Nourish yourself by challenging yourself in La Paz, Bolivia
NOURISH YOURSELF BY CHALLENGING YOURSELF IN LA PAZ, BOLIVIA
Why would La Paz, Bolivia of all places be one of my favorite travel destinations? Because it was a beautifully tough place to live for a month, offering some once-in-a-lifetime adventure tourism and no better way to nourish yourself than to challenge yourself. I highly recommend taking a break from sunny beach vibe destinations and taking a chance and challenging yourself in this uniquely bizarre and ridiculously beautiful country that you will never forget.
Avoiding altitude sickness
La Paz, Bolivia sits at 12,000 ft above sea level, making it the highest capital in the world. According to research, there is no rhyme or reason why some get altitude sickness versus others. It is highly recommended to take the first week very easy. Easy as in no alcohol, eat lighter meals and avoid any exercise. The first week – minus a mild daily headache and fatigue, not to mention a 10 minute walk feeling like I ran a half marathon – I felt great and excited to be there. I prepared by staying fully hydrated drinking 2 liters of water a day as well as taking raw maca pills, gingko and coca leaves. Many others I was with had it far worse, took days off work and experienced mild nose bleeds.
Because I was feeling so darn well, I got overly confident and took a run on day three with a friend (fail Laura). La Paz is not the most conducive city for running but I wanted to move and it’s always a great way to see a new place. My friend and I took a nice and easy 2.5-mile run but that’s all it took for me to piss my body off. For the next 48 hours I was able to enjoy a dose of altitude sickness including flu-like symptoms and severe fatigue, and I pretty much stayed in bed for 2 days. I do feel this was my own doing thanks to my over confidence, so please avoid any exercise (and alcohol) if possible that first week at altitude.
Life as a pedestrian in La Paz...kinda sucks
Being a pedestrian is not fun in La Paz. There are no crosswalks and you basically wait for a clear window to run across the street and the cars/buses/cabs do not necessarily take into account that a human life is crossing the street. I have had close calls. To help this issue, there is a program called Las Cebras de La Paz (The Zebras of La Paz) where a group of people dress as zebras and help regulate traffic and get pedestrians across safely. I was lucky to see them my first and only run that got me sick. These people dressed as zebras are celebrated for saving lives and creating safer passage for pedestrians. Between playing cat and mouse with vehicles, pollution and every step you take feeling like you are 95 years old due to the altitude, being a pedestrian here kinda sucks.
Why walks are worth it:
So many amazing things to see on the streets of La Paz. Indigenous people make up 62% of the population in La Paz and not a minute would go by where I did not pass something new and culturally different.
Dancing zebras controlling traffic? How odd and great! Cholitas in traditional bowler hats dressed in beautifully colored garments carrying their infants on their backs and La Paz pups frolicking the streets with no leash or owner to be found but yet all wearing puppy sweaters; visiting the witches market, passing commonly used dried llama fetuses, and taking in mountain views make walking a constant adventure. Besides culturally unique sights you will also take in the unique sounds of La Paz which include an immense amount of drum circles and parades at all hours. Incredibly fun to hear for a few days, not so much after a month.
While researching La Paz, I read a lot about it being a unsafe city. In my experience, I felt safer walking in La Paz more than any other city in South America (or other countries for that matter). The locals did not pay much attention to my pale face and blue eyes and I felt like a fly on the wall witnessing the constant unique and different sights.
Walking not your thing? Take the "best commute in the world"
La Paz has the world’s largest cable car system that locals use to commute to and from work, which is known as the "best commute" in the world, not to mention a great way to see the sunset. Apparently in an effort to make the cars and station as clean as possible you cannot eat or drink in the cable cars. Without realizing this a few of us took sips from our water bottles. Afterwards someone’s voice came on a speaker inside the cable car and said in Spanish we cannot eat or drink on board. I was told by a local friend living there we could actually be arrested for that....who knew, and no thank you. Once you reach the top to El Alto you are presented with glorious sunset views over the city.
The toilet is your friend in La Paz
Living in La Paz for one month required many meals and a lot of surprises. No matter how much you travel and what type of bacteria you have in your gut, you are bound to pick up a bug, and not only from street food if you are there long enough. We went to Gusto, which has been described at one of "the best restaurants in the world," and some got sick. I do not say this to deter anyone from visiting, I did not get sick there, but it can be based on the individual I have learned. After staying there a month I can safely say you will spend some time in a bathroom so make it a nice one.
Choose your adventure:
Bolivia has some of the most memorable day and weekend trips you will not want to miss.
Valle De La Luna (Moon Valley) is only a 35-minute cab ride away from La Paz. It is a maze of spires and canyons and rumor has it that its name came from Neil Armstrong, who was playing golf in the area and took note that the rock formations looked like the moon...hence "Moon Valley." The valley itself is not very large and there are two walking paths to choose from. "Devil’s Point", which takes about 45 minute and leads to epic views, or another shorter 15-20-minute path if you are pressed for time.
Surviving Death Road
Death Road is known as the "most dangerous road" in the world, and is a 40-mile mountain bike trail descending 3400 meters. I was on the fence about doing this one but so grateful I did – if you can ride a bike you can do Death Road! Accidents and injuries do happen, but these accidents are more often than not because the bikers are being overly aggressive and confident and not as cautious as they should be. We went with a great company called Madness Adventures. The 40-mile journey is at your own pace and what you are comfortable with. I was the last person in my group, taking it at my own comfortable slow pace. I was in no rush to skip over the most beautiful cliff-side scenery I will most likely ever see. It’s a long day but worth it, and the scariest part about Death Road is not the cliff-side mountain biking but the cliff-side drive back home....that is an adventure!
Salar De Uyuni (Salt Flats) - Where heaven meets earth
Salar De Uyuni is a 50-minute flight from La Paz and is the largest salt flat in the world. The salt flats were formed by transformations in several pre-historic lakes and the area was once completely covered by water. The only way to access the flats is through tours and we took a private tour through Red Planet, which I recommend.
To witness this in person is a must-do if you are in Bolivia. It looks like a sea of snow and it is a unique experience to drive over at high speeds in a Jeep. Because of the reflection of the sun on the salt, it is important to wear sunglasses at all times, and due to the unusual landscape of the salt flats, photo ops of perspective/optical illusions are very popular here and make for a great day of seeing how creative you can get with this.
Stargazing at Allkamari Eco-lodge
Allkamari is an eco-lodge in the Andes Mountains 45 minutes outside of La Paz. I took a solo trip here for the weekend, but you can also come to stargaze at night, although I would contact hotel first. Local inhabitants often come here to offer "burnt-offering ceremonies to the Mountain Gods that overlook the Valley" and many come here for yoga and other spiritual retreats. From the moment I arrived I was in awe of the beauty of the property, and you can’t help but feel instantly relaxed and rejuvenated. This place begs for relaxation and book reading while surrounding yourself with mountains by day and stars by night.
Why you should visit La Paz, Bolivia
Because adventure travel is good for you. It challenges you, there are no age limits to adventure travel and emerging yourself in outdoor activities has immense benefits to overall health, mood and wellness.
La Paz, Bolivia will always be one of the most beautiful, weird and memorable places I have visited. I can promise you will gain new insights and experiences and challenge your boundaries, which leads to being present, aware, more tolerant and overall happier and more confident.
Keep in mind, Bolivia is a third world country. Some accommodations do not have hot water and you will want to bring your own toilet paper with you often, but this can increase your tolerance for unpredictability and coping mechanisms when things do not go as planned. Challenging yourself and stepping out of your comfort zone increases your confidence and can nurture reflectiveness. Witnessing and experiencing cultures that on the surface seem much different than your own gradually reveals that we are not so different after all and the world is beautiful everywhere.
More things to see and do:
Costilla Bar - NY times considers this one of the best bars of all time. The walls, floors and ceilings are covered with over 19,000 antiques.
Ali Pacha - Vegetarian restaurant with great service and ambience. 3-6 course meals
Gustu - 3-7 course meals. I preferred Ali Pacha but if you are craving a pricey and fancy meal in La Pas this is your place.
Namaste - This was by far my go to restaurant. This is a affordable vegetarian resturant and the owner is a lovely person offering great food and service.
Parque Del Montículo - breath through this small hill to the top for some epic sunset views
Spazio wellness & lounge - decent fitness center if you are in La Paz for an extended period of time