Insider South America Series, Chapter 12: La Paz, Bolivia - The Crazy City

person_outline Ryan Turnbull & Ethan Harwood
Oct 17, 2019

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timer 22 min read

Welcome to the highest city in the world and prepare yourself for the serious altitude. When Ethan was asked what it was like smoking there, his response was “Well, you can't do it and walk at the same time”...

Sitting at nearly 12,000 ft. tall, it's a crazy city with insane adventures just waiting for you to discover them.


Related: Insider South America Series, Chapter 11: Fiestas Patrias Festivities in Chile

Where to stay


Thankfully, that’s a straightforward and simple question. La Paz is a party city and you’ll need a party hostel to match. Even if you're not the party type, we have a recommendation for you that caters for everyone - The Wild Rover. Comfy beds with walls and a curtain for privacy, tour desk, hot showers, great WiFi, a bar, restaurant and free shots every night. Yes, you read that right… It’s got all your travel needs covered. If I was to go back, I would stay here again. It’s a very social environment. Whether you’re a solo traveller, in a couple or group, it’s the place to be!

Death Road

With accommodation sorted, you’ll want to look into what you can actually do here. Ever wanted one of those souvenir shirts that read “I survived Death Road”? Well, La Paz is the place to get one! Home to the most dangerous road on the planet, it really is an adventure not to be missed.

You can book the tour directly through the hostel. You have the choice of basic bikes or advanced bikes with extra suspension and braking. As it is a bit of a rough ride, spend a little extra and treat yourself to a good bike - you can thank us later. Your morning alarm will be set a tad early in order to make the transport on time, which will take you to the beginning of your ride. Here, you’ll be fully kitted up and fuelled with a complimentary breakfast.

Word of warning: It’s very high and can get very cold. It was snowing when we arrived, so we recommend packing some warm gear.

 

After breakfast, you’ll zoom down the tarmac for a short journey before reaching the dirt turnoff. You’ll see a pretty daunting sign that reads “Death Road”. Don’t worry; it’s not that dangerous. From here, ride downhill, twisting along the cliffs and stopping for pictures along the way. Sheer drops are to the side of you so be careful while having fun! You’ll have a break for photos at Devil’s Tail corner and you’ll also eventually stop for a snack about halfway down. Once you’ve finished resting, you’ll move on and eventually reach the bottom… Hopefully.

Just kidding! Have a beer, relax and get changed. To celebrate your victorious feat, the group is taken to a resort for an ‘all you can eat’ buffet lunch. Replenish, chill by the pool for a couple of hours and then head back to your hostel to kick off the party!

The Walking Tour and San Pedro Prison

The walking tour here in La Paz is a must-do tour and tip-oriented. You only pay what you feel is fair. It will give you a glimpse into the city’s history and show you all the sights worth seeing. It’s a great way to meet people and get your bearings. The highlight? Standing out the front of the notorious San Pedro Prison takes the cake. This particular prison really is like no other in the world.

The first thing you need to know is that it has no guards inside, they only man the front gate. You’re not assigned to a cell block or bed. The prisoners have to buy and choose one as they enter. Inside the prison is basically a small community of criminals. There are restaurants, barbers, bars and even jacuzzis for the wealthier inmates. Owned by inmates and run by inmates. Some of which chose to live with their families! Can you imagine growing up in prison?! Some of the inmates send their children to school every day. The richest of the lot send their children out of prison to the private school across the road and have them come back at night!

Side note: It gets a bit scary here - it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted.

 

There used to be tours available that you could do INSIDE the prison. You could pay a tour guide to take you inside the prison (after paying the guards at the front) and show you around before leaving again. This particular tour was incredibly dangerous and eventually shut down once inmates knew guards were making extra money and they weren’t getting a cut. Once the inmates found out, they would rob and extort the tourists... However, if you’re willing to do some shopping around and ask questions, you can still find these tours and will need to pay the tour guide, the guards and the inmates to let you out. Otherwise, be sure to find yourself a nice cell, you might be there a while...

 
 
 
 
 
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San Pedro Prison: I tried to get in but the bribes were too big... 😣 World’s most unique prison. Prisoners have to pay for everything there - cell, food, water, clothes. Many prisoners therefore have their own shops inside the prison. Main business? Cocain production. The prisoners run the prison themselves and guards do not dare enter the main parts of the prison. Many families live inside the walls with their sentenced member of family. Every morning and afternoon the doors to the prison open and kids run out and then back in to go to school. By simple observation from outside the prison one sees locals bribing guards during their visits or women coming out of the prison pulling money out from inside their bras at street corners and putting them inside their purses. One can bribe the guards to get inside the prison to see this unique community, but then nowadays the guards don’t let you out unless you pay then a large bribe in usd. The government denies any illegal tourism inside the prison moreover guards shutting “tourists” inside the prison until they receive a large sum in return for their release. I met an american who was out for his walk who has been shut inside for 14 years. I’ll get in one day when the bribes will be smaller... . #prison #sanpedro #lapaz #womenwhotravel #daretoexplore #localculture #roamtheplanet #travelblogger #travel #travelholic #cometravelwithme #travelphotography #peoplewhoadventure #iamtb #locallife #nomad #adventurer #nomadlifestyle #igtravel#traveligram #instago #trip #love #photooftheday #amazing #20likes #followme #swag #smile #instadaily

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Where to stay

Our lucky last recommendation, which is the cherry-on-top of a truly authentic La Paz experience, is ‘Crazy Dave’. He’s an American man who currently lives in La Paz, who not only spent fourteen years of his life in San Pedro (for smuggling 2.5 kgs of cocaine back to the US, may we add), but he also tried to break back into the prison four times! His reason? He was addicted to ‘snow white’. To hear the story about his animated life from the man himself, head to the main square at 1pm. He’s there every day and you’ll be blown away by his story. Don’t forget to tip at the end, his storytelling deserves it!

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Ryan Turnbull & Ethan Harwood

Ryan Turnbull & Ethan Harwood

Ryan & Ethan are guest bloggers currently hopping their way around South America and are the creative minds behind By Travellers For Travellers! For more hidden gems and tons of photographic inspiration from their adventure, follow them on @rysys_world_tour & @ethanharwood80.