So we’ve just spent 9 nights in a hostel in La Paz, towards the southern end of the San Pedro barrio (neighbourhood), which sits to the west of the main road ‘El Prado’ running north/south in the centre of La Paz. This working class barrio has a rather dangerous reputation, but to be honest we had & saw no problems. It’s most famous as the location of the infamous San Pedro prison, renowned for its lawlessness, links to the drugs trade, and of course corruption.
It’s said that La Paz, at 3600m above sea level, sits in a kind of ‘bowl’, with the Altiplano (flat land between two mountain ranges) above, where you find it’s sister city El Alto at 4000+m.
In fact it sits in the valley, or canyon, of the Rio Choqueyapu, that runs south ‘downhill’ towards the posh suburb of Zona Sur and beyond to small towns & villages that are slowly being consumed by La Paz. Towering above all this is the snowcapped 6400+m Mt. Illimani. Actually La Paz sits in numerous valleys & canyons and has spread up the sides of all of them, with houses perched precariously on steep mountainsides and space at a premium. It is without doubt an absolutely insane location for a city of some 1 million people (with well over another 1 million in El Alto above), which of course makes it all the more dramatic.
In the central & northern parts of La Paz the sides of the canyon are perhaps at their steepest. Going up either east or west from El Prado (real names Mariscal Santa Cruz & Av. 16 Julio) is a real struggle on foot, even after 2 months at altitudes of 3000+m we find any uphill walk really gets the heart beating! So its a kind of relief to find many local people also struggling when going uphill. And we’ve been blessed with hot sunny weather much of the time, even though it’s supposed to be the ‘rainy season’, so its easy to get a real sweat on. Walking north/south is much more on the level and easier, until of course you start the climb up the main road north west towards El Alto, which nobody walks!