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La Paz is the capital of Bolivia and is located at the unlikely altitude of 12,500 feet, its airport is appropriately called El Alto meaning "the high" at over 14,000 feet.La Paz is below the airport. The road corkscrews into an immense bowl like canyon. It's a big city but dwarfed by its setting at the foot of Nevado Illimani mountain.
The traveler will see the tremendous differences in the people and buildings that are a result of Bolivia's economy, the poorest in South America. From adobe huts to glass skyscrapers, it is a contrast that leaves a profound impression on the traveler.
Actually founded in 1548 as the "city of peace" its history was punctuated by various revolutions and wars and in the 1809 gained independence from Spain.
La Plaza de los Españoles, that today is the Plaza Murillo, is the location for government buildings and the main cathedral.
Today La Paz is a vibrant city, growing and expanding in all directions. with a population of more than a 1,500,000million.
Within La Paz there are different climates according to each zone's altitude. The average temperature in winter is 59F and 72F in summer. In the summer, rain falls on most afternoons. In the winter, days are slightly cooler, but the sky is mostly clear and sunny.
Taxis are plentiful and not expensive. The city of La Paz is best "walked" to appreciate the changes that have occurred in the establishment of the city. There have been, historically, three 'city centers' and the influence of each, helps you appreciate what we see today. Again a guide makes these areas come alive. A word of caution. The extreme altitude dictates flatlanders take it easy especially for the first few days. You may want to take along some medication to help you cope.
Presidential Palace: Also known as the Palacio Quemado (Burnt Palace) due to repeating fire episodes the building endured in the past.
The Cathedral: Built in 1835, the cathedral is an impressive building worth seeing. It is located in the Plaza Murillo next to the Presidential Palace.
Mercado de Brujas (Witches' Market): Merchandise sold here includes herbs, remedies as well as other ingredients used in Aymara traditions.
Tiahuanaco: These ruins, built over 1,000 years ago by the Tiahuancu people, are one of the most exciting places to visit.
La Paz is a relatively safe city but like all big cities the traveler should be prudent in the areas visited and avoid display of jewelry or cash. I always wear a Timex instead of my Rolex.
The electric currency is, as in most of South America, 220 volts most better hotels have converters you can borrow or rent.
The currency is which exchanges for the USD at about 7 to one although as in the rest of the world, bank money machines are pretty easy to find. You can follow this link to find the actual current rate.
Spanish is of course the main language and except for the more upscale commercial areas and hotels English is not often found.
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