Introducing La Paz

La Paz is dizzying in every respect, not only for its well-publicized altitude (3660m), but for its quirky beauty. Most travelers enter this extraordinary city via the flat sparse plains of the sprawling city of El Alto, an approach that hides the sensational surprises of the valley below. The first glimpse of La Paz will, literally, take your breath away. The city’s buildings cling to the sides of the canyon and spill spectacularly downwards. On a clear day, the imposing showy, snowy Mt Illimani (6402m) looms in the background.

Although Sucre remains the judicial capital, La Paz – Bolivia’s largest city and centre for commerce, finance and industry – is the governmental (some say ‘de facto’) capital. Meanwhile, El Alto is the Aymará capital of the world. Although in reality an extension of urban La Paz, El Alto’s ongoing influx of immigrants – mostly looking for work – means it has morphed into one of Latin America’s fastest growing cities.

La Paz must be savored over time, not only to acclimatize to the altitude, but to experience the city’s many faces. Wander at leisure through the alleys and lively markets, marvel at the interesting museums, chat to the locals in a comedor or relax over a coffee at a trendy café.

Since La Paz is sky-high, warm clothing is desirable most of the year, at least in the evenings. In summer (November to April) the climate can be harsh: rain falls most afternoons, the canyon may fill with clouds and steep streets often become torrents of runoff. In winter (May to October) days can be slightly cooler, but the sun (and its UV rays) is strong and temperatures reach the high 60s, but at night it often dips below freezing.

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