La Paz

Overview

Introduction

Stunningly situated in a high mountain valley 13,000 ft/3,962 m above sea level, Bolivia's de facto capital and largest city is home to about 1.5 million Pacenos, as its residents are called. If you are flying in, we suggest spending a day adjusting to the altitude. Actually, you may need some time to recover from the flight itself: The approach to the airport is one of the scariest in the world because of a narrow mountain pass.

The city resembles a large stadium, with the main avenue (El Prado) and wealthy homes located on the "playing field" and the less-well-off citizens residing high up on the surrounding bowl of "bleachers." The area around La Paz is surprisingly arid, with deserts and cacti, but snowcapped Mount Illimani offers an impressive backdrop to the city's skyscrapers on a clear day. (One of the best ways to get a good view of the city is from the rooftop bars at high-rise hotels.)

The city's main boulevard is known as El Prado, though the street itself actually changes names several times (and none of the official names is El Prado). Luxury hotels, shops, banks and Internet cafes frame the boulevard as it passes through downtown La Paz, giving the city a modern feel. With a wide, tree-filled pedestrian walkway dividing traffic, El Prado is a pleasant place to stroll or rest on a bench.

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