Cool Capital: Getting To Know La Paz, Bolivia

Nestled in the heart of South America, Bolivia isn’t necessarily somewhere that you might associate with sleek design and edgy cultural offerings. The country’s fast-paced capital, La Paz, however, is here to challenge those assumptions. Climbing its way to the top of South America’s cool list, La Paz has some seriously noteworthy things going for it. Boasting killer views, rich local history, and a bustling contemporary scene, the city is most definitely at the top of its game.

Thanks to a new string of public transport ventures, La Paz is a whole lot easier to navigate than it once was. A system of cable cars makes the soaring hilltop neighbourhoods a mere stone’s throw from the city centre, giving you ample opportunity to get a load of the view. While Zona Sur is a popular place from which to gaze out at the horizon, you can easily get a much better view from Sopocachi — and do away with the crowds, too. Venture up to Sopocachi and make your way to Montículo, a small park lined with cypress trees. Quiet and unspoiled, it acts as a welcome break from the bustling city below, giving you the chance to catch your breath before exploring the area’s other attractions. 

Fountain sculpture at the Parque del Monticulo

Walk further into the neighbourhood and you’ll discover Ali Pacha, which might just be one of the most progressive restaurants on the entire continent, and its location in Sopocachi ensures that it’s well off the beaten track. With an owner whose experience includes the likes of London’s Cordon Bleu school, Ali Pacha was always going to be a little bit special — and with an exclusively vegan menu, it’s certainly attained that status. Owner Sebastian Quiroga uses fresh shoots, fruits, and flowers to whip up his tastiest concoctions, and even if you don’t typically eat vegan, the food is certainly worth the climb.

Ali Pacha (alipacha.com)

Venture back into the city proper and you’ll have no problem stumbling across any number of other noteworthy restaurants, boutique shops, or contemporary cafes. La Paz’s southside Zona Sur is just one great example of this. Despite having lain dormant for years, the oncesleepy neighbourhood has sprung into action in recent years — and boy, do the locals want you to know about it! Atix is possibly the area’s crown jewel, having been opened within the past few years. A boutique hotel, Atix was brought to life in collaboration with New York design studio Narofsky Architecture, and it really shows. Balancing cool stone and raw wood features, the hotel is tastefully decked out, making for the ultimate palate cleanser after a long day in the city. Planning a late night? Check out the onsite bar and its killer cocktail menu. Created by cocktail master David Romero, it’s bound to please.

Of course, there’s plenty of other foodie fare around. Located just a stone’s throw away from the boutique hotel, Gustu is one of the latest offerings from Claus Meyer, co-founder of Copenhagen’s Noma. The dining space is a world apart from Meyer’s Scandinavian roots; it’s decked out in bright prints and traditional Bolivian masks. Using local produce, Gustu has single-handedly crafted a new kind of Bolivian dining, fit to bursting with flavor. The lunch menu offers up a seven course sampler, so make sure you arrive with enough space to really eat!

Gustu (ulriknordentoft.dk)

Home grown threads are a big deal in La Paz, and some of the city’s finest boutiques are shining a light on Bolivia’s best wares. Walisuma is one of the best around, creating garments and accessories inspired by the local culture, minus the touristy iconography. Bolivian rosewood kitchen wares sit alongside naturally dyed wool scarves and llama skin bags. Traditional motifs have been modernized, nodding to the region’s long history while simultaneously accounting for modern tastes. A local treasure to the core, Walisuma is just the start of La Paz’s offerings, and surely a marker of even greater things to come.

Hannah Lamarque
Hannah is a freelance writer and copy editor living in Europe. She writes about travel, art, design and culture and loves discovering hidden places in the cities that she visits.