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Get High in La Paz

lapazThe capital city of land-locked Bolivia was not only high on my list of Must Go places but its airport at El Alto is the world's highest international airport at 4058m. It can be tricky to fly in here from sea level, not that that stops people doing it, but many suffer altitude symptoms on arrival. The city of La Paz itself is set impressively in a bowl, surrounded by mountains, and lower than the airport, at 3650m. Visitors don't stay in the city above, El Alto, which is considered perilous to tourists not only for its height, but a 20-30 minute taxi/collectivo bus ride takes you downtown to the focal point, La Paz, a rough diamond.

The drive is striking, mainly for the fact the outer suburbs, built into steep hillsides, are structure upon structure of raw brickwork, all bursting with life but clearly without any intention of, aesthetically speaking, the buildings being completed. Apparently a finished build is taxable.

As we enter the city the streets are teaming with people, most noticeably women with determined faces and pert bowler hats, scurrying on their way with colourful shawls heavy with child or other bundle tied over their strong backs. The layered skirts swing against their sturdy shins - their sandalled feet apparently oblivious to the cold. It seems the indigenous people here are more dedicated to the cultural dress than in remoter parts of the country.

cruzdelosandesOnce in the centre we check into our hostel, chosen for its bright muralled walls. Cruz de los Andes is just off the main street of Avenida Illampu from which it is a short stroll to Sagarnaga - the centre of the artisan web of streets where ponchos, silver jewellery and Inca v Spaniard chess sets can be bartered for. We found the hostel to be in a good position for exploring. As we breathlessly made our way home at the end of the day the Martinni's Pizzaria (popular with locals and tourists alike) was a welcome warm spot to grab a bite to eat just round the corner. In the basement of the hostel a pool table, computers and sofas offer alternative space to hang out in.

The Plaza Murillo is about 15 minute walk from here. Pigeons dominate this colonial square with grand official buildings keeping a parental eye on things. There are many museums close by, including the National Folklore Museum. Alternatively you can cycle the 'most dangerous road in the world' or be tempted further into the wilds of Bolivia - or if you are in town on a Sunday afternoon don't miss a spot of theatrical women's wrestling!