5 Things You Probably Don't Know About La Paz, Bolivia

Posted by   Annette on    April 7, 2014

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La Paz: The not-quite-capitol of Bolivia.

Yeah, it wasn't really on my radar, either. A couple of coincidences and a cheap flight, however, plunked me here more than a month ago -- and I fell instantly, thunderously in love.

This city is infinitely navigable on foot, constantly surprising, big-hearted and passionful, criss-crossed by shinily colorful women in top hats and a briskly commuting army of cheerful street dogs. It unfurls like a nubby carpet from the soaring Andean peaks that surround the cosmopolitan center, shot through with ribbons of effervescent murals, each telling the story of the residents' deep histories; each clamoring with dreams.

This is one hell of a place. And it ain't what you think it's gonna be.

1. It's not any more inherently unsafe that your own hometown.

If your general concept of Bolivia is of a grayish tapestry of poverty and yearning, you're in for a surprise. Sure, there's poverty -- but there's poverty in your country, too...and "poor" doesn't necessarily mean "tragic." Far from it. I've been spending my days here walking around at all hours of the day and night, and I have yet to be so much as hassled. I also have yet to meet an unfriendly Bolivian: this city is full of smiles and politeness (even for lurpy folk with sunburns and bad Spanish).

2. You aren't doomed to instant, crippling altitude sickness.

The La Paz airport, El Alto, sits at 4,000 meters over sea level. That, my friends, is HIGH. Luckily, most of the city sits in a valley about 500 meters lower, and altitude decreases the farther south you go. Traditional travel literature makes it sound like you're totally gonna die. Yeah, not so. If you're susceptible, you should definitely worry. However -- we flew in from sea level in Iquique and did just fine. The worst of it? Weird dreams. And the inability to run up flights of stairs. NBD.

IMG_8078.JPG3. It's home to maybe the best little hotel ever.

I've stayed in some lovely temporary homes in my life, but I was flat-out stunned by La Paz's Rendezvous Hotel. When I discovered this little gem, I was about to resign myself to overpriced, backpackery shabbiness in the tourist center (Sagarnaga). Luckily, I had to venture over to the Sopocachi neighborhood to take care of some embassy business. I noticed a wildly disproportionate number of excellent reviews for a hotel just around the corner, so I stopped in to quickly check it out. Holy crap. GORGEOUS. I couldn't book in fast enough.

The proprietors -- a longtime-resident American and his lovely Bolivian wife -- run the best family-style boutique hotel I've ever had the pleasure of staying in. The brand-new renovation has huge, comfy beds, terraces with sweeping city views (see photo to the right), thoughtful, personal decorative details and cozy places to tuck in for a day spent working on the stronger-than-standard Wi-Fi. The price? The same as I was paying for a creaky bed in a dark room on a Sagarnaga alleyway. So yeah. I will cry when I leave. Guaranteed.

4. The paragliding is badass.

IMG_8142.JPGWe connected with the guys at AndesXtremo, a set of three (absolutely awesome) brothers who run a tandem operation out of Sopocachi. They let us tag along with them to their home sites every day we wanted to go -- and even pulled us up to altitude for a few BASE hucks. The sites we flew are P2-appropriate, providing lots of bug-outs for new (or nervous) pilots, but provide miles and miles of thermal ridgeline for confident pilots to bubble along (as well as commodious landing areas). We were easily able to fly our mini-wing and speedwing as well as standard PG setups. Landings, of course, are faster than you're used to -- altitude, y'know -- but we were able to stand up every landing.

If you aren't a paraglider-person yet, reach out to AndesXtremo for a tandem. Having ridden in the front seat for a couple of half-flights, I can tell you from experience: these guys are good.

5. Nom nom nom nom nom nom nom.

First things first: Zach, the American proprietor at Rendezvous, is one helluva chef. (He has closed the restaurant on the street level of the hotel while he rearranges the menu -- here's hoping he reopens soon, as I was hard-pressed to go anywhere else for food. It's that good.)

The Sopocachi neighborhood is a foodie dream. We had standout set-price lunches at Restaurant Paladar, Restaurant Vegetariano Armonia and Namas Té. For dinner, head to the delightfully out-of-place (and un-Swissly priced) cheese wonderland at Swiss Fondue, or eat your weight in Argentinean beef at El Arriero. Oh -- and Claus Meyer opened a restaurant in the even-posher neighborhood right next door. Just sayin'.