La Paz, Bolivia has so much going for it that we couldn’t cover it all in just one post, so welcome to our 3-part La Paz city travel guide series! Part 3 reveals great day trips around La Paz including exploring the Tiwanaku archaeological site, braving Bolivia’s Death Road, where to hike through dramatic landscapes, and much more.
Day trips around La Paz, Bolivia
It’s true that there are plenty of things to do in the city of La Paz, but the city also makes a great base from which to enjoy these diverse day trips.
1. Bolivia’s Death Road
A 23 mile (37 km) stretch of dirt road in the mountains west of La Paz is one of the most notorious roads in the world. Dozens of people have lost their lives in traffic accidents on the extremely narrow and curvy road and it’s said that the road was also used by the Bolivian government as a place to toss opposition members into the gorge below during the revolution in the country in the 1950s. For those reasons, the North Yungas Road is now more commonly known as the Death Road. A less-lethal paved highway was built in 2007 and most vehicle traffic now takes that route between La Paz and Coroico, bypassing the Death Road completely. In recent years, the Death Road has become a playground for guided groups of bicyclists (many tour companies in La Paz offer this trip) and by drivers, like us. See what all the fuss is about in our full post about driving Bolivia’s Death Road.
2. Valley of the Moon
Take a taxi about 7 miles (10 km) south of the city to explore an area of jagged, steep, hillsides that have been dramatically eroded by wind and water. The area is appropriately named Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) and an easy loop trail (allow about an hour) winds through the otherworldly landscape. You’ll pass formations with names like The Turtle Shell and The Cholita’s Hat, but mostly you’ll be surrounded by unnamed formations as far as the eye can see. It really does look and feel like another world.
3. Tiwanaku archaeological site
The Tiwanaku archaeological site, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000, is a testament to the still little understood Tiwanaku pre-Columbian culture. About 50 miles (80 km) from La Paz, the site is at 12,600 feet (3,850 meters) on the Altiplano near the southern shore of Lake Titikaka. The settlement started small around 100 AD and steadily grew, eventually becoming an innovative urban and cultural center. A sophisticated drainage system, semi-underground temples, carved stone heads, pyramids, sandstone pillars, the 10 ton Sun Gate carved from a single slab, and much more make this site diverse and compelling. An onsite museum contains finds from the site including pottery, arrowheads, and a mummy. Another onsite museum houses some of the site’s most iconic carved stone monoliths. Get all the know-how about exploring this site in our full post about Tiwanaku.
4. Palca Canyon
Hiking through Cañon de Palca (Palca Canyon) is a great way to see farming communities and enjoy a scenic canyon walk (many tour companies in La Paz offer this as a guided day trip). We started our Palca Canyon hike at Allkamari Boutique Eco Resort & Spa which is located just east of the city. From there, we walked through fields and villages before dropping into the canyon where we followed the wide, rocky, mostly-dry riverbed gently downhill, passing dramatic canyon walls eroded by wind and water. About five hours later we reached the town of Palca where a van was waiting to take us back to Allkamri for an excellent and well-earned lunch of Andean favorites at their Luz Andina restaurant. Be prepared for about five hours of walking in the sun (there’s very little shade) over medium to large river stones. Wear good shoes, good sunscreen, and a hat, and bring plenty of water.
5. Mamani Mamani murals in El Alto
Roberto Mamani Mamani is one of Bolivia’s most famous artists and he draws on his Amayra heritage to create warm depictions of traditional life and Andean landscapes in very vibrant colors. His work comes in many shapes and sizes, including massive murals on the buildings that make up the Wiphala housing complex in the city of El Alto on the Altiplano above the city of La Paz. If you have your own vehicle, as we do, you can easily drive to this housing complex and see the art for yourself. Otherwise, some tour companies in La Paz offer guided tours with transportation to see these murals. See all of the murals and learn the story behind them in our photo essay about the Mamani Mamani murals in El Alto.
6. Lake Titikaka, Isla de la Luna, and Isla del Sol
Lake Titikaka (spelled Titicaca locally) is the highest navigable lake in the world and a top tourist destination in Bolivia. The lake is also home to two culture-rich islands, Isla de la Luna and Isla del Sol, where the Inca, who considered the lake sacred, built temples that you can visit to this day. It’s a very, very long day trip from La Paz, but many tour companies offer guided journeys to the lake and the islands and back again. It’s worth it if this is your only chance to get to the lakeside town of Copacabana, Lake Tittkaka, and these islands–though we recommend exploring the lake at a more leisurely pace by spending a few days in Copacabana. Full details are in our post about exploring Isla de la Luna and Isla del Sol.
La Paz, Bolivia travel tips
Flights to La Paz land at El Alto International Airport, the world’s highest international airport, at 13,323 feet (4,060 meters) on a plateau above the city. Chances are, that’s much higher than wherever you’re flying in from so you’re likely to feel the altitude. Common effects of altitude are shortness of breath and fatigue, but you can mitigate those feelings by avoiding over-exertion, drinking lots of water (but only the purified kind, never water from the tap), and limiting alcohol which goes to your head faster at altitude.
Also, we got pickpocketed while walking around the central downtown area of La Paz (only the second time that’s happened on the whole journey), and we’re not alone. Don’t carry unnecessary valuables around with you in La Paz and be sure anything you are carrying is secure.
Use our La Paz, Bolivia city travel guide series of posts to plan your own trip to this one-of-a-kind destination.
Part 1 covers what to do in La Paz and hotels in La Paz.
Part 2 covers top bars and restaurants in La Paz.
Here’s more about travel in Bolivia
See all of our City Travel Guides