Our combined Valle de Luna and tour was organised through Buho Travel (cost 50 Bolivianos).
The visit to Valle de Luna is first, then the minibus returns though La Paz, up the canyon walls and to El Alto, the Aymara city of adobe and breezeblocks. After a stop at a Tianda (general store), the tour climbs along a rocky, dusty road, slowly approaching Chacaltaya and snowcapped Huayna Potosi. The altiplano is pale yellow with tussocky grass.
A twisting road climbs up to the once upon a time Club Andino ski centre, disused since 1991 as the glacier has retreated. Now there is just ice and rocks. A rough trail leads to the summit . A slow tramp is the best way to achieve this climb. The view is well worth the exertion extending from snowy peaks, to flinty ridges and polychrome lakes in the valleys.
It is a long drive back to La Paz, but we stop at an overlook for great views down to the city in the canyon.
Killi Killi, located at Av. Las Banderas, is a lookout with stunning views of La Paz. The site was once a strategic point for Tupác Katari during his fight against the Spanish Empire in the early 1780s - and there is a large monument at the top, but I don't know if it has something to do with him...
The view is 360-degree panoramic, and one of the most recognizable buildings is the national stadium, ‘Estadio Hernando Siles’, with a capacity of around 45,000 spectators. I wanted to attend a football game in La Paz, but the weekend I visited was reserved for internationals, and there were no games in the league – and Bolivia didn’t play at home...
Killi Killi Hill is a site with religious significance for the Indians. The view is great—all of La Paz is spread out below. There is a monument on top that combines a Spanish arch with Indian carvings, symbolizing togetherness.
You can get most of the way by vehicle, and then there are several flights of stairs to the top
Wander the streets and you will still find stalls where strange items are sold such as foetus of animals which are used in ceremonies for good luck. There are also herbal medicines and aphrodisiacs, all of which originate from the beliefs of the Aymara people. You can have the witch cast a spell, a cure from your illness or read the future by the witch doctor (yatari). Even though many Bolivians are catholic they still believe in this practice.
The Metropolitan Cathedral, built in 1835 is located next to the Presidential Palace, on Murillo Square.
It is one of the few cathedrals in South America that allows photography (without flash). Unfortunately it is quite dark inside.
Tyahuanacu is located 70 kilometers to the north of La Paz city, is an open sky museum site and the visits start at 9 am and is closed at 5 pm. The height over the sea level is 4.000 meters. Take it easy, drink a lot of "mate de coca" and slow down.
The place is astonishing, nobody knows who built it, how or why.
The mistery is floating continuously around you, and the silence is your partner.
Of course, try to be alone, not with a rented tour full of dumbs taking pictures with them inside dressed with furious colors. Have respect for the site.
The Underground Square, The Faces, the Sun Door, the Moon Door, the Main Door of the temple... take your time trying to listen the voice of the wind and you'll feel very strange emotions.
If you are expecting a dense green forest surronding this lake like the swiss style impose, you're wrong.
You are in the Altiplano, one of the highest and dryest deserts of the planet. Even so, the lake is beautiful. And huge.
You can rent a boat and visit some of the islands, and you'll know a different world with different people, of course.
This famous lake is located at 70 kilometers to the northeast of La Paz.
I recommend eat the trouts of the lake prepared by Pedro. Ask for this old man or his wife (la mujer de Pedro), everybody knows him (I hope he still alive)
I'm currently living in La Paz and working in a hostel and a gringo bar (Oliver's Travels, come and stop by if you've not been yet!), so I get asked a lot for recommendations... which company to recommend depends on which activity you want to have a go at.
For the Death Road, Gravity has the best reputation and safety record, but it's also by far the most expensive (about 750Bs). other good companies include Madness, and ProDownhill, and they are a lot cheaper (400-500Bs). When shopping around, check the bikes and also make sure the price you pay includes a full-face helmet, pads and a bike with twin suspension... the cheaper ones sometimes charge extra for those things, making it pointless going with them.
For the trek to Huayna Potosí, i would personally recommend Travel Tracks on the corner of Sarganaca (the road next to the San Francisco Church) and Murillo. Some of their guides are Bolivian Mountain Rescue people, and the rest have all been trained to an equally high standard. It's a very professional outfit and I have sent several people their way for this trek, all of whom have had a good time whether they made it or not. If you can afford the time, do the 3 day trek, as the success rate for 2-dayers is only just over 50%, but it's mearer 85% for the 3-dayers. plus the first day of ice climbing is greatg fun!
If you have some spare time (or like us being trapped in La Paz due to strikes) visit the highest ski area in the world even if it is summer time. Ski area is overexaggerated as there is only one lift on top of a dying glacier, global warming is taking it's toll there as well. The piste is 700m long and runs from 5320m to about 4900m. The ski lift was built in 1940 and in 1994 an old ski lift from Italy was imported as a replacement.
You can hike to the top of Chacaltaya with 5425m (measured with our altitude watch). It is only a 200m hike but you will feel the altitude. It is a nice but barren view.
You can book a trip to Chacaltaya with a tour agency in La Paz. It is about 10$ and the drive takes 90 Minutes (some rough roads) and offers some nice panoramas and you will see a lot of Bolivians giving offerings to the gods out in the fields.
Yatiri (a witch-doctor) is a person who reads fortunes from coca leaves. He introduces himself to the spirits and observes the past, present, future, health and illness of the person who consults him.
Coca leaves are the divine connection between the Andean Gods and the earthly world. Much like a type of wine that people sip in churches to be connected with the Western God.
Unfortunately, there are not many people who knows how to read coca leaves anymore. But I managed to locate one - Maestro Crespo, and it was such a fascinating experience to have my fortune told from the placement of fallen coca leaves!
Bolivia is famous for its street parades with astounding costumes and masks.
Personally, I happened to catch one along Av Buenos Aires. It was organised by the Unions of Street Vendors.
These street vendors form unions based on the products they sell, and are controlled and organised by leaders. The number is so huge that the vendors are actually a very powerful political group. I had never thought of them in that way. I just thought of them as poor dears who had to work on the streets selling things that everyone else is selling and wondered how in the world they could make a living.
Before, the residents of La Paz used to complain about the sheer number of street vendors. They dirty the streets with the rubbish, they make a lot of noise, they set up their stalls on both sides of the pavements making it impossible to walk, they sometimes even set up on the road itself, making driving dangerous, they block the entrances to all the legitimate shops which pay taxes… But as they are so many and so powerful, the vendors defended themselves, protesting that they are very poor and this is the only way to make a living, hence, there was nothing the authorities could do to remove them.
And while they claim to be very poor, they sure have the budget to set aside to buy some amazing costumes, accessories and some serious loads of beer to do the procession today.
For each union, for example… I saw the flags for the union of those who sell cloth and of those who sell ‘various articles’, there was a band making a lot of awful music. The pear-shaped cholas were dressed in coordinated outfits - the multi-layered flouncy polleras (skirts), the bowler hats, many of which were pinned with gold ornaments, and the absolutely gorgeous intricately-embroidered shawls. I tell you, these were some very expensive costumes!!! These cholas did their coordinated swirls, to the music, making it quite a pretty sight to see the long skirts swirling across the street.
Public buses to Copacabana, Tiahuanaco, etc... leave from the Cemetery district. So, if you are heading to Tiahuanaco for a day-trip, there is no avoiding this place.
In general, this place is not too safe. Do watch out for fake police, fake immigration officers, even fake tourists who are in cahoots with taxis and assorted accomplices. Be aware of the smear scam as well.
The Cemetery district is a very busy neighbourhood with more street stalls and hives of activities sprouting up everywhere.
Avenida Buenos Aires is the main street heading south-east from the Cemetery district and it is one of the liveliest and most colourful streets in the Indian quarter, where workshops make intricately-embroidered costumes and loud over-the-top masks for the Gran Poder festival.
Northwest of Plaza Murillo, you will come across some steep streets that will cause you to huff and puff as you climb.
One of the most charming one is Calle Jaen, which is a picturesque colonial street with restaurants, shops selling handicrafts and several museums housed in colonial buildings.
The museums are:
- Museo Costumbrista: Displays showcasing the history of La Paz and famous Paceños (people from La Paz), also a miniature replica of reed rafts used by the Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl who used a reed raft to sail to the Pacific Islands to prove ancient migration.
- Museo del Litoral Bolivano: Artefacts of War of the Pacific and some old maps
- Museo de Metales Preciosos: Inca gold artefaces, cermics and archaeological exhibits.
- Museo Casa Murillo: Paintings, furniture and national costumes.
The amazing Mercado de Hechiceria (or Witches' Market) located on both Calles Jimenez and Linares is the most interesting place to visit in La Paz.
This is a bizarre group of stalls selling all sorts of fascinating little charms which promise to improve your health, wealth, career, love life, protect you from demons, etc..., herbs, items used for praying and assorted rituals.
The most memorable item must be the llama foetuses... little dried-up blackish mini-sized llamas. This is considered to be good luck when moving house. You should bury it in the garden or under the foundation of the house to bring you prosperity. But do note that if you buy it, you might have some explaining to do at customs.
Do not miss this market as it is an important part of the Bolivian culture.
At the end of the Gravity bike ride, you arrive at this amazing little place in the jungle.
They have food, hot showers, and accomodation.
They also have loads of animals, some on leads, some behind fences, but many of them run free, so watch out for monkeys who might swoop down and steal your food.
Lovely place who are always looking for people to help out.
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