Fast Forward

Recently voted one of the New Seven Wonders Cities by the New Seven Wonders Foundation, Bolivia’s capital is leading the country into the 21st century. Come be a part of the process.

Text: Darren Loucaides @DarrenLoucaides | Photos: alfredo zeballos

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Suspended in a shiny red cabin nearly a third of a mile above the Altiplano basin that contains La Paz, it’s hard to imagine the ferocious pace of life among the patchwork of peach-colored buildings below.


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From the vantage point of a brand-new cable-car system, I feel like Mount Illimani – the snow-glazed peak that glares down imperiously at the twin cities of La Paz and El Alto. Together, these cities make up the La Paz metropolitan area, and the main purpose of the ambitious new teleférico is to connect them. Rather than knock down buildings to create new transport links through the dense conurbation, the network of gondolas is able to ferry passengers over it. No easy feat, as La Paz is the highest metropolis in the world at nearly 13,500 feet. The city’s cable-car network both the loftiest and the longest of its kind.

This is the latest in a string of innovative projects undertaken since the country’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, was elected in 2005. He has also begun the process of replacing the country’s roads with modern highways. Meanwhile, the capital is busy transforming its image to buzzing 21st-century metropolis.


The New (Cool) Kids in Town

Among those drawn to La Paz’s bright lit beacon is one of the world’s most famous chefs, Claus Meyer. Co-founder of Copenhagen’s Noma, Meyer threw a curveball last year by launching a new venture, Gustu, in La Paz. Gustu not only celebrates the abundance and diversity of local ingredients, but is part of a plan to spark what Meyer calls “the Bolivian Gastronomic Movement.” The aim is to enrich Bolivian food by nurturing local chefs and producers. ¿The kitchen? Walks the line between tradition and innovation. For example, the seared llama with yogurt and red cactus is exceptional, edged out only slightly by the pork, which is cooked in a sous-vide for 12 hours, then topped with cream of eggplant and served with caramelized radishes.


Zonzo de yuca



Gustu is situated in the once unremarkable Zona Sur, today’s must-see district in La Paz. Several hip locales have cropped up in the area, like the inconceivably cool Red Monkey, which serves zesty cocktails and vegan food. There’s even exciting new accommodation in the form of the Casa Grande Hotel, whose dramatic glass atrium and lively rooftop bar make it one of the most popular spots in town. The finest new lodging in La Paz, however, has to be Stannum, in the affluent Sopocachi area.

Branding itself as the first boutique hotel in the city, it occupies the 12th floor of the Multicine Mall, and its rooms offer scintillating views.





The Powerful Past

Nearly all of the country’s population is considered indigenous, more than any other country in Latin America. The terrific Museo Nacional de Etnografía y Folklore celebrates this heritage, explaining the history of the indigenous peoples of the Altiplano and beyond. Established as a “scientific department of ethnography” in 1925, the museum today uses videography, beautifully crafted models and carefully arranged displays to tell Bolivia’s cultural story. The Museo Nacional de Arte is also worth a look, portraying the breadth of Bolivian art from religious iconography, to 20th-century indigenous works, to more recent postmodern and abstract pieces. Beyond the museums is the fabled Mercado de las Brujas. The tangled lanes of the “Witches’ Market” house countless shops selling ponchos, baggy trousers and handmade jewelry. It’s this mix of old and new that makes La Paz so compelling.


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