La Paz, Bolivia: Travel/Tourist Information Guide

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La Paz is the largest city in Bolivia.It is well known for its unique markets, a very unusual topography and a traditional culture. It is the seat of the Bolivian Government and the capital of the La Paz Department. La Paz was officially recognized as one of the New7Wonders city (which was an internet based poll conducted by the New7Wonders Foundation) in May 2015.

It is located on the western side of Bolivia at an elevation of roughly 3,650 m (i.e. 11,975 ft) above sea level in the valleys of the Andes close to the Eastern split of the Altiplano region. The site of Sajama Volcano which is the tallest mountain in Bolivia and the 9th tallest mountain in the Andes region is on the western side of the Altiplano divide which is approximately at an hour’s distance towards the West of La Paz. La Paz is also in close proximity to Huayna, Potosi, Mururata, Illampu and the famous Illimani mountains which are known to be the guardian of La Paz.

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The city of La Paz has been built in a canyon that was created by the Choqueyapu River which runs northwest to southeast. The satellite city of El Alto, which has an airport, is spread over a broad area towards the west of the canyon, on the Altiplano. The city's main thoroughfare more or less follows the river and the names change across its length. However, the tree-lined central section that runs through the downtown core is called the Prado.

La Paz is Bolivia’s 3rd most populated city and the social status of the residents is reflected in the various dwellings and structures found at the different altitudes across the city. The houses of the truly affluent are found in the lower neighborhoods southwest of the Prado, while many high-rise condos are inhabited by middle-class residents near the center and the surrounding hills are inhabited by those who are not so fortunate economically and are unable to afford luxurious houses. The houses in this area are usually makeshift plastered brick houses.

Improved political stability in recent years has resulted in great improvement taking place in terms of the economy of La Paz. A large informal economy developed that resulted in at least one vendor being found on every street in the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods. This was due to the long period of high inflation and economic struggle faced by Bolivians in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The manufacturing enterprises in La Paz amounts to two-thirds of Bolivia's total manufacturing industry and is the principal center of manufacturing units producing finished-product goods for the country. The industry is largely dominated by mineral processing and the preparation of agricultural products but there are also small plants in the urban center of La Paz that manufacture processed foods, tobacco products, clothes, various consumer goods, building materials and agricultural tools. Tin also plays a major role in the economic development, not only for La Paz but for Bolivia as a whole.

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La Paz is home to some of the biggest football teams in Bolivia.

It also has some of the most important universities of the country which include: Universidad Mayor de San Andrés; Universidad Católica Boliviana San Pablo; Universidad Central de Bolivia; Universidad Privada del Valle; UP Boliviana; Escuela Militar de Ingeniería; Universidad Salesiana de Bolivia; Universidad Nur Bolivia; Universidad Loyola and Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar Bolivia.

Climate

By the virtue of being based at a high altitude above sea level some parts of La Paz have an unusual subtropical highland climate with sub-polar oceanic characteristics where the average temperature of the warmest month is less than 10° C.

The city as a whole has a relatively dry climate with rainy summers and dry winters with temperatures ranging from cold to very cold during the night. Snow flurries have known to occur especially at dawn, in the winter season but usually melt before noon. Rainfall occurs mainly in the slightly warmer months of November to March. In summer, there is a rainfall on most of the afternoons while in winter, the days are slightly cool, but the sky is mostly clear and sunny.

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Central La Paz which is at an altitude of 3,600 meters (i.e. 11,811 feet) and the Southern Zone (Zona Sur), which is at an altitude of 3,250 m (i.e. 10,663 ft) above sea level, have a sub-tropical highland climate with a comparatively warm temperature.

Due to the altitude of the city, the temperatures consistently range from cool to mild throughout the year, although the diurnal temperature variation (where high and low temperature variation takes place during a single day) takes place frequently.

The late summer months of February and March are known to be the two cloudiest months of the year to receive less sunshine (average sunshine received daily is just around 5 hours). However, June and July which are actually the winter months happen to be the two sunniest months of the year receiving abundant sunshine of around 8 hours daily at an average.

The wettest month is January and the driest is July.

The uneven seasonal distribution often leads to mudslides in summer that cause a lot of destruction. This is due to the excessive amount of precipitation during the season.

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History

La Paz came into existence when Pedro de la Gasca who had been entrusted to rule over the former Inca lands by the Spanish king, commanded Captain Alonso de Mendoza to found a new city commemorating the end of the civil wars in Peru. The city was founded on the 20th of October 1548 and was initially established on the Tiahuanaco road in Laja. Later it was moved to its present location which is in the valley of the Chuquiago Marka. It was named La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de La Paz (The City of Our Lady of Peace) in the beginning and the name was later shortened to La Paz.

In 1549, Juan Gutierrez Paniagua was commanded to design a plan for an urban city and to determine sites for public areas, plazas and official buildings within the city. La Plaza de los Españoles, which today constitutes the Plaza Murillo, was the designated location for government buildings as well as the cathedral.

The Spanish king had a firm control over La Paz and his decision in all political matters was final. The city faced a lot of upheavals in the form of sieges, uprisings and destruction but sprang back to become a vibrant city once again and is currently the official government site. Despite tremendous problems, La Paz has developed and expanded in all directions, which is indeed a great achievement.