La Paz is the administrative capital of Bolivia, as well as the departmental capital of La Paz Department. Is located approximately at 3600 meters above sea level.
Founded in 1548 by Alonso de Mendoza at the site of the Native American settlement called Chuquiago, the full name of the city was originally Nuestra Señora de La Paz (meaning Our Lady of Peace). The name commemorated the restoration of peace following the insurrection of Gonzalo Pizarro and fellow conquistadors two years earlier against Blasco Núñez Vela, the first viceroy of Peru. In 1825, after the decisive victory of the republicans at Ayacucho over the Spanish army in the course of the South American Wars of Independence, the city’s full name was changed to La Paz de Ayacucho (meaning The Peace of Ayacucho).
In 1898, La Paz was made the de facto seat of the national government, with Sucre remaining the nominal capital only. This change reflected the shift of the Bolivian economy away from the largely exhausted silver mines of Potosí to the exploitation of tin near Oruro, and resulting shifts in the distribution of economic and political power among various national elites.
The city is situated in a chasm below a plateau at an altitude of 3600m alongside the La Paz river. On the plateau is the city of El Alto; the international airport is also located there.
As of the 2001 census, the city of La Paz had a population of about one million.
Valle de la Luna
Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) is situated about 10 kilometers from downtown La Paz, in the Pedro Domingo Murillo Province, La Paz Department, Bolivia. It comprises an area where erosion has worn away the majority of a mountain, composed primarily of clay rather than rock, leaving tall spires. It is similar to another zone of La Paz that is known as El Valle de las Animas (The Valley of the Souls). It[clarification needed] is an important site of the famous holiday, Dias de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
Because the mineral content of the mountains varies greatly between individual mountains, the sides of the mountains are different colors, creating striking optical illusions. A majority of them are a clear beige or light brown color, but some are almost red, with sections of dark violet.
There are three types of shared public transportation in La Paz: regular buses or “micros”; shared vans, called “mini buses”, and shared taxis running set routes advertised on the windshield, called “trufis”. The former cost Bs 1,30 while the second are Bs 1,50-2,30 depending on duration. A trufi will generally cost you Bs 3-3.50. All types have their routes indicated on the windshield, but mini buses have the bonus of fare collectors hanging out the side, yelling out routes in a rapid, auctioneer-like manner. You can hail a bus or mini bus anywhere; to get off, just yell out “¡voy a bajar!”
The easiest way to get around is by taxi. They aren’t metered, so agree on a fare before boarding; a ride within downtown should be about Bs 6-8. If you want to go further, ask two or more taxi drivers before boarding. A normal ride by taxi from downtown to a place within the city won’t cost more than Bs 20.
Make sure that the taxi has a yellow sticker on the windshield and rear paasenger side window that displays a 4 figure number. That is the only surefire way to ensure you are getting into a geniune registered taxi, and not a dangerous ‘gypsy taxi’. Gypsy taxis may have taxi painted on the side of the car, and even have the boarding on the roof, always look for the yellow stickers.
If you ever find yourself to be lost, in general the easiest thing is to simply walk downhill. You will eventually find yourself on the Prado or another main avenue, then You’ll be able to take a taxi to the downtown, if you are on the south side of the city (Zona sur).
By rental car
There are a few of the large car rental companies in La Paz, both at the airport and downtown, including Avis and Budget. A Suzuki Jimny costs $59/day with Budget and cars seem to be in very good order. Beware of extra charges when you return the vehicle to Budget. The roads around La Paz can be unpaved and so the car can get a little dusty inside and outside, we were asked for an extra $57 to clean the car. Renting a 4×4 is very much recommended as the surrounding area is stunning, visit Chacaltaya and the Valle de Las Animas.
You can do day trips around La Paz by bicycle. You can do the famous death road by your own bicycle by taking a minibus (25 bs incl. the bike) from the bus terminal on Av. Ramiro Castillo to La Cumbre, then cycle down to Coroico and take a minibus back (30 bs with the bike) to the same terminal. Check your brakes! You can take your bike to Chacaltaya (5300 masl) and climb the remaining 150 altitude meters on foot. Take the autopista to El Alto and follow the road to Chacaltaya. Alternatively, take the autopista to just after it makes a sharp turn, take the first local street to the right (a sharp right turn by a pedestrian bridge over the highway) and follow that street up until it turns to gravel and you reach a school called Siete Lagunas. Turn right and follow the signs to Zongo first, then to Chacaltaya. You can also take your bike to Zongo pass with fantastic views of lakes, dams and peaks. This is for well acclimatized people. Check your brakes!
All pictures by the author
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