La Paz is, although not the capital (Sucre has this function), the world’ s highest seat of government.
It is located in a crater-shaped and almost vegetation-free broad canyon 400 meters below the city of El Alto, which not only has the international airport, but also more inhabitants (949912) than La Paz (896802). The view from above to the grey-brown sea of houses is breathtaking not only because of the altitude, but at first sight not in a romantic sense. Don’t let yourself be discouraged, as La Paz can be quite charming, once you start to immerse into the maze of streets. This maze shows a gradient within the city in a twofold respect: There are more than a thousand vertical metres between the highest and the lowest point of the city and the deeper one gets, the more mundane the neighbourhoods become.
Most of the classical sights can be found in the old town called “Casco Viejo”: The most beautiful of La Paz’ churches is undoubtedly San Francisco, located at the Plaza of the same name next to the ”Prado” called inner city main thoroughfare. If you take a closer look, you will see numerous indigenous symbols such as masks, snakes, dragons and tropical birds beneath the artistic stone carvings on its façade. Completed in 1784, the monastery is considered an outstanding example of baroque American architecture. Inside, the Baroque style gives way to a neoclassical decor.
The Plaza Murillo, flanked by the government palace and the cathedral, represents the centre of political and religious power. The former is also known as the Palacio Quemado (burnt palace) due to the fact that it was burned eight times (!) throughout its history. The Witches’ Market (Mercado de Brujas) fascinates tourists through its curious voyeuristic attraction. The wide range of goods on offer includes dried lama fetuses, which are used as foundation sacrifices for new houses.
One of the last remaining ensembles of colonial architecture is the lavishly restored Calle Jaen. Several buildings on the street are now converted into museums. These include the Casa de Murillo, the home of the independence fighter Don Pedro Domingo Murillo, who was executed in 1810, and the Museo del Litoral Boliviano, which commemorates the Pacific War of 1879 with documents, paintings and uniforms and is intended to underline Bolivia’s claim to access to the Pacific.
A worldwide unique museum can be found in the Calle Linares on the corner of Sagárnaga. The “Museo del Coca” is dedicated to the thousands of years old cultivated plant, its history and meaning up to the cocaine production for the western markets. The Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Plaza is located on the west side of the Prado, in a 19th century building declared a National Monument, with an excellent selection of contemporary art by national and international artists (16 de Julio 1615). Six kilometres south of the city centre near Mallasilla, La Paz has its ” Moon Valley “. The Valle de la Luna with its bizarre rock formations is the result of millions of years of erosion caused by wind and water.