South America Travel Tips

La Paz to Arequipa: Peru Here I Come!

After finding out La Paz is not the capital of Bolivia, well, I had to check it out even if everybody told me it’s a kip. At the same time, La Paz meant being very close to the Peru border… and so finally I crossed it!

Crazy stuff of La Paz that nobody tells you

In La Paz no rules apply (more or less like in the rest of Bolivia). Maybe because it’s the highest administrative capital in the world (3650m above sea level), or maybe because it’s the biggest city of Bolivia (2.3 million), or maybe because it has the biggest amount of hills and downhills I’ve ever seen…

Fact is, in La Paz you use cable cars to commute. Yep. Seriously. So I did the only reasonable thing during my first day… a cable car tour above the city!

You basically “fly over” the houses. Weird how you’d expect snow, but, hey, where’s the fun in that?

You think La Paz is a small capital, until you go to the El Alto plain (with the cable car of course). An incredible number of houses and people, with not much space in between. Completely dry, with no green. El Alto is the highest major metropolis in the world, with an average elevation of 4,150 m. And crazy traffic of course.

In La Paz there’s no hygiene, clean water, soap, clearly this is completely forgotten by the society (not that this is different in the rest of Bolivia). Buildings make no sense: they’re all made of red bricks, but 90% are unfinished. The only painted houses are the ones sponsored by phone companies.

In La Paz there are more micros (minibuses) and taxis than people, probably. There is no green, or space for it (you can see the predominant colours form the pics above).

I’ve seen old ladies picking lettuce from the side of the street, where some grass grows wildly. In La Paz you can “see” gas emissions, as the smoke that comes out of each vehicle is as black as petrol. It would kill you – oh, and there is no oxygen either at this altitude!

Traffic is unbelievable, and the street markets take over almost the full width of the road, and it’s a 2 way street… Police is there but doesn’t seem to bother.

So, happily and being part of the plan, I left for Copacabana after 48 hours.

Copacabana… not Rio’s popular beach, but Bolivia’s lakeside town 🙂

If the name makes you think of Rio de Janeiro’s popular beach, don’t get that wrong. Here, we’re on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world.

Yes, we’re at 3841 meters above sea level, just 3 hours drive from La Paz, and 15 minutes drive to the Peru border.

Your head will give you some troubles – and I didn’t know I was a smart guy – so as soon as I arrived I hiked Cerro El Calvario, which is another 200-300m above the town. And going up, there is no oxygen!

But the views of the town and Titicaca are really nice 🙂

After that, I simply rested for a couple of days. I could have gone visiting the famous Titicaca islands, but the weather wasn’t great and, honestly, I wanted to get to Peru as soon as possible.

In Copacabana, I could hear the birds singing, rain falling, waves crushing – those noises you don’t get to appreciate in the busy, polluted, noisy Bolivian cities. If there is something I learned so far, is that city life’s no good for me any longer.

So, with Peru being only 15 minutes from Copacabana, I said good bye to Bolivia and crossed the border. Maybe I couldn’t fully enjoy Bolivia because of food poisoning, maybe I missed out on the best national park (Toro Toro), maybe Uyuni would have been sufficient on its own – but as soon as I got into Peru I started to see green, water, farms, animals.

Arequipa, where food is good

My first Peruvian destination was Arequipa, the second biggest city of Peru and the ideal starting point (or the only in fairness) to go visiting Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon of the world.

Arequipa was a nice surprise.

It had been since Sucre I couldn’t get good work done (coincidentally that was my last decent AirBnB as well), besides the AirBnB hosts were fantastic, welcoming, and the house very modern (he’s a gringo, as they say in South America, so not a surprise I stayed in a Northern American-like condo).

Also, in Arequipa I got back my faith in Food.

During the 5 days I spent there I went out 5 times for lunch and 5 for dinner (it’s cheap, and tasty). The location I was staying was pretty residential and had lots of places to eat (I went back to the same place only once)… from fish to meat, from cakes to juices, I went all-in.

In Arequipa I also got my first boost of civilization by going to the cinema and treating myself to more food and ice-cream. A little, happy boy!

Movie was in Spanish of course, but I managed to understand almost everything 🙂

Other than that, I spent most days working with my laptop to fulfill my clients’ requests and prepare my own blog monetization campaign, which I came up with while travelling. Needless to say I was so happy to get some solid work done, so that I could dedicate a long weekend (Thu-Sun) to my next adventure, a DIY 3 days tour of Colca Canyon.

Arequipa has a beautiful old town (apart from that, it’s traffic, noise and people), so I went walking to the main square and around its centro historico an afternoon that wasn’t raining.

Overall, I was pretty satisfied with my first Peru days.

But I knew the best of Peru had yet to come 🙂

Hasta luego!