Destination guide: La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz is the capital of Bolivia and is located in the heart of the altiplano and in the foothills of the snowcapped Illimani Mountain. Here, you can see how the Aymaran race greatly influenced the growth of this multi-racial country in South America. La Paz has a rich architectural legacy inherited from the colonial era, combined with archaeology in Tiwanaku and the art and folklore of its villages. From here, you can visit Moon Valley, the snowcapped Chacaltaya Mountain and famous Lake Titicaca.

  • La Paz - Practical Information

    Orientation

    It is just about impossible to get yourself lost in La Paz. There is only one major thoroughfare and it follows the Río Choqueyapu canyon . The main thoroughfare changes names several times from the top to the bottom: Avs Ismael Montes, Mariscal Santa Cruz, 16 de Julio (the Prado) and Villazón. Quite often the section is simply referred to as ‘El Prado.’ At the lower end of the thoroughfare, the street divides into Avs 6 de Agosto and Aniceto Arce.

    The business districts and the wealthier neighborhoods – with their skyscrapers, colonial houses and modern glass constructions – occupy the city’s more tranquil lower altitudes (which is the reverse of many US and European cities). The best preserved colonial section of town is near the intersection of Calles Jaén and Sucre, where narrow cobbled streets and colonial churches offer a glimpse of early La Paz. The most prestigious neighborhoods are found further down in the canyon in Zona Sur (Southern Zone, which includes the neighborhoods of Obrajes, La Florida, Calacoto, San Miguel and Cotacota, as well as a growing throng of other barrios. Numbered streets run perpendicular to the main road in Zona Sur, making navigation easier; the numbers increase from west to east.

    Above the city center and Zona Sur, and still very much part of La Paz, are the cascades of cuboid, mud and brick dwellings and ever-growing neighborhoods, which literally spill over the canyon rim and down the slopes on three sides. This is where much of the daily hustle and bustle takes place, with all sorts of sights, sounds and smells. Above this, stretching for miles away from the canyon’s rim across the Altiplano, is the city of El Alto. If you find yourself becoming disoriented up here and want to return to the center, just head downhill.

    Currency

    Boliviano

    Language

    Spanish, Guaraní, Quechua

    Timezone

    UTC/GMT -4

    Weights & Measures

    Metric

    Visas

    Passports must be valid for six months beyond the date of entry. Entry or exit stamps are free, and attempts at charging should be met with polite refusal; ask for a receipt if the issue is pressed. Personal documents – passports and visas – must be carried at all times, especially in lowland regions. It’s safest to carry photocopies rather than originals.

    Bolivian visa requirements can be arbitrarily changed and interpreted. Regulations, including entry stays, are likely to change. Each Bolivian consulate and border crossing may have its own entry procedures and idiosyncrasies.

    In 2007, as an act of reciprocity, the government introduced visas for US citizens visiting Bolivia (a 90-day visa valid for five years costs US$135). It is possible to obtain the visa upon arrival in Bolivia but check with the Bolivian embassy ([tel] (202)-483-4410, (202)-328-3712; www.bolivia-usa.org, in Spanish; 3014 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC) before traveling.

    Citizens of most South American and Western European countries can get a tourist card on entry for stays up to 90 days (depending on the nationality). Citizens of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan are granted 30 days, while citizens of Israel are granted 90 days. This is subject to change; always check with your consulate prior to entry. If you want to stay longer, you have to extend your tourist card (easily accomplished at the immigration office in any major city with a letter requesting the extension; it’s free for some nationalities – for others, it costs B$198 per 30-day extension). The maximum time travelers are permitted to stay in the country is 180 days in one year. Alternatively, you can apply for a visa. Visas are issued by Bolivian consular representatives, including those in neighboring South American countries. Costs vary according to the consulate and the nationality of the applicant but hover around B$2500.

    In addition to a valid passport and visa, citizens of many Communist, African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries require ‘official permission’ from the Bolivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs before a visa will be issued.

    Customs

    When entering Bolivia you can bring in most articles duty-free. There’s also a enforced duty-free allowance of 200 cigarettes and 1L of alcohol per person.

    Business Hour

    Few businesses open before 9am, though markets stir as early as 6am and some are open on Sunday mornings. Banks are open between 9am and 4pm on weekdays (Banco de Crédito is open till 6pm); in smaller towns, they close for lunch. Cities virtually shut down between noon and 3pm, except markets and restaurants serving lunch-hour crowds. Hours between eateries vary. If you have urgent business to attend to, don’t wait until the weekend as most offices will be closed.

    Electricity overview

    European plug with two circular metal pins

    Electricity overview (european)

    Two parallel flat blades above a large circular grounding pin

    Electricity overview ( Two parallel)