La Paz is a sprawling metropolis and the world’s highest ‘capital’ city at 3600m (11,975ft). The official capital of Bolivia is actually Sucre but La Paz is home to the government and administration departments.
We stayed on Calle Illampu near Sagarnaga and the famous witches’ market. We weren’t too enamoured with the city at first and the area around our hotel became deserted (bar a few shady characters) at night, not the nicest place to be wandering around after dark.
Luckily we signed up for the Red Cap Walking Tour on our last day and it kind of saved our impressions of the city. The tour lasts around 2.5 hours and starts outside the infamous San Pedro Prison. The prison is run entirely by the inmates and the guards never go inside. Some of the prisoners families even live in there with them and the purest “sugar” in Bolivia is said to be produced within its walls.
The girls explained how prison tours used to run (these are now illegal but were once the number one La Paz activity in the Lonely Planet!).
The tour also visited markets and famous squares and we really gained an understanding of La Paz, the political history of Bolivia and its culture.
We couldn’t visit La Paz and not go and see some Cholita wrestling! Every Sunday and Thursday a group called The Flying Cholitas battle it out in nearby El Alto. Most hotels and tour agencies can arrange for your transport there and back, VIP ringside seating and a snack and souvenir are included.
The word Cholita derives from the word Chola – a more insulting term for someone of mixed-race. But the word Cholita is used affectionately and these indigenous women are now beginning to break through the stereotyping and discrimination that was once forced upon them to become a real force in fashion, economics and even politics.
You really need a sense of humour for the wrestling, it was one of the most hilarious things we’ve ever seen! It started with an all male lucha libre warm-up, followed by rounds of Cholitas in their big petticoats and plaited hair. Even the refs would get involved, joining in and turning on the girls – with many boos from the crowd!
Obviously we all know wrestling is fake but these women were hard as nails, getting flung around and literally flying into the crowd at one point! A great night out and probably our highlight of La Paz.