We boarded a Trans Azul bus from Cochabamba headed to La Paz, the highest administrative capital in the world after an interesting few days. We were pretty excited but had no idea what to expect. The ticket cost us the equivalent of just $8 US dollars each and would take us about 8 hours. All in all not too long, by this point we had taken so many overnight buses it was quite honestly nice travelling through the day and being able to see some of the landscape. The journey was pleasant (yet again) and we were entertained by a cute little boy sitting on the seat in front of us. Everything was going smoothly until we started to climb to really high altitudes. We reached 5000m near the airport (one of highest in the world) in La Paz and suddenly I felt so violently ill and was sweating like mad. At first I completely forgot all about the altitude and thought I had eaten something dodgy. Of course later on I realised I had terrible altitude sickness.
We arrived in La Paz and found a taxi. The city was breathtaking, covered for miles in sparkly lights up the mountain sides and cable cars whizzing around over head in the sky. We made it to our hostel – York Vintage and were pleasantly surprised. We had a huge room in a very secure hotel for the bargain price of £16 a night. Good location too.
That night I spent violently throwing up and really struggling with the pain, so unlike me but it was one of the worst sicknesses I’d ever had. The next morning I sent Jack out looking for some remedies. In Bolivia the locals swear by chewing and drinking cocoa leaves (the leaves that eventually are made into cocaine). Honestly the cocoa leaves in boiling water really did bring a lot of relief for me, I was shocked. I absolutely hated eating them though and even to this day I can’t smell them, I swear it made me feel even more ill!
We took a day to recover and try and get over the illness, even when Jack first went out to take a walk he was hit with such high altitude that he was struggling to breathe or function so we knew the next few days would be quite the challenge!
The following day I had still completely lost my appetite but we headed out to explore. As soon as we went outside honestly I pretty overwhelmed. It was really cold, the sky grey, the buildings were so imposing and the streets packed. Every corner we turned was another huge hill and by the time we reached the top we were so out of breath we felt sick. How would we ever get used to this? We stumbled across a great cafe called Higher Ground Cafe, a backpackers spot and I couldn’t even eat the delicious lunch! (It was an amazing wrap by the way one of the best spots to eat in La Paz for sure).
We took a diversion and headed to The famous Witches Market. This is a place famed for shopping and buying unusual remedies and Bolivian potions to cure well anything and everything. It was super fascinating and SO cheap. It also had tonnes of amazing alpaca wool jumpers at bargain prices and I could have bought everything really! I settled for some coca sweets, which also were a life saver over the next few weeks. In the witches market there is also a museum of coca but was unfortunately shut every time we visited so we missed out!
The next day we woke to a huge protest going on in La Paz. We couldn’t believe it because we had experienced a protest in EVERY capital city in South America so far and couldn’t believe our luck! Honestly lots of people worry about safety for tourists during protests on this continent but the safety fears are regarding the police getting out of hand and not the actual protesters. The protest was regarding the upcoming election. Apparently the current president had run his maximum amount of terms and was forcing for an extra term despite the obvious restrictions…
We decided that we would continue exploring and made our way to the San Francisco Church in the Plaza San Francisco. We had to wind our way through thousands of people to get to the front door, but hey the protest was on which meant it was quiet! For a small fee the church requires you to take a tour on your route round, which was in English.
The church standing today in Plaza San Francisco is not entirely the original. Even before the founder of La Paz, Alonzo de Mendoza reached the valley in 1548, the Franciscans had already settled there. The chief of Quirquincha donated land on the former bank of the Choqueyapu river to the Franciscans, for construction of a church. This construction began in 1549 and finished in 1581. By 1612, this first church had collapsed after extreme snowfall in the region and was left untouched until the 18th century. Between 1743 and 1744 the construction of the present church began and by 1753 was finished. This is the church we see today.
It’s honestly a really beautifully decorated church and is admired throughout Bolivia for its intricately carved facade and blending of catholic and native art. It was actually built entirely by indigenous Aymara workers.
The tour even took us onto the rooftops through steep staircases and the bell tower which gave us amazing views of the city and the protest which was heating up below!
Amazing views on the rooftops
A mix of old and new
The protest building below
So strange to be on top of a quiet rooftop and overlooking the build up of the protest
That afternoon we decided to check out Kalakitas Mexican Food n´Drinks after spotting it on TripAdvisor to try and satisfy our Mexican food cravings. We had some great nachos and a burrito followed by lots of margaritas on happy hour. Would definitely recommend. Due to the cold and lack of cold weather wear with us in La Paz we didn’t feel too inspired to stay out and investigate the nightlife but all I’ve ever heard is that La Paz is actually very quiet at night so I guess we didn’t miss much!
Our favourite experience in La Paz that really can’t be beaten anywhere in the world is riding the Mi Teleferico – La Paz’s Cable Car System. It’s truly an absolute unique masterpiece. Over our last two days in La Paz we rode ALL of the lines flying high above the smoggy city. Truthfully I found the city in general to be quite depressing and quite claustrophobic so flying high above it being able to see the thousands upon thousands of ramshackle terra-cotta-red buildings it takes on an almost beautiful quality. There really is nothing else in the world like it – nor a city so uniquely suited for such an ambitious project.
It is important to add the cable cars in La Paz play an important role in transporting the people of La Paz from A to B and are not just there as a tourism attraction. This means riding the cable cars at peak time are extremely busy but also very cheap. It’s just £0.30 a ticket per ride. The rides last between 20-30 mins so it’s honestly such amazing value. You are able to buy multiple tickets at the desk at once. The stations are extremely safe, clean and full of staff to help you, I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. The cars are also unbelievably open for a cool 17 hours a day and run SO smoothly that you’ll be able to get a car of your own on many occasions.
I would suggest you go to the top end stations on the cliffs of El Alto also passing thousands of market stalls for miles (extremely high so make sure you have your altitude sickness under control by then) to have a panoramic view of the city below, you could head up there for sunset and return in the evening. There really was nothing like pulling out from the station and watching as a million lights glisten as you drop back down to La Paz.
Once again I’ll let my photos do the talking:
We got our own car on nearly every line!
Views on views on views
Overcrowded La Paz below
One of my favourite photos I’ve EVER taken!
You could honestly spend a whole day or two riding these cable cars
Is this real life?
After a mixed experience in La Paz we decided it was time to head out to somewhere not only more relaxed but a least a little LOWER where we wouldn’t have to fight with altitude it was time to head towards Lake Titicaca: the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,812m. Lake Titicaca sits between the border between Peru and Bolivia in the Andes Mountains so this would be the place we say bye to Bolivia and head into our country number 7 of South America. Titicaca is said to be the actual birthplace of the Incas, and it’s home to numerous ruins. Its waters are famously still and brightly reflective.
Copacabana is the town that sits on the lake on the Bolivian side and it was quite the interesting journey to get there! We boarded a Trans Titicaca bus from the central bus station costing us the equivalent of $8 US dollars each. The journey took about 4 hours to reach the Tiquina Strait where the whole bus was loaded onto a ferry to cross. It was so bizarre seeing the the bus floating away with all our stuff on it. We had to jump on a speedboat which cost an extra $0.50 each and took about 15 minutes! Safely on the other side we jumped back on the bus for about an hour with beautiful views of the huge sparkling lake.
Buses floating over towards Titicaca
We arrived in Copacabana and we had booked Hotel Utama which was just a short walk from the Main Street where the bus drops you off. It was £19 a night for a double room, breakfast and private bathroom which was more than adequate. We immediately liked the vibe as soon as we arrived at Titicaca, it was relaxed, the fresh air was such an assault on our lungs after la Paz and the restaurants and bars were buzzing. Admittedly we knew there wasn’t much to do here apart from pretty much just hang out at the lake but we were keen to see what it was all about. Copacabana is a popular destination for Bolivians to holiday so the waterfront is filled with lots of locals having picnics (huge meals of meat and potatoes definitely no sandwiches in sight) and also dressed very inappropriately for the sun (hats, scarves, tights etc..) it was quite amusing. The shops are really cheap and the food is very affordable.
Not the most beautiful place we’ve ever been but a great bargain spot
On our first day exploring we found a whole string of local fish restaurants on the waterfront, they offered a whole fresh water trout and chips for just £2.70. It was SO delicious and much better than the food offered in the touristy restaurants.
Trout topped with onions and chillis
On our second day we decided to take a hike around the lake, because we assumed that was what you should do. The lake was indeed how they describe and very sparkly. It was super relaxing… up until the point when we had at least 15 stay dogs following us. They weren’t just following us either they were all over us and we couldn’t even walk any longer. I got super stressed and we reached a beach area which was really gorgeous but there was another load of dogs waiting there and they all were trying to fight each other, all very weird really. We even passed a local lady who was on the side of the mountain with her alpaca and one of the dogs who followed us started trying to attack her alpaca and she threw huge rocks at the dog. It was just a nightmare and I just wanted to go back to the hotel. Sounds dramatic but it is was honestly really weird and I got pretty creeped out. We also had a dog with us that went insane every time a motorbike drove past and it started trying to bite the guy on the back. No doubt the locals thought the dogs had something to do with us but we were honestly just trying to take a walk and it went so wrong!
On the disastrous walk
On our third and last day I spotted a lady with her adorable baby alpacas at the waterfront and thought I’d go in for some pics. The lady asked for 5 bolivianos about £0.50 which is pretty good on her part for one pic. I took the photo and next minute she’s coming after us asking us for more and a different price. She wouldn’t leave us alone. We were royally pissed off and simply said no, its not about the money but trying to rip us off didn’t feel great. Anyway the pics were a success and I’ll forever love them.
Fluffy ones. Love the earrings though.
We headed to the Main Street that evening to find a bus that would cross us into Peru and into the city of Puno on the other side of Lake Titicaca. We found a bus that would leave the following morning for $8 US dollars each. All very easy. It’s the main service in Copacabana but for the life of me I cannot remember the name of the company.
Truthfully the next day we didn’t feel ready to leave Bolivia. We never feel ready to leave a country but we knew it was the right thing to do, simply because we knew we would find better than Lake Titicaca in the rest of South America, more beauty and more activities. Copacabana was a cool spot but I found it pretty boring overall, it was super tacky with lots of Peruvians and Bolivians on pedallos and banana boats, the lake was nice but I reckon I’ve seen much better lakes in my time. I was shocked when I heard how much many people love it. We like having lots to do so it’s probably not the ideal place for us to be. Isla Del Sol is the famous place to head to from Copacabana with amazing sunsets but unfortunately half the island was closed when we were there so we decided to give it a skip.
An interesting experience
So it was 8am in Copacabana and we threw our bag on board and jumped on the bus. It’s always a surreal feeling knowing you’re crossing a border in just a few hours to a new country. So exciting but also a feeling you never get used to.