The Andean region of what is now Bolivia was originally part of the Inca Empire before Spanish colonization. Spain built much of the financial wealth of the empire on the silver mines in Bolivia. Bolivia was the first country in South America to call for independence, as early as 1809. War broke out for 16 years before they achieved independence, naming Bolivia after the leader Simon Bolivar. After many dictatorships, Bolivia became a democratic government in 1982. Although Sucre is the capital of Bolivia, La Paz is the financial center and seat of the government.
The most iconic place in La Paz is the Witches’ Market. It is an outdoor market full of indigenous women, called paseñas, who sell herbs and tonics for healing. They have passed down their knowledge of natural medicine for generations. Besides general medicinal plants, they also sell offerings for various local religious celebrations. One offering is called “La Challa,” where people offer alcohol, food, cigars, flowers, and coca leaves to the Pachamama, or Mother Earth. They dance and sing, then burn the pile in return for health, work, wealth, etc. Another offering is called “La Coa,” where people who are about to build a home offer a dead llama fetus.
The traditional Indigenous dress of Bolivian women is beautiful. Because the indigenous people believe that taking their photo can steal their soul, I obviously didn’t even bother asking. Instead, I found a photo on google to show the unique attire.
Calle Jaen is a well preserved colonial street featuring vibrant colored houses along a cobblestone road, dating from the 18th century.
The Basilica of San Francisco was built by many indigenous people who brought their own religious beliefs to the construction of the church. The engravings and sculptures decorating the front of the church represent the Pachamama, or Mother Earth, with the three levels of the Incas: heaven represented by the condor, earth represented by the puma, and the underworld represented by the snake.
Plaza Murillo is a central plaza surrounded by various political buildings, such as the National Congress, the Presidential Palace, and the Cathedral of La Paz.
One night we had dinner at Carrot Tree. The food was incredible and the views weren’t too shabby either.
We tried the traditional Bolivian dish called plato paseño, which is fava beans, potatoes, cheese, and fried beef. Chicha morada is a cinnamon infused drink made of fermented purple corn.
La Paz has been quite full of travel hiccups. On the morning of our flight from Lima to La Paz, we left our hotel at 2am. Our flight took off at around 5am, on time. When we were about 10 minutes from descending into Cuzco where we had a layover, the pilot informed us that we had to turn around and head back to Lima due to bad weather. Every flight in and out of Cuzco was canceled that entire morning. The LATAM airline counters were a nightmare. Thankfully, we got seats on a direct flight to La Paz that night… at midnight. LATAM kindly gave us vouchers for a taxi, hotel, and food for the day. Before heading out from the airport, we met this wonderful soul named Luisa who was in the same predicament. We spent the day with her, learning about her dynamic life story. In the end, we did lose another night’s sleep, but we gained a friend.
Because of presidential elections in Bolivia during our time in La Paz, our itinerary changed a bit which wasn’t bad by any means. But during our now extra day in La Paz, an ATM machine swallowed our card. After a brief freak out session, we both calmed down and thanked Pachamama for our back up debit cards. Phew! Both of these incidents were a chance to be grateful for how few instances like these we have had in our extensive travel history. We are quite lucky to have had smooth trips in the past.