12 November 2014

La Paz: surely the most scenic big city in the world?

South America is not known for its cities, save for a few cute colonial ones like Cartagena in Colombia. Surely, they are not as filled with sights as most European capitals and capital provinces, but the location of some of them, and the incredible ethnic mix, makes them so interesting.

Until now, Quito had won all our awards for the best city in South America. Its surreal location, perched on the side of the volcano Pichincha, with its old colonial town and its more Western-like new town, made it so appealing to us that we spent almost a month in the vicinity of it, exploring as much as we could. On our last days in town, we even got to see Pichincha with a fresh blanket of snow, and were once again wowed when looking at it from Santiago's casa de ciclistas.

Then we entered Bogota, a city of 10 million plus, with its chaotic transport infrastructure, but miles of bike lanes. Having some local contacts there, we enjoyed the city more than we had initially thought...probably because also, it is in Colombia, one of the most wonderful countries in the world, with the warmest people we've met to date in our trip. Then it was time to see a bit of Lima...with its horrible reputation amongst tourists...which of course, to us, felt completely unfair. Even though it is also as chaotic, if not more, than Bogota, its old town was fantastic, there's amazing ruins and museums, and the food of the more fancy Peruvian restaurants has to be sampled to be believed...

But then, our sights were on La Paz. Again, a stop for lots of tourists heading to the better known Salares in the South, or the Cordillera Real in the North, it does not get a lot of credit amongst international tourists. Also, with its reputation for being a bit dodgy (of course, also undeserved), lots of tourists spend as little time as possible there. But for us, it is by far our most favourite city, and somewhere we could come back to and spend a long amount of time. After just over a week there, it almost started to feel like home, and we had to get out before we got stuck there for much longer.

We discovered api (a sweet drink) and pastel (fried dough with cheese inside) on our first morning in La Paz and never looked back.

We find everything about downtown La Paz to be charming...
...from its grand plazas...

...to its tiny alleys.

There are some great re-purposed schoolbuses rolling around these streets...

...and we never cease to be impressed with the way that South American electricity is delivered.
We make a visit (via cable car) to the Thursday Market in El Alto, high above central La Paz. A visit to La Paz isn't complete without a visit to El Alto and its Thursday and Sunday markets.
You can find literally everything here, from car motors, doors and windows, to ipods.

We go in search of a few bike parts, as the fancy shop in La Paz wants to charge three times US prices.
...and of course Alberto can't neglect the chance to try the local fish dish (ipsi, a tiny deep fried fish akin to boquerones fritos but much smaller).

On the way back down, we catch views of the towering buildings of the Zona Sur, La Paz's newer and wealthier neighbourhoods.
...as well as the gigantic cemetery, where thousands of niches store the ashes of La Paz's dead.

One evening, we ride the red line cable car up to another part of El Alto...

... where we are treated to stunning sunset views of the city...

... and the mountains that surround it.

The volcano Illampu towers above the city.
Of course, the Casa de Ciclistas was also a comfortable place to hang out with fellow cyclists...It's always great to meet so many nationalities with similar interests. From left to right: Lee (US/Canada), Laura (Germany), Leo (Brazil), Quique (Spain), Thomas (Germany), Alicia (Spain), Michael (USA), and the machacas you are used to...

...and get organised for some hard riding in the Bolivian altiplano.

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