28th February – La Paz was founded in 1548 and given the name La Ciudad de Nuestra Senora de La Paz – the City of our Lady of Peace. There can be few other cities that have such a spectacular setting at around 3600m……..the highest capital city. Surrounded by high mountains and dominated by snow covered Mount Illimani to the southeast, La Paz sits in a bowl-like canyon amongst a strange, lunar landscape with pinnacles of weathered cream and red rock.
We have been advised by many people that once you get into the centre of La Paz, you will never find your way out! Fortunately we are camping at Hotel Oberland in Mallasa on the outskirts of La Paz, where they have a small grass yard area for ‘ Globe Trotters ‘ – a kind thought! When we arrive, there are already vehicles from Germany, North Carolina and California.
This immaculate little hotel, set on a steep hillside amongst garden and grass areas, is in a perfect position for catching taxis or the cheap local buses into the city centre or suburbs. It has an excellent cafe for snacks and light lunches and delicious cooking smells wafting across from the restaurant each day. There is access to Wi-fi anywhere in the hotel and grounds and 24hr. laundry service. The Swiss owner and all the staff are extremely helpful with whatever is required, and it is a great place for meeting other overlanders to swap information. Definitely a place to be recommended.
1st – 3rd March – Our first visit to the centre of La Paz by taxi, is a pleasant surprise. We climb continuously and the houses seem to climb the hills also, clinging precariously to the steep sides, with the city’s poorer inhabitants occupying homes that spread up the rock faces into every possible space, as if they are trying to touch the sky.
The beautiful Iglesia de San Francisco with its ornate interior, is situated in one of the main plazas in the city centre – Plaza de San Francisco.
Attached to this church is the Centro Cultural – Museo San Francisco, once a beautiful monastery and now a museum, with a tranquil garden surrounded by pillars and arches and some wonderful 17th century art work.
Amongst La Paz’s fine, old, colonial buildings, rise glass towers – modern hotels, office blocks and apartments.
The Museo de Arte however, is housed in what was once a beautiful house, its ornate interior over 3 floors now dedicated to a very interesting and varied collection of paintings and sculptures.
Outside, stall holders line the crowded pavements and the main street is congested with taxis and buses, which will stop wherever you hail them. It’s a challenge just to cross the roads. The big, old Dodge and Ford buses belching out fumes, are particularly nostalgic, with plenty of chrome and colourful paintwork.
The street life in La Paz has real energy and plenty of colour, from its indigenous population, its busy markets and handicraft stalls and shops, down to its ice cream parlours and fancy cake shops!
4th March – We visit the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) within walking distance from Hotel Oberland. A protected Ecological System and National Park, with weird and wonderful views of a series of rock formations, created by underground waters, rain and wind. These extraordinary formations, similar to a lunar landscape, are situated within a clay deposit, their characteristics being the result of thousands of years of erosion of clay, silt and volcanic ash.