day in the onsite restaurant overlooking the jungles surrounding Coroico.
Coroico is a lovely, picturesque little town, with a colourful main square and lots of traveler friendly places to eat and drink. Our first day was spent doing what we always do when we arrive in a new place: we wandered around, drank some coffee, sat in the park and found a few good places to eat. The next day we were a bit more active and hiked up to Cerro Uchumachi, a well marked hiking trail just outside of town. By the time we reached the first main viewpoint we had a stunning panoramic view of the landscape around Coroico, with its vast jungle clad mountains and swooping valleys. The trail did continue on further but it was less marked and involved fighting through a lot of dense foliage, and as Dan was wearing shorts and had already suffered a bout of Lyme disease after a tick bite in the past, we decided to skip it and head back into town.
There are a number of other hikes you can do in and around Coroico, including a trek up to some impressive waterfalls, but we didn’t have time to explore further – the following day we had to be up early to make our way to Cochabamba, our next stop in Bolivia.