We loved the food and the food culture in the Central Market and the city in general. There's a lot of fried food to be found, especially chicken and pastries, but plenty of eateries offer other options. Namas Te and Tierrasana are good vegetarian options; Cafe del Mundo near the central market makes a great brunch; Paceña la Salteña makes the best salteñas we had in Bolivia (and we had a lot of them), and Alexander Coffee makes an incredibly tasty Mocha Nut Cake (the brownie with ice cream pales in comparison).
Be sure to check out our recent Yummy Eats Bolivia food post to see some of the delicious food we had here.
2. El Alto Market
There are plenty of warnings online about this Thursday/Sunday market and how it's a dangerous place to visit. We used local transport to get up the hill and wandered the kilometers-long aisles perusing the astonishing assortment of goods available and didn't once feel unsafe. Heck, the driver on the way up sent us on our way even though we short a few coins! Take the normal precautions with your belongings, go in the morning before the sun becomes scorching (still bring/use sunscreen), and enjoy experiencing an authentic local shopping trip - we saw all of 4 other tourists in the 2.5 hours we walked around - browsing through just about anything you could possibly need. House doors, car parts, clothing, food, electronics, random electronic pieces, appliances - you name it, it's at this market.
To get there, head out to the Prado (tree-lined street that is the main road through La Paz) and jump on a combi/micro that’s headed to El Alto - most of them will say it on the front of the bus and, if not, ask around. It was 4 Bolivianos roundtrip per person for the ride.
3. Walking Tour
Red Cap Walking Tours was our first free walking tour on our trip and it was an amazing way to see the city. Go towards the beginning of your visit as it's a great introduction to many of the touristic places in the city. Our local guide also taught us about all sorts of things beyond the places, including Boliviano eating habits, the history behind the cholita wardrobe, and how to barter and get more at the market. The guides work on tips and they definitely earn them.
Tours are at 11 and 2 and leave from San Pedro Plaza. Also, if you want to tap into your inner-Tom-Cruise and walk down the side of a building, the tour ends in the Hotel Presidente building where you can get a discount with Urban Rush for being on the tour. No, we didn’t do this, but it was very tempting.
4. San Francisco Church
Located next to the central market, souvenir-row, the largest plaza in La Paz, and the main thoroughfare that runs through the city, you’d be hard pressed to miss this building. Originally constructed in the mid-16th century and rebuilt and refurbished multiple times since, this was the Catholic church meant for the local Aymara people when the Spanish first colonized the area. Access to the church is 20 Bolivianos per person and should include a tour, but when we went they had no English-speaking guides. At all. Regardless, walking through the convent and seeing the old construction and visiting the museum with the relics is good fun. Best of all, you can get on the roof of the basilica and walk in part of the bell tower, which gives you a fantastic view of the busiest plaza in La Paz.
5. Valle de la Luna
Located not far from downtown La Paz, this very unusual geological formation is worth a quick afternoon visit. With 15 or 45 minute walking options, you get to walk around and see a very foreign environment that Neil Armstrong is claimed to have described as very similar to the moon. It’s probably not as impressive now as when he saw it because there was a rash of construction in the area around the valley in recent years that has marred the landscape a bit, reducing the sensation that you’re in a desolate place.
There are tours that will take you to the top of a nearby mountain and then bring you here afterwards. If you’re not into mountaineering, you can easily visit this place on your own using the local bus system. If you go to the micro/bus stop by Plaza San Francisco, get on the numbered 43 headed towards Mallasa and tell the bus driver you’re going to Valle de la Luna. When we went, it was 2 Bolivianos per person each way, 4 Bolivianos roundtrip. Add the 15 Boliviano entrance fee, and we paid a whopping $2.78 per person to enjoy a long drive through the suburbs of La Paz and a nice visit to the valley. I wouldn’t call this a must-see attraction, but if you have the time and are so inclined (or need a budget-friendly activity), we do recommend this as an option.