La Paz Bolivia: The Highest Capital in the World

Comments Off on La Paz Bolivia: The Highest Capital in the World

La Paz, Bolivia is the oft-mentioned “highest capital in the world,” situated at 11,975 feet above sea level, or roughly twice as high as Denver, Colorado. This might not mean anything to you if you’ve never spent time at high elevation.

It will, however, upon your first attempt at walking through the city, which is sprawled out over the entirely of a bowl-shaped crater on a vast Andean plateau. Altitude sickness — or, at the very least, altitude wooziness — affects all but the extremely lucky. If you get get winded walking any of the city’s few level paths, a jaunt up to any of its viewing decks should do the trick.

Of course, you shouldn’t be intimidated: Bolivia is more than the city of La Paz; and La Paz’s elevation doesn’t make it unbearable just difficult. Indeed, the country’s being the de-facto roof of the world has its benefits — namely some of the biggest, thickest skies you’ve ever seen.

5532657151 aa867a04f9 Bolivia: The Roof

No matter how you enter the city of La Paz, it’s difficult not to get a sense of the city’s grandeur. La Paz sprawls out over an area of more than 180 square miles, blanketing the entirety of an indented Andean plateau. If you fly in — I didn’t, so this is just conjecture — you can see the whole city in the context of the descending staircases of mountains that emanate outward from it. Otherwise, make your way to any of the many viewing points in La Paz, to which your hostel owner (I recommend Loki, obviously) can direct you.

5604814891 87ec0c0d49 Bolivia: The Roof

First time in La Paz? Take it easy, then, particularly if you aren’t arriving from some other high city, such as Cusco, Peru where I came from. Altitude sickness strikes regardless of physical fitness and if you fall victim to it, it’s difficult to get rid of it completely. You can stave off most of the symptoms, however, by walking slowly and chewing coca leaves (which are available at all markets in La Paz) when the nausea becomes unbearable. Don’t get discouraged by all the local schoolchildren passing you by as you climb — they’re tougher than they look.

5532603107 1befe83cf3 Bolivia: The Roof

One of my favorite things about La Paz — and Bolivia as a whole — is the fact that a very conspicuous majority of its residents are of an indigenous background, which creates a calming, relaxed vibe, in spite of the city’s huge population and reputation for being dangerous. Of course, the native we’re talking about have long ago been converted to Christianity and taught Spanish, but it’s nonetheless cool to take a trip over to the aptly-named “Witch’s Market,” where maybe heretics sell items as ordinary as bags and t-shirts and as bizarre as mummified baby goats.

5541857168 a8c9fca6bb Bolivia: The Roof

One of the strangest (and coolest) things I noticed about La Paz was an abundance of zebras — well, men and women in zebra costumes anyway. I’m just as unsure as to what the striped horses were doing (some appeared to be directing traffic, while others were clearly in if for the Bolivianos) as I am whether or not this cultural aberration has anything to do with the country’s elevation. Nonetheless, seeing them was literally a first and, as of yet, last for me.

5532998763 4baecfca86 Bolivia: The Roof

I didn’t have the time to see any of the (allegedly cool) cities near La Paz, such as Sucre or Santa Cruz, so my second stop was a place most tourists end up anyway: the Uyuni Salt Flats, known in Spanish as Salar de Uyuni. As you can see from the picture above the salt flats, formed somewhere around 10,000 years ago when the Andes were being born, don’t need a lot of introduction. The atmosphere is thin at this elevation, producing extremely beautiful skies that reflect even more beautifully on the water that pools per the salt during the wet season. The only unfortunate part about the Salar is that it isn’t really possible to go there without a tour — and most tours allow you to traipse around for no longer than a half-hour before whisking you off to your next stop. Enjoy it while it lasts — and take lots of pictures.

5681221287 1d9667e450 Bolivia: The Roof

The Salar de Uyuni is without a doubt — but with good reason — the biggest tourist attraction in Bolivia and one of the most popular in South America. As this collection of flags located near the aptly-named “Salt Hotel” in the middle of the flats shows, tourists from all parts of the world end up here. The day I visited one of them was Bruno, a Peruvian guy I knew only through Facebook and was planning to visit in Santiago, Chile (where he lived then) the following week. Of course I’m a sucker for serendipity, so even if the rest of the tour hadn’t been incredible, running into an online friend in the middle-of-nowhere Bolivia would’ve been worth the trek on its own.

5533070612 afc22c0c9e Bolivia: The Roof

After you finish up at the Salt Flats themselves, which are the first stop of the tour regardless of which duration you choose, you head southwest through the wilderness of southwestern Bolivia, which is uninhabited and uninhabitable — if you’re a human, anyway. Among the most prevalent creatures you encounter here are pink flamingoes, of which I saw far more in a single day than I did living in Florida the better part of three years. Flamingos make their homes on most of the volcanic lakes you stop at on your tour, so your chances of seeing some close enough to photograph them are good, particularly if you use a lens that zooms to at least 200mm.

5532523367 48bec776e2 Bolivia: The Roof

The last notable site of the tour was the Laguna Colorada, a massive lake with a bright red/orange surface that derives from a high concentration of red algae. Like much of the rest of the scenery that exists in southwestern Bolivia, Laguna Colorada has an otherworldly aesthetic, owing largely to the vast, open spaces and towering mountains that extend outward from it in all directions. Aside from the barebones hostel where we spent the night — electricity was only available for a few hours every night; and the beds were little more than concrete sleds — no permanent human habitation exists near the lake, which is located just before the entrance of a national park that exits into Chile. It was a fitting end to my brief time in Bolivia, one that was defined by grandeur and splendor in all its forms.

Read More Share

Recent Author Posts

Join Our Community

Connect On Social Media

Most Popular Posts

We Blog The World

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!