La Paz is quite a biggie! Especially if you come from the rural, natural jungle into this chaotic, polluted jungle of cars, high buildings and thousands of people.
La Paz is the seat of the government with the highest altitude in the world and lies on 3.640 m. Its metropolitan area however is much bigger including suburbs and the not even 30 year old city of El Alto with over a million inhabitants. So you see it is huge and besides the inner center a big mess with poor infrastructure. The biggest reason for this is the rapid growth of the population in the last century and the urbanization of all the surroundings and a lot of people trying their luck in the cities and moving away from the countryside.
When we first reached La Paz we were about to go down to Oruro’s carnival, so we were okay with coming back later. But when we came back, we weren’t that impressed either. Haha Okay, this turns out to be a very negative post, but don’t let me blind you as I am talking about MY experience and I am not a “big city”-person. We met some (very few) people that actually loved the city, so keep reading. ;-)
We spent two days in La Paz in total. As we were not really in the mood of going into many museums, we decided to walk around a little bit. There is a quite creepy Witches Market close to the Plaza Mayor where they sell products for shaman rituals. The most noticeable objects were the alpaca fetuses in all sizes. The nicest place in La Paz in my opinion was the Plaza Murillo where we spent some time playing with the countless doves that conquer the square every day.
If you happen to be there too, and are a little bit sick of the Bolivian and Peruvian food, we totally recommend you to visit the Mexican restaurant La Cueva quite close to the Plaza Mayor and the San Francisco church. They have reasonably priced specials of the day and we went there TWICE! :D
Walking around in this city was pretty stressful, as there was no real organization but a lot of honking. So we thought we would take a small timeout and walk to a nearby park I spotted on the map. We could get some pretty impressive pictures of the city there, but I would not recommend you to go there because it is not really a nice place to be. ;-) (If you know what I mean!)
The city is placed in a huge basin with cliffy hills around it. With good weather you can sometimes spot the mountain range that is behind the city, which is pretty breathtaking. El Alto lies on top of that basin about 600 meters higher than the actual city of La Paz. Cable cars connect the two cities with each other. The cities are characterized by the unfinished brick houses crammed together under the dominant cable cars.
I myself found it really sad that such huge amounts of people are packed in a city that doesn’t really know what to do with its people. It is definitely overcrowded, underdeveloped and I am pretty sure the city councils have a hard time controlling the situation. Most of the people you saw weren’t happy according to their faces, there were many beggars and elderly people trying to sell all kinds of things. Of course, some of them might have grown up in this city and that’s there life but the tremendous growth of the population around the city suggests that many people moved to La Paz or El Alto to follow their dream or finding work. The sad thing is, there isn’t that much work. I could feel that those sad people were a trapped in their own lives, living in this ugly, stinky, cold city only to make a living, to survive. They were trapped in the system that promised them to get rich and happy when they moved to the city. A system that doesn’t work that way, especially not when there is no government that cares about it. I wasn’t very comfortable seeing that. I could feel the pressure, the bad feelings, throughout the people. I started developing the feeling that I was also caught in this invisible animal cage that seemed to control all of the people around me. I mean that is the poverty you are supposed to see when visiting countries like Bolivia, so you get an understanding for it. But to be honest, this was not poverty caused by too little resources, food etc. or people not working hard enough. I blame the country for this kind of poverty, for not taking care of basic support for its citizens. My guts told me leave to that place as soon as I could. And I did.
I hope I did not shock you with my interpretation of La Paz. Regardless, it was a unique experience that will be stuck in my head for quite some time now. I hope the situation gets better there soon, I really hope that for the people.