Back to the Big City

Going from small cities to a massive metropolis is always a shift. The quiet and calm of the country against the loud and bustling sounds of the capital makes for a complete change of pace, and the sheer size of La Paz can make initially daunting to navigate.

As we walked around the city on our first day, it was clear that it would require some adjustment. The downtown core is a maze where you will need a map in your hand for the first few days. The day we arrived, we spent most of it either looking for a celiac friendly meal or getting lost.

Our second day, we took the Red Cap walking tour. The tour meets every day at 11 am and 2 pm in the San Pedro Square. Guides are easily distinguishable with their bright red caps, and I heart La Paz t-shirts.

Walking tours are a great way of getting to know a city. They’re normally free or very inexpensive activities — which is ideal for a budget backpacker — and they bring a city’s history to life.

Learning about the place that we are about to visit has become a ritual during out travels. Reading a guidebook can be very helpful, but there’s nothing like hearing the story behind a monument as your standing in front of it. We always prefer to learn about a city from the people who live there, and walking tours give us an opportunity to take advantage of a local’s knowledge even when we don’t know anyone from the city. Guides take that basic snippet of knowledge you read in a book and expand it. Plus you can ask questions and get information on the topics you are genuinely interested.

Our guide, Marisol, was very knowledgeable and upbeat. She led us through all the famous districts we’d heard about but had no idea how to get to.

We went outside of the notorious San Pedro Prison — and learned why you should never go in. The Prison is a unique and bizarre feature of La Paz’s justice system, clearly recounted in Rusty Young’s Marching Powder. It’s a bustling community behind walls where inmates family’s live within the prison, and where large amounts of cocaine are produced and smuggled out every day.

After leaving the Prison behind, we found ourselves wandering through the Witches Market where dried llama fetus’s are are a common commodity hanging from nearly every stall. The wares range from love potions to colorful textiles in one of the largest local markets in Bolivia.

Afterward, we traversed the Rodriguez market where you can purchase epic empanadas and discovered some local haunts. Upon request, she even told us what to pay for souvenirs, so when we returned to the market, we wouldn’t be ripped off with gringo prices.

Towards the end of the tour, she led us to Plaza Murillo and delved into Bolivia’s colored political background. It was fascinating and almost comical when she recounted Bolivia’s presidential history. My favorite story was the tale of how Bolivia lost a large chunk of land during a night of drunken debauchery at a state dinner.

She even threw in some provincial knowledge you would never read in an official government report or Wikipedia article, such as the Bolivian equivalent to the “Bush-isms” of former American President George W. Bush.

Unfortunately, free walking tours are illegal in La Paz, but to hear the Bolivian Presidents absurd statements on chicken, and discover why the Bolivian government briefly banned condoms, you only have to pay $3 USD.

It was well worth the cost, we had an engaging, entertaining four hours. Likely a combination of the guide’s personality and attentiveness and the company’s informative itinerary (I’m sure every guide will give you the same in-depth level of information), it was undoubtedly one of the best tours we have taken. It also sorted out our directional dilemma.

If you plan on spending a few days in La Paz, a tour is a great way to get your bearings. It will give you quick look at what the city has to offer so you can make the most of your visit.

Website: Red Cap Walking Tours
Other ways of contact: email: | phone: +591 76285738

Our tour was provided free of charge by Red Cap Walking Tours.  All photos, opinions and views are our own.