La Paz

La Paz is the political and commercial heart of Bolivia and the capital in all but name (technically, that honour belongs to Sucre)

With a population of around 835,000, La Paz is the political and commercial heart of Bolivia and the capital in all but name (technically, that honour belongs to Sucre). Though shielded in the tides of globalization to some extent by its isolation and striking ethnic make up, La Paz feels very much a part of the twenty-first century, its manic bustle and offbeat, cosmopolitan feel luring travellers back time and again. Founded as a centre of Spanish power in the Andes, La Paz has always had a dual identity, with two quite distinct societies – the indigenous and the European – coexisting in the same geographic space. Hitech government offices and international banks rub shoulders with lively street markets selling all manner of ritual paraphernalia for appeasing the mountain and spirits gods that still play a fundamental role in the lives of the indigenous Aymara.

La Paz is dizzying in every respect, not only for its well-publicized elevation (3660m), but for its quirky beauty. Most travelers enter this incredible city through the flat sparse plains of the sprawling city of El Alto, an approach that conceals the spectacular surprises of the valley below. The very first glimpse of La Paz will take your breath away. The buildings in the city cling to the sides of spill and the canyon spectacularly downwards. On a clear day, the distinguished showy, white Mt Illimani (6402m) looms in the background.

Although Sucre stays the judicial capital, La Paz – Bolivia’s biggest city and centre for industry, finance and trade – is the governmental (some say ‘de facto’) capital. Although in reality an expansion of urban La Paz, El Alto’s continuing inflow of immigrants – mainly seeking work – means it’s morphed into one of the fastest growing cities of Latin America. La Paz must be savored over time, not only to acclimatize to the elevation, but to experience the many faces in the city.

Drift at leisure through the alleys and marketplaces that are dynamic, marvel in the interesting museums, relax over a coffee at a trendy cafe or chat to the locals in a comedor.Since La Paz is sky-high, warm clothing is desired most of the year in the evenings. In summer (November to April) the climate might be brutal: rains most afternoons, the canyon may fill with clouds and steep roads frequently become torrents of run off.