High Altitude Alert!
La Paz: altitude ranges from 3500 m to 4000 m (11.482 ft ~ 13.123 ft)
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As we left the airplane that took us from Santiago (Chile) to La Paz (Bolivia), we felt it: the lack of air. We were breathless, dizzy, and yet we had to go get the bags, pass through immigration and bag checks. And we had to find a cab, and find somewhere to get some money for the cab. It’d be a long trip.
But it really wasn’t. As soon as we crossed the border, there were so many people asking if we wanted a taxi. We boarded the first one, the one that promised us a large cab for our family. The large cab turned out to be a regular 5 seat car with a big trunk.
We (the 3 older people in the family, that is) were feeling so sick that anything would be fine.
It was a 30~40 minutes drive from the Airport to our new home. El Alto, where the airport is, isn’t a very pretty place, but as soon as La Paz came into view, we were all in awe! So amazing to see how it’s really a bowl-shaped city with incredibly one color (brown) buildings.
But it wasn’t enough. As soon as we entered the house, we knew we wouldn’t ever want to leave. This is the house we rented, in Sopocachi. It’s a great place, very safe, close to everything (including supermarkets) and with loads of taxis around. (If you’re new to AirBnb, click through this link and receive a discount on your first booking, as well as giving us a discount!)
The house has this beautiful shared courtyard and is very well equipped. Annabelle and her family were most welcoming and helpful, we loved everything.
It is, though, a 3 story house. Not very easy to climb when you can’t even breathe properly, but it’s manageable as they (smartly) placed a couch on the second floor.
We went straight to the beds and fell asleep because we hadn’t slept very well on the night prior. The 3 younger kids, though, decided to play on their tablets instead of sleeping because they weren’t tired or feeling sick. A few hours later, we woke up and headed to the supermarket. Then João started feeling dizzy, José started feeling sick and it was all a mess. Luckily, people are very used to altitude sick tourists and let them rest while we did a very quick shopping for breakfast stuff, food, and water. Unfortunately, yes, water in Bolivia isn’t drinkable and since it’s so high up, the water boils way before 100°C, not being safe to drink.
We walked home (another stupid idea, we should’ve gotten a cab) and the way back was a climb. It was terrible, but we managed to reach the house. I went to make some coca tea with the leaves our lovely hosts provided and we all drank some. It really did help, but it isn’t miraculous, so we spent the next 3 days at home.
A welcome rest of 3 days, and enough time to work, study, and do everything we had to.
So as everyone was feeling better, we decided to go out and explore the city center. Geez, it was fine on the way to the center, but after maybe half an hour walk, we were all pale and dying again. We even tried to go to the movies (Beauty and the Beast had started) but they were all dubbed and we decided to skip it.
The center wasn’t exactly beautiful, it was full of people, and it was so noisy – plus we were all feeling dizzy. We went back home (on foot again) and spent the next days resting again.
You can read all about it here, but let me tell you the first tip: acclimatize. Go somewhere lower and slowly level it up. Slowly means at least a couple of days in each place before moving on to higher places.
Drink loads of water and coca tea.
It’s cold. We were there in March and it was the wet season, so besides the cold, it was raining. Bring warm clothes, you’ll need it.
What to do
We went to the movies at Mega Center, to watch Beauty and the Beast in English. It was the VIP room, but it’d be worth it to get our minds off of the lack of oxygen. We took a cab. So much better.
There was only one boy working on the VIP part of the movies, and he did everything from selling the tickets, fixing your popcorn to hand out the 3D glasses. It was funny and he was super sweet, but it must be hard working that much. Luckily, there were only the 6 of us and 4 more people in the room that day and we watched the movie in total comfort. It was expensive but well worth it!
The movies are fine but the mall is funny. A lot of the shops were closed and there isn’t really much there. We needed to buy pants to Coral and Melissa and we couldn’t find anywhere.
Calle de las Brujas (The witch street) is a very peculiar place, full of little stores selling the most unusual things and a lot of touristy souvenir kind of stuff. We went there on one of our last days. It’s interesting to see, but it was a bit terrifying for the sensitive kids to see all those hanging dead llama fetuses.
At Plaza Mayor, there’s Iglesia de San Francisco (San Francisco Church) and Mercado Lanza. We visited it when we went to see the Witch Market, they’re all close by. Mercado Lanza has some stalls of fruit, veggies, bread, handicraft, juice, food, and, well, everything. We had a smoothie there and the people who drank it said it was pretty good.
There are Valle de La Luna and the cable cars we wanted to do but didn’t ever get to.
They’re crazy and they have no rules and no meters. Make sure you negotiate a price before you get into the car.
We’d all climb into a 5 seat car and they wouldn’t even care. Some cars couldn’t even go uphill with all of us in it but they’d still be OK with that. It may be safer going separated, but most cars don’t even have seat belts, so we didn’t really see a difference. Plus, with the traffic, they’re probably not going to drive fast anyway.
Nighttime cabs are more expensive – we paid 80 BOB to go from the house to the bus station (it was less than 15 minutes away) but daytime cabs are very cheap (we paid 25 at most – and that was from the bus station to the house, when they were having a parade downtown and the cab had to go all around the city to take us home).
Expect to wait. They don’t move until the vehicle is full. If they move because they have a certain time to leave the place, they’ll stop everywhere calling for more passengers. Leave with plenty of spare time. We waited over an hour both times we used it. They are, though, the cheapest option of transport.
Where to eat
We ordered pizza mostly because we were too sick to leave home – Pizza Mozzarella is cheap, delivers (by taxi, so much fun to watch) and it’s pretty decent. One of the best pizzas we’ve had in South America.
We also had a pretty good meal at Margarita. It was close to our house and close to the hospital (we stopped there on the way home from the hospital). Even though it’s not really local food, it was well made and came in huge portions.
I woke up one day and went to the toilet. Then, all I remember was Angelo shaking me and yelling my name. I was on the floor, pants on my knees, Coral and José were crying in the room.
I was so freaking dizzy I couldn’t understand what had happened but I still needed to use the toilet, so I got up, used it and went back to bed. We still don’t know what happened, but I had 2 bumps on my head and a dizziness that wouldn’t go away, so we called a doctor at SIS MD. Dr. Daniel came in 30 minutes, checked me out, and explained that I probably passed out before falling and that I didn’t sustain a brain injury. He stayed with us for over 40 minutes, talked with us, calmed me down and it was amazing care. It cost us 25 BOB.
Then, after a week, I was still very dizzy and having some vertigo bouts, so we decided to go to a hospital and get checked again. We went to Clinica Alemana and were very amazed. The place was a lot better than most hospitals we’ve visited, including New Zealand and Japan. I was seen by a nurse, then a doctor, and then had a CT done, and back to the doctor. Everything in under 2 hours and it cost us 95 BOB. It wasn’t even worth asking for a refund from the insurance, but I still recommend you have it! It probably took around 1 hour, but we waited for the CT to be printed for a long time – and I don’t even know why we waited for it.
It all came out clear, luckily, but the dizziness and some vertigo still come and go.
We were going to Lake Titicaca but ended up not doing it because I was super dizzy. We’d booked with Diego, from Ar-Bol Tours. He was lovely and helpful and, most importantly, understanding. Our last outing was to Tiahuanaco (coming up next week) and we booked with him – everything was great. Highly recommend it – though the food wasn’t very good, I’d skip it.
We had our Bolivia tattoos at Ink’Ayaco Tattoo in Sopocachi. He was super gentle and I loved our tattoos!
That was a whole month in Bolivia. We spent so much time inside the house that we didn’t really get to see the place and I hope we’ll be able to manage to sometime.
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