Dangers & Annoyances
La Paz is a big city, and if you're a gringo, you stand out a bit. Especially at night, exercise caution and keep your wits about you. In all likelihood your stay in La Paz will be safe and problem free, but a little common sense goes a long way.
Simple Rules to Keep You Safe
- Travel in groups.
- Take cabs to go longer distances after 9pm. Make sure it’s a radio taxi with a bubble on top.
- Don’t walk down dark alleys.
- Carry small amounts of cash, and leave the fancy jewelry and electronics at home or in the hotel safe.
- If physically threatened, it is always best to hand over valuables immediately.
- Remember that you likely don’t know anybody in Bolivia. It’s sad to say, but you should be wary of strangers here.
Scams & Tricks
Fake police officers have been a problem in the past, though there are very few reports of this anymore. Just in case: note that authentic police officers will always be uniformed (undercover police are under strict orders not to hassle foreigners) and will never insist that you show them your passport, get in a taxi with them or allow them to search you in public. If confronted by an impostor, refuse to show them your valuables, or insist on going to the nearest police station on foot.
The best way to prevent taxi trouble is to take a radio cab; these have a radio in the car and a promo bubble on the roof (do not take the informal cabs which merely have a ‘taxi’ sticker). At night, ask the restaurant or hotel to call a cab – the cab’s details are recorded at a central base. Don’t share cabs with strangers and beware of accepting lifts from drivers who approach you (especially around dodgy bus areas). Uber is now available in La Paz and is a great alternative for those with signal.
Petty theft and pickpocketing is less common in La Paz than many South American cities but you should still keep a close eye on your stuff in restaurants, bus terminals, markets and internet cafes. One scam involves someone spilling a substance on you or spitting a phlegm ball at you. While you or they are wiping it off, another lifts your wallet or slashes your pack; the perpetrator may be an ‘innocent’ granny or young girl. Similarly, make sure that you don’t bend over to pick up a valuable item which has been ‘dropped.’ You risk being accused of theft, or of being pickpocketed.
You should avoid El Alto, San Pedro, the cemetery and higher-elevation neighborhoods altogether at night. Use special caution in the bus terminals.
La Paz is a great city to explore on foot, but take the local advice camina lento, toma poco…y duerme solo (walk slowly, drink little…and sleep by your lonesome) to avoid feeling the effects of soroche (altitude sickness). Soroche pills are said to be ineffective, and can even increase altitude sickness. Acetaminophen (also known as Tylenol or paracetamol) does work, and drinking lots of water helps, too.
Take care crossing roads and avoid walking in busy streets at peak hours when fumes can be overwhelming.
Protests are not uncommon in La Paz, and they do sometimes turn violent. These center around Plazas San Francisco and Murillo.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
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Entry & Exit Formalities
Migración Some call this place ‘Migraine-ation’ but this is where you must obtain your visa extensions (free for most nationalities).
La Paz has nearly as many cybercafes as shoeshine boys. Charges range from B$2 to B$5 an hour, and connections are generally fastest in the morning or late evening. Most cafes and hotels have wi-fi access.
Free city maps are available at the tourist offices, hostels and traveler-oriented restaurants.
La Paz is the best place to stock up on maps for the rest of your trip.
Instituto Geográfico Militar Offers original 1:50,000 topographic maps (B$40) or photocopies (B$35) if a sheet is unavailable.
Climbing South America One of the largest collections of trekking maps for sale in Bolivia, with a focus on routes in the Cordilleras and Yungas.
La Razón (www.la-razon.com), El Diario (www.eldiario.net) and La Prensa (www.laprensa.com.bo) are La Paz’ major daily newspapers. National media chains ATB (www.atb.com.bo) and Radio Fides (www.radiofides.com) host the most up-to-date online news sites. Each of these sites is in Spanish only.
Casas de cambio (exchange bureaux) in the city center can be quicker and more convenient than banks. Most places open from 9am to 6pm weekdays, and on Saturday mornings.
Be wary of counterfeit US dollars and bolivianos, especially with cambistas (street money changers) who loiter around the intersections of Colón, Camacho and Av Mariscal Santa Cruz. Traveler’s checks can be virtually impossible to change, except at money changers and banks.
Try Western Union/DHL, which has outlets scattered all around town, for urgent international money transfers.
Central Post Office Lista de correos (poste restante) mail is held for three months for free here – bring your passport. A downstairs customs desk facilitates international parcel posting. Note that most official post offices beyond La Paz have closed in recent years, with local transport syndicates now running the show. If you need to send something internationally, do it here.
You can buy cell-phone SIM cards (known as chips) for about B$10 from any carrier outlet. If you plan on heading to more remote areas of Bolivia, Entel is your best bet.
Convenient puntos (privately run phone offices) of various carriers – Entel, Tigo, Viva etc – are also scattered throughout the city, and some mobile services now have wandering salesmen who will allow you to make a call from their mobile phone. Street kiosks, which are on nearly every corner, also sell phone cards, and offer brief local calls for about B$1 per minute. International calls can be made at low prices from the international call center.
Information Kiosks These kiosks at the main bus terminal have maps and standard bus prices, for reference. The attendants, if they happen to be around, may help you find a hotel.
Tourist Information Stop by to grab some maps and get detailed information. English is spoken by some staff.
Tourist Information Maps, flyers and some English-speaking staff.
Servicio Nacional de Áreas Protegidas Provides limited information on Bolivia’s 22 protected national areas. There are offices close to all the major parks, but attention is sometimes erratic. That said the website is informative if you read Spanish.
Ministerio de Culturas y Turismo Provides a register of official operators in the tourist industry.