Part 1: The City of La Paz
I’d heard mixed opinions on La Paz. Now having been there, I hate to admit I am on the not positive side.
My first impression of La Paz was haphazard. Houses climb up the hills surrounding the city in an overwhelming way. In Medellin this happened too, but they eventually stopped. In La Paz they ran out of mountain. The houses made it all the way to the top and then kept spreading over the surrounding land, as we saw on our bus ride in.
The approach is kind of crazy: starting out in barren land, you pass buildings that are being constructed before your eyes, with a landscape of impressive mountains looming in the background. As you get closer to the city, buildings are starting to be completed, and streets are getting busy. Then traffic hits, and people and vehicles are all over the place. Finally you start to descend down a hill and the city is revealed below you, nestled into and bursting over the top of the valley.
The city itself is a network of winding streets with no city planning. The one main avenue, El Prado, looks like it was meant to be a publicly appealing thoroughfare with a center island that welcomes walking. It wasn’t necessary to walk on this island though since the entire street was shut down for protests. There were people all over the street, and it was a Monday afternoon. And all the protesters were eating ice cream from street vendors. It was quite a strange scene.
We wandered by the main square San Francisco and its back streets, full of shops selling tours, clothing, and dead baby animals in the Witches Market, which left a very unsettling feeling. I continued some wandering by myself and eventually found what I think was the main government square, due to the high level of security (which was the reason these streets were also closed to cars) and official looking buildings. The square was more overrun with pigeons than people though, so I didn’t linger long.
I had a full second day in La Paz before my night bus to Uyuni and I spent it all in my hostel catching up on computer things and watching a movie. I honestly just didn’t feel the need to go back out into the city. Sorry La Paz, I would have liked to have been more positive about you but I have to admit, you were my least favorite city in South America so far.
Part 2: My First Wild Rover Experience
All backpackers in South America have heard of Wild Rover and Loki, and most have stayed at at least one of these. I stayed in a Loki in Lima two years ago and was not a fan. I decided to try my luck at Wild Rover in La Paz. It was my first hostel experience like this on my trip, and all around it was better than Loki, but it’s not something I’m rushing back to any time soon. However I will say, I knew what I was getting myself into, so I embraced it and left satisfied.
What is the deal with Wild Rover and Loki? These are notoriously the party backpacker hostels. Tons of young people packed into dorm rooms that they barely sleep in because they spend most of their time at the hostel bar where everything is charged to a tab based on a wristband that all hostel residents have to wear with their name and bed on it. I admit, I spent most of my time in Wild Rover’s Irish bar. I ate meals there and took advantage of their 2 beers for 30 Bs happy hour (that’s about $4.50, and the beers were 650 ml). My team tied for first in pub quiz and participated in a karaoke sing off on the bar. I played a few games of pool and lounged on beanbag chairs in the movie room. I spoke only English with all the other English speakers, from visitors to employees.
What a place like this also comes with is a tour desk, and this was my primary motivation for staying here. I booked my Salt Flats tour and my overnight bus to Uyuni through Wild Rover. I figured with all the different options out there, and all of them having both positive and negative reviews, I might as well go with one that is backed by a hostel that has so many Hostelworld awards behind its reception desk that it must be reliable. My opinion on the tour operator I’ll save for another post.
So my first Wild Rover experience was exactly what you would expect, and I am totally okay with that. It served its purpose in crazy La Paz. It was a fun place to meet other people and get in some bar time, a safe place to hang out in a not-so-safe city, and a good place to spend what I call a “weekend day” just chilling at a hostel in between all my time on the go.