5 CRAZIEST Things you can do in La Paz, Bolivia
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If you’re traveling to La Paz, Bolivia and have an adventurous spirit, then this list of crazy things to do in La Paz is perfect for you! Below are my most memorable experiences in La Paz, and one’s that are unique that you’ll enjoy too!
La Paz, Bolivia is a crazy place – I mean that in the best way possible. When I think about the time I spent La Paz, I am reminded of how wacky, obscure, and epic the experiences I had were.
These crazy things to do in La Paz, Bolivia really make the city what it is. These unique activities expose the city’s vibrant culture, interesting history, and incredible surrounding landscape.
While there are literally dozens of different things to do in La Paz, for the purpose of this blog, I’m focusing on the top 5 craziest experiences I personally had. To me, these particular things to do stood out well above the rest, and for that reason, they are what I think every adventurous traveler needs to do.
So here you have it, the 5 CRAZIEST things to do in La Paz, Bolivia. They are things that I actually did and accompanied with my own personal stories.
1. Meet Crazy Dave
This one had to be first on my list of crazy things to do in La Paz simply because Crazy Dave is a real person who actually refers to himself as “crazy.” So naturally, meeting this “crazy” person was nothing short of a crazy experience.
Crazy Dave is an American who spent 14 years locked up in the San Pedro Prison in La Paz, Bolivia. He was arrested for drug trafficking and he really has some insane and interesting stories to tell about his time behind bars.
If you’ve read the popular book Marching Powder you will already know all about the San Pedro prison. Crazy Dave was actually locked up with the guy that the book is all about, Thomas McFadden.
In the book, Thomas reveals how unique San Pedro prison is in the fact that prisoners must buy their own cells, buy there own food, and their families can live with them and come and go as they please. Thomas actually used to run tours within the prison and tourists paid him.
Tours inside the prison are no longer allowed. For that reason, Crazy Dave meets tourists in San Pedro square directly outside of the prison. Here, he shows you around the outside of the prison and tells all his own crazy stories.
You’ll learn about drugs that are made (still to this day) inside the prison, how prisoners make money, and how Crazy Dave managed to survive as an American in a Bolivian jail.
Crazy Dave is a talented storyteller which really makes the “tour” a worthwhile thing to do in La Paz. He is captivating and you’ll be sucked in right from the moment you meet him. But his attitude towards life seems very optimistic and he is a fun character to be around.
During the couple of hours the tour lasts, you’ll learn all about his life and San Pedro. While it seems too crazy to be true and a world away, it was amazing to know that we were right outside the prison doors and the children playing around us actually live there.
His stories, although wild, are also very sad and Crazy Dave is a homeless person today. He does these tours as his job and makes money from the tips. He also has to pay the police a bribe to continue operating his tours, so it is very important that you tip him.
If you want to meet Crazy Dave for yourself and listen to his stories, he runs a tour every day at 1 pm. All you need to do is show up at San Pedro square. Here, Crazy Dave will find you (he is known for doing this) and round you up with the tourists to begin his “tour”.
Also, don’t worry, although San Pedro square is directly outside of the prison, it is actually a safe central square and if it wasn’t for Crazy Dave pointing out the prison, you’d probably never know it was there!
2. Ride the Death Road
This activity is definitely one of the most popular things to do in La Paz, Bolivia – but it’s popular for a reason! The Death Road (or Yungas Road) is considered to be the most dangerous road in the world and you can actually ride a mountain bike down it (if you have the guts!)
Back in the day, this road was a commonly driven route that connects La Paz with the Yungas region in Bolivia. In fact, you could even call it a “highway.” But it was so dangerous that buses, trucks, and cars were always falling over the edge resulting in hundreds of deaths.
A new, less dangerous, road has now been created for the same route making the Death Road road pretty much useless for anything other than tourists who are crazy enough to ride down it.
The good thing is that because the Death Road is pretty much only used for mountain bike tours from La Paz, it is much safer. The only vehicles you need to worry about seeing are the tour companies’ safety trail vehicles. Other than that, it is a road for tourists to cycle and say they “conquered the world’s most dangerous road!”
With that said, it is still dangerous. In fact, tourists have died while mountain biking the Death Road with the most recent death happening in 2019!
Our personal experience was that it could be as dangerous or safe as you make it. Sure, there are sheer cliff edges dropping down hundreds of meters, but the road is wide enough for a car to drive, so it isn’t a hard path to stay on.
I (Bailey) was actually really nervous about this experience. I honestly didn’t even want to do it, but I also have a serious case of FOMO so when Daniel and our friend Liam signed up, I did too.
Because of my nerves, I took it slow. I went slow pretty much the entire way (the track is entirely downhill) and was at the back of my group kilometers behind Daniel and Liam. They, on the other hand, raced down the road and said there were a few moments that “were a bit dicey.”
Basically, what I’m saying is that you can make the experience as dangerous or as safe as you want. Be careful, take your time, avoid other crazy riders, and you should be just fine.
Also, be sure to book with a reputable company. We went on this particular tour because it came so highly recommended. You can find cheaper tours available, but I wouldn’t trust them. The last thing you want is your breaks failing you!
The tours all depart La Paz and drive for a short while to the start of the trail. The first half of the trail is not dangerous and gives you the chance to practice on the bike and get comfortable. The last hour or so is a lot steeper and that’s where the craziness begins. Don’t worry though, when you complete the trail there is a place where you can buy an ice-cold beer and relax.
The entire tour lasts for a 3-4 hours and will bring you back to La Paz at the end.
It is nothing short of an adrenaline rush and definitely an experience in La Paz that isn’t for the faint-hearted.
Tip: Book a tour with a reputable company (such as this one.) Also, be sure to thoroughly check your bike, the breaks, and your safety gear before you set off. Wear shoes that you don’t mind getting muddy, and comfortable clothes. Most companies will supply a complete body outfit to wear to protect your clothing.
3. Explore the Witches Market
The Witches Market or “El Mercado de Las Brujas” is one of the most unique markets in the world. Instead of simply picking up some fruit, veggies, and meat, this market is all about magic!
Located right in downtown La Paz, the Witches Market is typical of Bolivia and other similar markets can be found in most Bolivian cities. However, the one in La Paz is massive and famous amongst locals and international tourists.
Bolivian traditions largely include ceremonies connecting them to “Pacha Mama” or Mother Earth. These ceremonies are often centered around white magic, or asking for good things such as health or good fortune. Ceremonies can include sacrifices, potions, or blessings from Yatiri who are spiritual healers.
However, sometimes the magic people want is actually black magic, which is meant to harm others in the form of a curse.
The Witches Market in La Paz doesn’t discriminate, and here you can find black magic, white magic, and everything in between!
Expect to see all sorts of stones and weird trinkets, but also expect to see dead animals like snakes, frogs, and llama fetuses. Yes, dried llama fetuses are everywhere! I learned that apparently these are bought and then buried under new construction builds to ask Pacha Mama to bless the workers and the home.
You can also find prepackaged potions, healers offering their services, natural medicine, and so much more.
To be honest, when I visited, I didn’t really know what I was looking at. There were also a ton of “normal” souvenirs for sale too which made sense considering the number of international tourists who visited this market regularly.
It wasn’t until I left the market and read up about it that I really understood what was going on. If I were to do it again, I would’ve researched before visiting or gone on a guided tour. To me, this would’ve made the entire experience more interesting and worthwhile.
Nonetheless, a visit to La Paz’s Witches Market is an interesting thing to do and as long as the site of dried llama fetuses doesn’t make you queasy, it’ll be something you’ll enjoy (or at least remember forever!)
You can find the Witches Market on Santa Cruz Street, click here for a map!
4. Ride the Gondola (Mi Teleférico)
This might seem like a very normal thing to do, I mean, in many cities around the world (especially those with mountains) riding a gondola up to a viewpoint is common.
The gondola in La Paz, Bolivia is different though.
The gondola or “funicular” as it is commonly called, is actually public transport in La Paz. The city is built in a valley and the majority of the populations lives up on the surrounding hills. Before the gondola existed, the only way for these people to get around was to walk, which was very tiring and hard with the steep valley and high altitude.
So, in 2014, the gondola system was installed and the people of La Paz love it – but, so do the tourists! The gondola system is called “Mi Teleférico” and it is actually the longest urban gondola system in the world!
Not only is the gondola is La Paz long, it is also the highest cable-car system in the world sitting at over 4000 m (13,000 ft) above sea level!
For only 3 BOB (less than $0.50), you can jump on the light blue line in the city center and ride a gondola all the way to the top station. Here, you should switch onto to the green line and ride it to the top. Expect the entire ride to take about 15 minutes. Along the way, you’ll get insane views of the city!
At the top, you can get out of the station and go for a little walk to enjoy the view. This area isn’t super safe (and you shouldn’t visit after dark) but it is okay to go for a little wander during the daytime.
Remember, this gondola is public transport, so if you don’t want to be squished into a cart or waiting in line to get on, don’t go during peak hours in the morning or afternoon. Anytime after 11 am and before 4 pm is the ideal time to ride the gondola.
You can also ride various lines to get to different viewpoints around the city. Some tourists just ride the gondola all day long. To me, the one viewpoint at the top of the green line was enough, but the choice is totally yours.
Riding the gondola is one of the most unique things to do in La Paz, and also one of the coolest. The views are incredible and the sheer size of the city is epic to see with your own eyes from up above.
You can also take a guide 2-hour cable-car tour in La Paz. This particular tour is only $8 and will show you some of the best viewpoints!
5. Go High-altitude Hiking
La Paz, Bolivia is the world’s highest city sitting at about 3,650 m (11,975 ft) above sea level. While that is already very high, if you want to get even higher you can explore the nearby mountains hiking.
The Cordillera Real is an Andean mountain range not far from La Paz. Here, you can hike up some really crazy mountains, some of which take you over 6,000m above sea level!
I didn’t do that. Instead, I opted to hike only to 5,300m and summit Austria Peak. This is the most popular hike for tourists in La Paz as it can be done in just one day and is not too far away.
I have to admit though, although one of the best things to do in La Paz, climbing Austria Peak is tough. The high altitude makes it a struggle for even the fittest hikers. If you struggle with altitude sickness then this is not the activity for you.
If you do decide to conquer Austria Peak or any of the other hikes around La Paz, it’s best to go on a guided tour. This way, you have transport provided and won’t risk getting lost. Your guide should also be equipped with safety equipment like canned oxygen, which can be used in case of emergency.
Also, be sure to get a good night’s rest before you go, drink plenty of water before and during the hike (even if you don’t feel thirsty) and keep snacking!
For a real challenge, you can summit Huayna Potosi on a 3-day hiking adventure. Huayna Potosi summit sits at over 6,000m (nearly 20,000 ft) above sea level. I didn’t do this hike, but I heard it is incredible from a friend.
Climbing to such high altitudes is really a unique experience, and the incredible views make this activity from La Paz one of the best! Sure, it might seem a little crazy to knowingly put yourself through this struggle, but once it’s over you’ll feel accomplished and will have earned a beer that evening.
You can book the same Austria Peak tour we did online in advance. Otherwise, this tour to Chacaltaya mountain and the Valley of the Moon is another great day-hike option!
Where to Stay in La Paz, Bolivia
For exploring La Paz, Bolivia properly, you’ll need somewhere central and comfortable to stay. Below are my suggestions for where to stay in La Paz based on my own experience and what I’ve heard personally from others!
Low Budget – Loki La Paz
There are quite a few backpacker hostels around La Paz, but a lot of them aren’t very nice. Loki is a large party hostel but it is also clean and comfortable. They have hot showers, heated rooms, nightly parties, and a cheap restaurant. We stayed in their private room and it was as nice a mid-range hotel with its own private bathroom, mini-fridge, and kettle!
Mid-range Budget – The Nest Boutique
This centrally located La Paz hotel doesn’t cut the corner on details. It is a lovely boutique hotel that offers large superior rooms but also dorms. There is a highly rated rooftop restaurant with incredible views. Clean and comfortable this hotel is amazing value for money!
You can secure your rooms at the Nest Boutique on Booking.com
Luxury – Hotel Europa
This is easily the best place to stay in La Paz, Bolivia! You’ll find rooms with a sofa, fridge, balcony, and spa bathtubs in Hotel Europa. There is also a heated pool, dry sauna, and fitness center onsite. They have impeccable reviews and to me, the hotel is really reasonably priced considering it is 5-stars!
You can book Hotel Europa online in advance on Booking.com
You can compare the prices and availability of all hotels in La Paz online in advance!
Before you go…
Hopefully, this blog has inspired your inner adventurer and you’ll cross a few of these activities off your La Paz bucket-list. Honestly, La Paz is a unique wild city, and once you visit for yourself you’ll understand exactly what I mean. To me, it is easily one of the best cities in Latin America!
Of course, if you have any questions or anything to add, be sure to comment below. We read all of the comments and will get back to you as soon as we can!
If you found this blog helpful, I’m sure you’ll enjoy our other Bolivia travel blogs or even just a few related ones below:
Enjoy La Paz!
April 4, 2020