After a month in Peru we decided it was time to check our next country out. Our first stop in Bolivia was La Paz. We decided to stay in the Wild Rover hostel looking for a bit of a party scene but mainly a busy hostel to meet new people.
For our first full day in La Paz we set out on a nice long walk through the city. We’d found a nice Vietnamese restaurant online for lunch so we decided to walk in that direction. The walk took us through a few different areas of La Paz. It gave us a nice start to exploring the city. The start of the walk was right by our hostel. In Plaza Murillo, La Paz’s main square, there is the cathedral, the Palacio Quemado, the National Congress, some more government offices and a lovely square in the middle. The National Guard was outside the Palace, however not quite as serious as English Beefeaters with most of them smiling and joking between themselves.
From here we walked to the Plaza San Francisco with its Basilica which was pretty nice from the outside, we didn’t venture in as that would have further delayed lunch. From here our path went through several not so nice neighbourhoods before arriving in Sopocachi where there are many great bars and restaurants.
We sat down for our Vietnamese meal as soon as we got into Sopocachi. We had unfortunately missed the lunch menu but decided to still eat there from the a la carte menu. Our waiter kindly offered us a free soup to go with whatever we ordered. We went for some summer rolls followed by a Vietnamese shrimp soup for Niamh and a beef stir fry for Stu. The portions were enormous and the food was delicious!
After lunch we made our way back to the hostel, we walked past the football stadium which was getting into gear for the weekend game and went back for an afternoon nap before Stu went out that night and managed to DJ for a bit to his delight. #TechnoStu
The following day we decided to check out a vegetarian brunch place for some more good food. We were already taken aback by the quality and variety of food in Bolivia. This place may not be authentic Bolivian food but it was nice to have a taste from home for a change and the Australian owner was really interesting. Niamh had smashed avocado on toast with mozzarella and tomatoes and Stu had hummus with bread and salad.
From here we decided to go up to El Alto. This is basically part of La Paz yet separate as it is an area on top of a mountain away from the main city sprawl. To get there we got the cable car up from the central station which gave us incredible views of La Paz over the 15 minute journey. Our reason for going up here was to see the Cholita wrestling. Little did we know it was also the day for the El Alto 16th July market. The market is South America’s largest outdoor market. It was huge, sprawling as far as we could see with 6 rows or more of stalls across the road. Apparently people flock in from the whole region and spend over $1 million every weekend here. No matter what you’re looking for you will find it here. It was far from an organized market, as you could walk 30 meters and come across spare mechanic parts, pirate dvds, clothes, food, music and much more jumbled together. It was really cool seeing the market and Bolivians going about their market day.
But anyway back to the reason we came to El Alto, the Cholita wrestling. To say Cholita wrestling is unlike anything we have ever seen would be an understatement. This type of wrestling is between Bolivian women dressed in traditional Bolivian dresses. They throw themselves around the ring in ways you wouldn’t imagine possible for them to do as they are tiny! It got even better when the ref decided to get in on the action and teamed up with one of the women. It was a great spectacle and the video link below shows a small snippet of what we saw!
For our final day in La Paz we decided to eat lunch at the Bolivian Popular Food restaurant. They claimed to offer fine dining food at ridiculously cheap prices. We can confirm that their claim is true. This was our best meal we have had travelling and one of our best ever meals. For 60 bolivianos (£6.60) you get three courses, homemade breads and a fresh juice. The menu changes on a daily basis and offers you 2 to 3 choices per course. We think it’s very impressive that they can change their menu everyday, especially to the standard that they serve.
We decided to try a different starter each to maximize food discovery. Stu went for the lentil soup and as you can see the soup was far more elaborate than a simple soup with different chargrilled vegetables and purees beautifully placed in the bottom. Niamh’s starter – Masaco de Plantano y charque – was the most elaborate plantain we’ve ever seen with so many different flavours and textures placed on top. Who would have thought plantain could look so pretty.
For main course the pork belly was too irresistible for us to go for anything else. It came with roasted beetroot and carrot cubes, a tomato sauce, okra dust, and a lot more we couldn’t identify.
For pudding we reverted back to choosing one dessert each. Now the menu didn’t give much away here so we had no idea at all on what would come out. Niamh’s dish came out as a biscuit base with soft chocolate ganache, vanilla ice cream, a condensed milk cream, biscuit shard and a white chocolate crumb. Stu’s came out as a watermelon whipped cream with biscuit shards, lychee ice and a pistachio crumb. Now Stu hates watermelon and wouldn’t have chosen this had he known what it was.
After such an amazing lunch we decided to walk briefly around the witches market which was quite creepy. The witch doctors known as ‘yatrir’ sell potions, medicinal plants and the most popular item and by far the weirdest were the llama foetuses that hung above our heads everywhere. These foetuses are buried beneath Bolivian houses as an offering to the goddess Pachamama. Pachamama is a fertility goddess who has power over planting and harvesting, the mountains, and causes earthquakes.
After this we made our way up to the Mirador KiriKiri. The walk didn’t take too long to get to the bottom of the hill then we had a 20 minute walk up to the top. The view overlooked the whole lower part of the city so we got an idea of how big the city was, however in the distance we could see cable cars disappearing over different mountains to where even more of La Paz spread out of sight.
And after this it was time to get ready for our overnight bus to Sucre, more on the drama of the bus ride in our next article…