El Alto

One of the fastest growing cities in South America, sprawling El Alto fans out from the sheltered basin of the capital La Paz onto the windswept 4,000m Andean high plains.

Originally a dormitory for the poorest people working in La Paz, El Alto has expanded rapidly to over a million people and is gaining a fascinating identity of its own.

Once the only visit to El Alto for tourists would have been to and from the airport that serves La Paz with perhaps a photo stop at the magnificent roadside viewpoint to see the cityscape below. Today, the newly-forming identity of El Alto offers more for the adventurous. Much of this identity stems from the various public and private buildings proliferating as examples of the 'new Andean' cholet architecture, with their brash, bold colours and extravagant videogame-like designs based on ancient pre-Inca motifs.

A visit to the twice-weekly El Alto market can be overwhelming to all the senses, an arresting spectacle in which everything you could think of is bought, sold and eaten. The market is best reached from La Paz by experiencing the wonderment of the vertiginous new Teleferico cable car which is forging better transport links across the two cities with the benefit of a superb view.

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