Exploring La Paz

The flight to La Paz was refreshingly normal, but due to the 2am arrival at El Alto airport, I knew I was in for a long day. After deplaning, we headed straight to immigration control and I dutifully entered the long line for entry from North America. Standing in line for over an hour, tired, and getting used to the sudden altitude change (the airport is the highest international airport in the world sitting at an elevation of 4,062 meters (13,325’)) was a test of endurance. On top of that, there are still strict COVID-19 mask protocols in place, so I enjoyed the added pleasure of restricted airflow thru a KN95 mask!!

El Alto Airport with Cerro Mururata (19,262’) and Illimani (21,121’) in the distance

Prior to the trip I had completed the visa application and printed the required forms and documents. After an hour long wait in line, it was finally my turn to face the scrutiny of the Immigration Control Officer. I thought I would breeze through and be on my way, but alas my best laid plans were stymied and I was informed that he could not issue the actual visa, so I was redirected to another line and another hour-plus wait. When it was my turn, the visa was issued and I went back to the immigration line. By this point I was one of the last remaining passengers to be processed, so there was no wait. Finally, at 4:30 am I was officially in Bolivia, but I still had a 3 hour wait until my brother’s flight would arrive. After dutifully texting him the immigration sequence to spare him the same experience, I found a place to sleep.

Fortunately the info provided allowed him to breeze thru the immigration process and he found me slumped over my luggage in an uncomfortable sleep, looking a little worse for the wear. We quickly found a taxi got our first real on-ground experience with the La Paz-El Alto metropolis. One of the first things I noticed was that there is virtually no level ground. This is a densely populated city of over 2 million inhabitants built into steep cliffs and valleys. In fact in the short distance from the airport to our hotel, we descended nearly 1,800’!

After several hours of rest to re-energize, we were off to explore the city. We spent the day walking up and down the city streets and took the opportunity to visit the Jiwaki tour company (jiwaki.com), the group that will be guiding us on the Huayana Potosí climb. We were fitted for some of the climbing gear they provide and got a lot of our questions answered. We left with a good feeling that their guides were highly experienced and they provide quality equipment.

With that business out of the way, we walked to the nearby El Mercado de las Brujas (The Witches’ Market) to do some shopping. We were told that you could purchase customized potions of different ingredients to help with any problem you may have… need more money?… apparently there is a potion for that! We must have missed that particular street in this sprawling market, but nonetheless we found some great stores to buy souvenirs and gifts.

In our explorations, we walked many miles up and down the steep streets. By the time we got back to the hotel we were both ready for a good meal and a comfortable night of rest. Waking up refreshed the next morning, we made our plans to see this vast city from the Mi Teleferico, a public transportation system of cable cars with nine interconnecting lines.

The Mi Teleférico cable car stations are sleek and modern, especially when juxtaposed against the predominantly adobe brick architecture.
Each gondola can hold up to eight passengers, but we often had the entire car to ourselves to enjoy the a bird’s eye view of the bustling city below… and above us! Pictures are inadequate to portray the scope and scale of this sprawling city.

Tomorrow we begin our climb of Huayna Potosí, so tune back in after a couple of days to hear how it went…

4 thoughts on “Exploring La Paz”

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