After a somewhat hectic entrance into Bolivia, we were happy to arrive to our hotel in the neighborhood of Sopocachi in La Paz. We didn't really know what to expect of this city of almost two million people and 4,000m above sea-level (the world's highest capital), as most people either love or hate large cities in South America, and we hadn't heard too much either way about it from other travelers. If you enter Bolivia from any of the border crossings near Lake Titicaca, La Paz is pretty much a necessary stop before going anywhere else in the country, even if just to change buses.
We ended up liking La Paz. Neither of us are sure exactly why; we didn't actually visit any museums nor did we get a good feel for the local cuisine, but we did a lot of walking around, strolling through outdoor markets and sitting in parks. I think we were just in a good mood, it was sunny the whole time we were there, and we stayed in a neighborhood full of good restaurants, cafes, and bars (instead of the neighborhood where most of the hostels are, which is somewhat hectic and full of touts trying to sell you just about everything imaginable). The architecture was surprisingly modern, and the people filled all roles from women dressed in traditional clothing and selling produce on the street to trendy 20-somethings dressed to the nines and sipping on craft beers. I think I was somewhat surprised to see how modern the city is in some respects.
We also got to experience La Paz's first ever "Day of the Pedestrian", which meant that for an entire Sunday no vehicles were allowed to drive in central La Paz, and the area became a street festival with live music, performers, food, and families strolling down the wide streets and generally just enjoying their city on foot and bicycle. For anyone who has been to La Paz, you know how terrible the traffic is there: in the center, it seems to be 100% gridlocked for half the day, and walking on the sidewalks wasn't much more enjoyable due to all the exhaust fumes. Seeing the city on a break from all that traffic was so enjoyable; we found ourselves wondering why they don't ban all traffic once a week, or at least a couple times a month.
We're glad we got to know La Paz a little bit, and if you ever find yourself there, it's the best/cheapest place on the gringo route to stock up on hand-made sweaters, gloves, hats, and socks, as well as hand-crafted musical instruments. Hopefully you'll happen to be there over a Pedestrian Day, or with luck, a strike that has the same effect of clearing the streets of all vehicles!