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What you need to know about La Paz

La Paz, officially known as Nuestra Señora de La Paz, also named Chuqi Yapu (Chuquiago) in Aymara, is the seat of government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. La Paz is the third-most populous city (after Santa Cruz de la Sierra and El Alto). Its metropolitan area, which is formed by La Paz, El Alto and Viacha, make the most populous urban area in Bolivia, with a population of 2.3 million inhabitants. It is also the capital of the La Paz Department. The city, located in west-central Bolivia, 68 km (42 mi) southeast of Lake Titicaca, is set in a canyon created by the Choqueyapu River and sits in a bowl-like depression surrounded by the high mountains of the altiplano.

La Paz, in Bolivia, is the highest administrative capital in the world, resting on the Andes’ Altiplano plateau at more than 3,500m above sea level. It stretches to El Alto city in the highlands, with snow-capped, 6,438m-high Mt. Illimani as its backdrop. The city’s dramatic setting can be taken in during rides on Mi Teleférico, the aerial cable car system.

La Paz was founded on October 20, 1548 by the Spanish conquistador Captain Alonso de Mendoza at the site of the Inca settlement of Laja as a connecting point between the commercial routes that led from Potosí and Oruro to Lima; the full name of the city was originally Nuestra Señora de La Paz (meaning Our Lady of Peace) in commemoration of the restoration of peace following the insurrection of Gonzalo Pizarro and fellow conquistadors against the first viceroy of Peru. The city was later moved to its present location in the valley of Chuquiago Marka. La Paz was originally under Spanish rule when it belonged to the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. Since its founding, the city experienced numerous revolts, the most significant ones being in 1781, when the indigenous leader and independence activist Túpac Katari laid siege to the city for a total of six months and on July 16, 1809 when the Bolivian patriot Pedro Domingo Murillo ignited a revolution of independence marking the beginning of the Spanish American Wars of Independence.

Area: 182.2 mi²
Population: 789,585(2001)

Currency


The currency used in Bolivia is the boliviano. One United States Dollar is approximately 6.8 bolivianos, one British Pound approximately 11.3 bolivianos and one euro approximately 9.9 bolivianos.
Boliviano bills come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200. Boliviano coins consist of 1, 2 and 5 bolivianos and 10, 20, and 50 centavos (cents in English). The currency symbol is $b and the currency code is BOB.
Money exchange houses are in most locations, often in abundance. Exchanging dollars, pounds or euros into bolivianios should never be a problem. In smaller towns you may have to go into one of these and change your 100 boliviano notes given by the ATM into smaller bills (20 or 10 denomination bank notes) as local shop owners rarely have change.
There is a limit of 300 USD per ATM transaction. This is for your safety, to prevent theives from being able to extort large amounts of cash easily.

Climate

At more than 4,000 metres (13,000 ft) above sea level, higher parts of La Paz have an unusual subtropical highland climate (Cwc, according to the Köppen climate classification), with subpolar oceanic characteristics (less than 4 months have a mean temperature above 10 °C). The whole city has rainy summers and dry winters. Night-time temperatures range from cold to very cold. Snow flurries can occur in winter, especially at dawn and it usually melts before noon. At these high altitudes despite being located only 16 degrees from the equator, the city’s average temperature is similar to that of cities such as Bergen, Norway or Tórshavn, Faroe Islands, located as far as 60 and 62 degrees from the equator respectively.

The temperatures in the central La Paz, at 3,600 metres (11,811 feet), and in the Zona Sur (Southern Zone), at 3,250 m (10,663 ft) above sea level, are warmer (subtropical highland climate Cwb, according to the Köppen classification).

Languages

There are 38 ethnic groups described in the Bolivia Constitution, which also includes the languages spoken by each of them. However, only 4 languages are utilized by a considerable number of Bolivians:

  • Spanish: Is spoken by 84% of the population. La Paz, Bolivia, is a good city to learn this language since the accent there is neutral, as it is in Mexico City and Bogotá.
  • Quechua: is spoken by 28% of the population. It was the common language of the Inca and is currently spoken in Cochabamba, Tarija, Potosí and Chuquisaca in Bolivia.
  • Aymara: Is spoken by 18% of the population and is one of the oldest Latin American pre-Colombian languages. It is spoken in Bolivia in La Paz and Oruro.
  • Guaraní: Is spoken by 1% of the population. This is the native language of the Guaraní, an ethnic group from the Chaco and Amazonian regions. It is one of the official languages of Paraguay. In Bolivia it is spoken in the department of Santa Cruz.

Safety

La Paz is not the safest city so you might want to apply common standard precautions.

In crowded areas be careful for pickpockets and bagslashers. A common trick is that one person spills something on your clothes and, while you or he wipes it off, another person lifts your wallet or slashes your bag. Be vigilant when checking into a hotel or hostel. Keep a hand on all your bags and belongings at all times. Acting as if they work for the hotel, opportunist thieves will create a diversion and snatch the nearest unattended bag.

If you are approached by plain-clothed police officers, don’t show any valuables or your passport. Certainly, don’t get in a taxi with them as it is a trap. Undercover police are strictly ordered not to hassle tourists. There have been several cases of muggings and things going missing from bags or luggage after “drug searches”. Insist on being taken to the police station before giving them access to your things. If you can, call the 110, which is the Bolivian number for emergencies.

There have been several cases of violent muggings in taxis. Take only Radio Cabs (they will have the telephone number and their call centre listed above the cab). The taxis, or Gypsy Cabs, have no boarding above the taxi and have taxi written on the side and are are dangerous to take at night, as many of the drivers are paid to drive tourists to specific locations for muggings.

Getting around

There are three types of shared public transportation in La Paz: regular buses or “micros”; shared vans, called “mini buses”, and shared taxis running set routes advertised on the windshield, called “trufis”.

The easiest way to get around is by taxi. They aren’t metered, so agree on a fare before boarding. Make sure that the taxi has a yellow sticker on the windshield and rear paasenger side window that displays a 4 figure number. That is the only surefire way to ensure you are getting into a geniune registered taxi, and not a dangerous ‘gypsy taxi’. Gypsy taxis may have taxi painted on the side of the car, and even have the boarding on the roof, always look for the yellow stickers.

If you ever find yourself to be lost, in general the easiest thing is to simply walk downhill. You will eventually find yourself on the Prado or another main avenue, then You’ll be able to take a taxi to the downtown, if you are on the southside of the city (Zona sur).