Our arrival in the highest capital city in the world (alt. 3400m), La Paz was fascinating. The city is set in a massive valley and is chockablock to the rim and can only be described as a gigantic bowl of buildings! The first thing that struck us was the general chaos and busyness of the streets. Traffic was manic as busses, cars and trucks were trying to get through already jam-packed roads full of people. And of course, road rules and traffic lights are optional extras to be followed.
La Paz is unlike any city we’ve seen so far. The valley makes it feel like the city is going to swallow you at any minute. Like walking the streets near our hotel and rounding the corner and finding ourselves in one of La Paz’s most popular attractions – The Witches Market or Mercado de las Brujas in Spanish. Here you can find everything that is needed to perform Aymara (Bolivian indigenous culture) rituals to Pachamama (mother earth); including all sorts of herbs, amulets, potions and of course the disturbing dried llama fetuses. It was shocking and interesting to say the least.
Our main reason for being in La Paz
is a much anticipated (well, on James’ side anyway) excursion into the nearby Cordillera Real mountains and attempting the summits of the nearby peaks of Pequeño Alpamayo (5370m), Huayna Potosi (6088m) and the city’s towering Illimani (6439m).
Before heading out into the mountains we first did an acclimatization hike up to Chacaltaya mountain, just outside the city and made famous for the being the world’s highest ski resort at 5400m. It is also ‘easily’ accessible with a short walk up to the peak, making it a good practice for high altitude hiking. Unfortunately the skiable glacier has retreated significantly in the last few years and is no longer operational year round; only during the snowy season can the locals enjoy skiing in the area. From Chacaltaya we got an awesome view of Huanya Potosi and Illamani. For us, Chacaltaya was also the first time we had been above 5000m, and celebrated with a ‘5000-high-five’!
The next day we toured the local pre Inca ruins of Tiwanaku and marveled at the massive stone statues and perfectly aligned sun gates. Interesting, the site is still be explored by archeologists so a few of the sites were closed.
we head into the mountains to climb the three peaks.
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