Few cities can boast such an impressive setting as La Paz. Architecturally, the city is no beauty. There are few surviving examples of colonial architecture. Furthermore, there is little in the way of classic tourist attractions – no great museums or art galleries. Yet La Paz is arguably the most fascinating metropolis in all of South America. What sets it apart are not only the sights, sounds and smells of the streets but the phenomenal views of the encircling mountains. Particularly towards dusk, you will be strolling through the centre of the city and casually look up and what you see will leave you awestruck: the sight of the triple-peaked Illimani, with its snow-capped peak ignited a blazing orange by the setting sun.
Lying huddled at the bottom of a huge canyon, the first view of La Paz is a sight that leaves most visitors breathless – literally – for La Paz stands at over 3500 m. Airborne visitors touch down at the highest commercial airport in the world, and can then play golf at the highest golf course in the world, or ski (just about) on the highest ski slope in the world.
Apart from its obvious highs, the other striking feature about La Paz is that it appears to be one gigantic street market. Every square inch of street space is taken up by Aymara women in traditional bowler hats and voluminous skirts squatted on their haunches yelling at passers-by to buy their wares. There is a vast array of handicrafts, entire markets devoted to fake designer labels, food and drink, bags of coca leaves – everything under the sun, in fact. There’s also a Witches Market, where you can find everything you need to put a spell on that annoying hotel guest or crooked tour operator, or even buy dried llama foetuses to bury in the foundations of a new house in order to rid it of evil spirits.