La Paz is the largest city in Bolivia and is the cultural capital (think Sydney and Canberra) and it is a very strange place indeed. It sits within a valley with building clinging to the sides and the river at the bottom of the canyon hidden away underneath the city. There isn’t really much to the town either, it’s got museums, plazas and shops, but since I’m not overly interested in them, you have to venture out of town to visit ruins or mountain biking trips…
What struck me though is the contrast between the rich and the poor.
You can wander through markets, tight twisty little markets which line streets and go on for miles and miles selling everything from light-bulbs to jeans, toys to trout, llama foetus to sweets… The markets are jammed packed and people rush around. Every seller looks the same, slightly grubby, touting their wares but generally fed up. There are so many stalls, selling the same thing I have to wonder if the people actually make living! The people walking around the market (excluding the Gringos) all look the same, wearing the similar dirty clothes and keeping their head down as the scuttle around. Everything is cheap and readily available to anyone who wants it. The cars that drive past are all old, ratty and work-horses rather than show pieces.
Then, just out of town you hit a Mega Centre, with it’s glossy neon signs, chain eateries (Burger King!), cinema, bowling alley, entertainment sections (climb inside a big wheel and run around on the water), people in elephant costumes to entice you visit their shop, expensive shoes, sunglasses and clothes… The prices are high for Bolivia (B$ 45 for a 3D film) and the people are all different. People walked tall and I wasn’t the tallest anymore. Everyone was smiling, laughing and enjoying a night out. Money was been spent without care, children were having a treat from the parents, gangs of teenagers walked through, expensive cars parked up outside (BMW sat next to new Honda’s…) . It reminded me very much of Europe with people trying to individual wearing expensive clothes and displaying big jewellery. It looked very much like the ex-pat night out as all the people there were foreigners. I slipped into the crowd un-noticed!
I guess the MegaCentre isn’t something people generally see as it’s not in the guide books – I only went there for the cinema and had to catch a bus – but it really does offer a stark contrast to the Bolivia I was expecting and that which most people experience. It’s not all about luke warm showers which electrocute you, dirty cobbled streets and markets, there is much more here!
Shame then the film was terrible.
More pictures of La Paz
More pictures of La Paz can be found in the digitallery album South America – Bolivia – La Paz
Costs In La Paz (Visit One)
I’m planning on returning to La Paz en route back to Peru so have intentionally missed some activities out (visiting Tiwanaku, museums etc) in case the border is still closed upon my return.
I stayed in Hostel El Carretero on Calle Carretero. It’s a little out of the way, could do with a bit of a clean and whilst the staff don’t speak that much English they are very helpful. It’s cheap, clean enough, has a nice market selling great fruit cocktails for B$5 and most importantly is safe. My only real criticism would be that the rooms are cold as they don’t get any sun during the day. There is a good mix of clientele too with various nationalities represented.
Hostel : 5 nights at B$50 per night (double room hence single supplement with toilet and shower), B$250
Food: B$385 of which B$35 was wine / beer.
Entertainment: B$865 (Biking, Cinema and Wrestling)
Transport: B$209 (B$130 of which is bus to Sucre)
Thermal pants: B$135
Total: B$1877 or £170. £28 per day.
It’s over budget, but removing biking (B$700) drops the totals to B$1177 = £107 or £17.83 per day – well within budget!
Click here to load a map showing you the location of this post and images from the digitallery taken nearby.