One of the highlights of my travels in South America has to be cycling Death Road. After leaving La Paz, the ride begins at 4,700m above sea level and the first 25km is downhill on tarmac so you can really build some speed up. After that the road is a narrow, windy, dirt track clinging to the cliff side with massive sheer drops but fantastic views. As you descend the vegetation becomes greener and more jungle-like and you rapidly begin to lose layers as it gets hotter. It is the world’s most dangerous road, but luckily it is mainly only bikes that use it now, and it is so much fun.
Downhill Madness, La Paz: www.madness-bolivia.com/downhill
Sprawled across Calles Jimenez and Linares is the best and bizarrest market that I have ever been to. You won't find plastic witches' fingernails, toy broomsticks, plastic pumpkins or daft monster masks here... this is proper Witchyness! The hundreds and hundreds of stalls sell all manner of potions and lucky 'charms'. The biggest seller, found swinging from the frames of most market stalls (mind your head) is dried llama foetus. Considered to be good luck if you are moving house... the idea being that you bury it in the garden or the foundations of the house (can't see it catching on with Barratts) and it will bring you prosperity.
Sadly llamas are not the only animals considered to have healing properties or be considered lucky - dried turtles, monkeys and even beaks of certain tropical birds are displayed to entice.
It's an eye-opening experience and I'd argue that to miss it is to miss an important part of Bolivian culture. I wouldn't recommend it to the faint hearted or for youngsters who might be expecting their own Latin America Diagon Alley... this place is definitely more Lord Voldemort than it is Professor Dumbledore.
Calle Jimenez, Calle Linares, La Paz Bolivia
A couple of agencies in the main tourist/backpacker areas run bike trips down to Coroico. From a pass above La Paz (4800m altitude) the road passes through the mountains and into the tropical jungle for 60-odd km to the lovely village/town of Coroico (1800m altitude) You are on the bike with guides all the way. Bring sunglasses to protect against the dust, and strong wrists to keep the brakes locked on...it's an awesome experience.
but a few operators run this trip
This is possibly one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced. Central La Paz lies in a valley, or chasm (make no mistake, this "valley" is still at an altitude of 3,500m), surrounded by a high plateau.
Get a cab way before dawn and ask to be dropped off at a panoramic point somewhere halfway up the mountain: the views at sunrise are breathtaking, and due to La Paz's unique geographical location this experience will probably stay with you for a long time.
Obviously you should not do this alone or take valuables.
Ask a cab driver, preferably one that has been recommended by your hotel or hostel, to drop you off at a panorama point that he knows and recommends. This should be about halfway up the mountain, between central La Paz and the city of El Alto at the top
The best international-standard restaurant in town has an impressive old Europe setting and a strong Germanic influence. It’s not cheap by Bolivian standards, but a good excuse to dress up and mix with the local high society; the set lunch is a good value way to soak up the atmosphere.
Calle Frederico Zuazo #1905
Tel: 244 1660
La Paz’s best overall hotel for value and service, comprises an adapted 19th-century colonial house built around a sunny courtyard. Rooms are tastefully decorated, facilities good and both the on-site coffee/internet bar and restaurant offer good-quality snacks and meals.
Avenida Illampu #704; tel: 245 1658; www.hotelrosario.com
After 2 days of luxury in Hotel Rosario, we moved to Alojamiento Juan XXIII, which although in the budget category was a great base to explore the city. At around Bs. 45 per room (£3-£4) it is incredibly good value for a clean, freshly decorated room with hot showers (unusual in Bolivia). With great hosts, a pretty garden and stunning views over the city I can thoroughly recommend this place for a great budget option.
Alojamiento Juan XXIII
Calle Juan XXIII No 24
Tel: 2312207 - 77525468
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