La Paz, Bolivia | Top Ten Fun and Free Things to Do

La Paz, Bolivia, is a vibrant city with hillsides all around you at any moment that are strewn with the color, smells, and sounds of the Andes.

Beyond the well-known tourist attractions, I’m going to introduce you to ten off-the-beaten-path treasures that won’t cost you a single Bolivian or any other kind of penny, or in a couple of cases are so cheap they are almost free.

You are in for a treat of this most exotic and dramatic of Andean cities and will come away with a deeper appreciation of La Paz’s unique visceral energy that will stay in your mind and heart for the rest of your life.

Mercado de Brujas, La Paz, Bolivia.

1. Mercado de las Brujas (Witches Market)

Located in the heart of La Paz, the Mercado de las Brujas is an intriguing market where traditional healers peddle their mystical concoctions. While the market caters to both locals and tourists, its authenticity and cultural significance make it a must-visit destination. Stroll through the rows of brightly colored stalls adorned with dried herbs, amulets, and potions used in traditional Bolivian rituals. Immerse yourself in the fascinating world of indigenous beliefs and customs, and perhaps discover a unique souvenir or two. Take your time exploring this enchanting marketplace, as you never know what hidden treasures or fascinating stories you might come across.  

Witches is admittedly a term of convenience to refer to a more longstanding and serious tradition of shamans known as curanderos or kallawaya. They offer treatments in service of Pachamama, or Mother Earth, and concentrate their activity in markets like this one in La Paz. 

The market is just two blocks west of the Plaza de Mayor San Francisco on Avenida Santa Cruz and then take a left on Linares and you will walk right into it. Wherever you see signs like “Tienda Esoterica”, that is a legitimate witches’ market selling items as described above. Be aware that if you try to take photos, they will ask you for a fee, so be discreet. Instead of just buying souvenirs, try to immerse yourself a level deeper by seeking out a blessing, a card reading, or another type of short ceremony.  The word you want to ask for as a ceremony is a cha’lla, although if you ask for that the bruja will want you to explain more about what you want it for (to heal some pain in your body, to ask for a blessing for your new house, to help you grieve), so be prepared to go into more detail. Once you’ve done that, then they will put some herbs and potions into a metal bowl and set it over a fire, which is not really for you, but an appeasement to Mother Earth for her to intervene.  While that is burning over the fire, the shaman will do some other work on you with a reading or touching, and then when the offering is burnt, they may wrap up the ashes and give them to you to bury on your property.

Mirador Killi Killi, La Paz, Bolivia.

2. Mirador Killi Killi

How do you stay in the thick of the city, stay outdoors, and still escape the hubbub?  Hike up the hill right in the middle of La Paz and find tranquility at Mirador Killi Killi. This lookout point offers breathtaking panoramic views of La Paz and gives you a good vantage of how the city is nestled amidst the surrounding mountains. It’s a spectacular choice if you go up when the sun is setting so you can witness the city below transforming into a dazzling sea of lights as you soak in the mesmerizing beauty of this hidden gem.

As you walk up the hills, do it slowly, because remember you’re walking at the highest altitude of any major city in the world.  You will see quaint neighborhoods and local markets before reaching the viewpoint. Once you have arrived at the Killi Killi platform, breathe in the cool mountain air while you watch the city unfold before your eyes. Don’t forget your camera, as the photo opportunities from this place are those only an eagle would be privileged to see otherwise.

Now, truth be told you can take a cab all the way to the viewpoint, but that takes the joy out of it.  I would suggest having a taxi take you to the bottom of the hill at Tejada Sorzano and Avenida La Bandera.  Don’t take the cobblestone street up, but the paved one which is La Bandera.  Keep going until you reach the top which is the intersection of Teniente Rosendo Villa and La Bandera, and there you will see the big entrance to the Mirador Killi Killi.

Valle de las Animas, La Paz, Bolivia.

3. Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley)

Located just 10 km outside the city center you will find the breathtaking landscapes of Valle de la Luna, named so because it feels like you’re walking around on the moon. This otherworldly terrain is characterized by towering clay formations caused by erosion. As you wander along the well-marked trails, marvel at the unique geological formations that have been shaped by wind and water over millions of years. The moon valley is particularly magical during sunrise and sunset when the soft light bathes the landscape in an ethereal glow. Entrance is free.  

To get there, just hire our Around Town service. I recommend the 4-hour package, which is a comfortable amount of time to visit Valle de la Luna and get back without being rushed.  The driver will pick you up and return you to your hotel and will stay there at the parking area of Valle de la Luna while you get your fill of walking around the trails and taking photos. 

If you want to go to a very similar but less visited place nearby, just tell the driver to take you to Valle de las Animas.  This is also a moonscape, but it’s down a gravel road, trails are less marked and you would be a little more pressed for time with the 4-hour package because the environment is more challenging and it is a little farther away.  However, you can either just plan on a shorter visit there, or upgrade to an 8-hour package if you want to hike around all day and get back to your hotel by dinner.

Charango

4. Museo de Instrumentos Musicales de Bolivia

Now, this one is not entirely free, but stay with me because I’m going to tell you at the end a secret about how to get double the value from it that zeros out the small fee you pay to get in.  

Wherever you go in Bolivia you will encounter new and unusual musical instruments, but only in La Paz will you find a single place that will show all of them together and explain what they are and the culture behind them.  This is the incredible Museo de Instrumentos Musicales where you can explore the rich musical heritage of Bolivia. It showcases a fascinating collection of traditional Bolivian musical instruments, offering insights into the cultural diversity and artistic expressions of the country. Immerse yourself in the sounds and rhythms of Bolivia’s indigenous music as you learn about the historical context and traditional uses of each instrument. From the haunting melodies of the Antara flute (sikus) to the rhythmic beats of the Charango, this museum is a treat for both music enthusiasts and curious travelers alike. Take your time to appreciate the craftsmanship and artistry behind these instruments, and perhaps even get the chance to play a few notes yourself.

The museum is on the corner of Calle Jaen and Alto de la Alianza in the historic center of La Paz. Every Saturday night at 7 pm, the museum holds a charango concert, showcasing some of La Paz’s most seasoned musicians. It’s around Bs 20 to enter and well worth the price to hear the beautiful Andean music and to check out some of the more experimental instruments.  The charge is only 5-10 Bs, which is so inexpensive it’s close to free.

Now, having visited the museum, to get up close and personal with the instruments you learned about, go back to the same street of the Witches Market described above as this is the same area with a plethora of native musical instrument stores that are lined out like a string of pearls as you walk down Linares Street toward Sagarnaga. Look for their names like Walata Centro de Instrumentos Nativos, Alba Fabrica de Instrumentos (my personal favorite), Kaluyo Instrumentos Musicales, Instrumentos Musical Alquile, and La Casa de la Musica Sumakj. You will learn more and more with each tienda you visit, and I guarantee you will be coming home with a flute or guitar to start practicing.

Art in La Paz cemetery

5. Cementerio General de La Paz (General Cemetery)

For some, this may be embarking on a contemplative journey, while for others a way to touch upon many stories through history, and yet others an unrushed encounter with another culture’s treatment of death and the reverence for memory. It all comes together in the serene ambiance of the Cementerio General de La Paz. This sprawling cemetery is not only a final resting place but also an open-air museum, showcasing ornate mausoleums adorned with beautiful sculptures and intricate artwork.

Take a moment to reflect upon the lives of those who came before and admire the architectural beauty that pays homage to the rich cultural tapestry of Bolivia. Beyond the grandeur of the cemetery’s architecture, you’ll discover the stories of influential figures and national heroes who have shaped Bolivia’s history. Wander through the peaceful pathways, reading the epitaphs and marveling at the artistic expressions that celebrate the lives of those buried here.

The cemetery is on the far western side of the historic district, open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The best entrance gate is that on Av. Baptista across from the flower market.  To get to the oldest part of the cemetery, walk past the mausoleum at the entrance gate and keep walking until you get to a four-way intersection of paths, and then take a right turn and walk just a little way and it will be on your left.

6. Mi Teleférico (Cable Car Ride)

Experience the city from a unique perspective with a ride on Mi Teleférico, La Paz’s modern cable car system. This innovative mode of transport provides convenient access to different parts of the city as well as breathtaking views. Glide high above the bustling streets, admiring the stunning vistas of La Paz and the surrounding mountains. As you soar above the city, observe the urban landscape below, dotted with colorful houses and bustling markets. The cable cars are particularly magical during sunset when the sky is painted with hues of orange and red. This exhilarating and free attraction allows you to appreciate the natural beauty of La Paz while providing a convenient means of getting around.

The cable car system in La Paz is divided into various lines like a subway system in other major cities, with each line represented by a color.  If you are having a hard time deciding which one would be the best to experience, go with the Red line (linea roja) followed by a close second for the White line (linea blanca).

This is an experience that is not strictly free, but it’s so cheap at 35 US cents that it’s practically free, and what you get for those pennies out of your pocket is a great value of seeing so much of the city by gliding over it.

Museo San Francisco, La Paz, Bolivia.

7. Museo San Francisco

The Centro Cultural Museo San Francisco is an important cultural institution located in the city of La Paz, and it’s free to visit! Its creation was motivated by the need to preserve and conserve the arts, as well as the memories associated with the events and historical moments of the city.  Formerly a Franciscan convent founded in 1549, just one year after the founding of La Paz, the space itself is a connection to the very beginning of La Paz. Inside its walls, you will find the main art collection that consists of religious paintings of indigenous peoples, which are refined examples of the so-called mestizo baroque style. These works of art provide a unique insight into the cultural and artistic expressions of the indigenous peoples, making the museum a valuable destination for art enthusiasts and cultural explorers.

The museum is right in the middle of a highly visited area, but is surprisingly overlooked by many tourists.  Just two blocks up the Ingavi stree from Plaza Murillo, one of the most famous plazas of the city, near the intersection of Genaro Sanjines.  

You’ll find it easily as it occupies a major part of the Plaza San Francisco that is the heart of La Paz, and sits next to the Basilica San Francisco.  Visiting hours are a bit odd, however.  They are only open two hours daily, from 4-6 p.m., and closed on Sundays.

Parque Urbano, La Paz

8. Parque Urbano Central (Central Urban Park)

La Paz’s largest metropolitan park has a ton of beauty and recreation to fill your day, without needing to spend anything to enjoy some fun and relaxation. Find respite in the tranquil oasis of Parque Urbano Central, an expansive park that offers lush greenery, flower gardens, and beautifully landscaped ponds. Escape the urban chaos as you take a leisurely stroll along the winding pathways or find a shaded spot to relax on the grass. The park’s carefully manicured gardens and peaceful atmosphere provide the perfect setting for a picnic or a moment of solitude. Parque Urbano Central also hosts occasional cultural events, concerts, and exhibitions, providing a delightful opportunity to engage with the local community and experience the vibrant arts scene of La Paz.

Serving as a kind of green hedge between the western and eastern sides of the city center, the best place to enter the park is Campo Ferial Bicentennial, an amazingly packed outdoor market of stall with tin roofs that create a welcome joy to walking into the park’s northern end.  Then you can meander for several blocks in a southerly direction and get an eyeful of people resting, jogging, playing sports, vendors selling park snacks, outdoor theater and exhibits, and more.

Museo de Coca

9. Museo de Coca

That’s right, the coca leaf from which the drug cocaine is made is a very traditional and nutritional plant used for centuries by Bolivians, and in this small museum, you can learn more about its history and practical uses today. 

Located in the popular Calle Sagarnaga area that is lined with free galleries and curio shops, the Coca museum invites you in to see photographic and other exhibits of the plant, and its cultivars, and to demystify and destigmatize the plant that has gotten a bad reputation from just one nefarious processing.  There’s even a cafe on the second floor where you can buy products like coca with chocolate, coca tea, or coca liquor, although these will cost a bit of money.  Be careful not to pack these in your luggage, as they are not legal once taken outside the country.

Cathedral of La Paz, Bolivia

10. Cathedral of La Paz

Built to astound and inspire awe, the massive cathedral of La Paz dates back to 1692 in its first version, then rebuilt in 1835 when several parts of the original structure were found to be rapidly crumbling.  The church has immense stained glass windows, and five separate naves, and can seat nearly one thousand pilgrims for a mass. Just be aware that no photography is allowed inside.

Conclusion

La Paz, Bolivia, is a city filled with hidden treasures waiting to be explored. From mysterious markets to breathtaking natural landscapes and cultural havens, these ten activities offer a diverse and enriching experience for visitors. Venture beyond the well-trodden tourist paths and discover the lesser-known gems that lie in the heart of this remarkable city. You will be surprised how many things are free or cost only a few coins at most to get in.

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