The Spanish founded what is now Bolivia's principal city with the name of Nuestra Senora de la Paz ('Our Lady of Peace') in 1548 at a small Inca settlement in the middle of the high Andean plains connecting the mining centres of Potosi and Oruro with the trading hubs of Cusco and Arequipa in Peru.
Soon after, the city was moved to a more sheltered site at its present location in the valley of Chuquiago in a canyon created by the Choqueyapu river. The city thrived and mushroomed in size so that now the river runs submerged beneath the city centre and emerges only in the outlying southern districts.
It's a remarkable city, in a remarkable setting. La Paz sprawls across a large bowl beneath snow-capped Andean peaks of the Cordillera Royal mountain range. The national capital, there are magnificent churches, grand government palaces and towering office blocks, but the cultures of the Andes are everywhere, with uniquely colourful markets, stout ladies in bowler hats and billowing skirts, and wide-eyed boys rushing home from school with the red-cheeks of the high plains.
La Paz is a great place to link to other parts of the country. It is close to Lake Titicaca. It has easy access into the high Andes and the plains of the altiplano. There are yungas cloud forests in driving distance, and Amazon rainforest or llanos savannah a short hop away by air.
Colonial La Paz
La Paz was under Spanish colonial rule for over 270 years. Most of the grand Spanish buildings left standing today are around Plaza Murillo, San Francisco and Jaen Street.
One of the best ways to experience La Paz's dramatic topography is to take a ride on the city's new cable car system. The 'Teleferico' was opened in 2014 and offers affordable transport and quicker connection links between El Alto, La Paz city centre and the city's Southern Districts. It gave Bolivians a new perspective on their capital city and a much easier commute than in packed minibuses on clogged streets. Bolivians describe their first ride on their special 'subway in the sky' as like being on a plane; when some felt scared, other passengers held their arm for the 1.5 mile journey.
More lines are being built to connect the city with more districts on the slopes that lie above it.
Foodie La Paz
La Paz is the epicentre of Bolivia's foodie revolution. In 2013, Denmark's Claus Meyer, co-founder of Noma (twice voted the world's best restaurant) opened Gustu restaurant in La Paz, entirely sourced from within Bolivia. The message is spreading, with more and more new restaurants with new and creative ideas, many inspired by Bolivian traditions.
Inca Trails around La Paz
The Bolivian highlands are criss-crossed with ancient paved routes that served as working highways for hundreds of years. Many trails were walked long before that by the Quechua and Aymara people who still make up most of Bolivia's population.
Today, many routes have survived and are still plied by the odd llama herd and mules carrying potatoes and corn to isolated mining outposts.
These trails allow hikers to experience Bolivia's wild beauty, where it is possible to walk for days without hearing a car or even crossing a dirt road. The paths traverse crystal-clear mountain streams, ancient ruined settlements and offer staggering views from jungle to snow-capped peak.
There are three main Inca trails that link Bolivia's high plain at altitudes of up to 4,700 metres down to the sub-tropical Yungas region at around 1,300 metres. Each has excellent sections of Inca and pre-Inca paving, vary in difficulty from fairly straightforward to quite hardcore- especially in the rainy season- and last between three and five days.
While each trail has no finale to match Peru's awesome Macchu Picchu at sunrise, each ends near idyllic hideaway towns such as Coroico and Chulumani. Both places provide a rewarding opportunity to rest weary limbs, comfortable accommodation and dining options as well as ample opportunity for further adventurous exploration of the Amazon headwaters and jungle beyond.