Café del Mundo
Let’s get one thing straight. Everything you’ve heard about South American coffee is a lie. For the six weeks that I travelled from Rio (link to Rio article) to La Paz, not once did I have a non-instant coffee. Sure, they have myriad plantations of various amazing strains of coffee beans over there, but do the locals drink it? No. Turns out we drink more of their coffee than they do. Their export trade is huge, but their actual coffee drinking culture isn’t.
Café del Mundo was an accident. We spent all morning googling to find local cafes before stumbling across this place. It was a fair hike to find in the winding labrynth of La Paz streets, made worse by the altitude of 4700 metres. Panting as we wandered in, our general mood was ‘this better be worth it’.
It absolutely was. Cosy, quaint and comfortable. You climb some wooden stairs to find a low ceilinged wooden room filled with cushions. You can lie down, lounge, and wait for a beautifully made coffee to be brought to you. The sandwiches are delicious, service lovely and there’s free WiFi. This was a big step up from the restaurant in Peru where they gave us a tin of instant coffee and a cup of hot water!
Address: 324 Calle Sagarnaga, La Paz, Bolivia
San Pedro Prison Tour
You won’t find this one on TripAdvisor. La Paz’ infamous San Pedro prison used to allow tours inside the actual prison, however, after gaining notoriety through Rusty Young’s 2003 Novel Marching Powder and the alleged rape of a 12-year-old girl living inside the prison in 2013, the prison is facing imminent closure and the tours are no longer permitted.
However, there is still a prison tour you can do.
Show up to the San Pedro Square at around 2pm any day of the week. You’ll most likely run into a small, skinny and weathered African-American guy in a beanie who goes by the alias Crazy Dave. He’ll usually already be talking animatedly to a group of tourists and he’ll wave you over. He gives you a full-blown account of his 14 years inside the prison, which looms right behind him as he bounces around, manically describing the corruption, violence and drug-trafficking he witnessed just metres away from where he stands. He talks of the enormous cocaine trade that still goes on within the prison, the murders he witnessed, the culture of the society within the prison… He’s an incredible storyteller. One of his stories was about a midget pedophile who dressed up in a school uniform and escaped the prison amidst a group of prisoners’ children going to school in the morning. He will rant and ramble and answer any questions you have for as long as you’ll listen.
When he wraps up, he asks if you have any further questions or requests. You give him a tip, amount of your choosing (usually around 20 bolivianos). And if you want anything else, he’ll even go fetch it from the prison for you 😉
Mercado de Hechicería
This market isn’t really a nook and it definitely isn’t a cranny. The place is crawling with tourists, and unfortunately, that reflects in the product pricing. There are amazing, real alpaca wool products in the stores and endless knick-knacks, bags, ornaments and jewellery. There’s an entire section of the street dedicated to authentic silver jewellery, starting from about 150 bolivianos apiece. However, the quality of the products and the general clientele means most storeholders won’t haggle at all. An alpaca sweater goes for around 450 bolivianos.
If you’re a poor backpacker looking for cheap souvenirs, gifts and jewellery, this is not the place. Wander through the markets; they’re definitely worth a visit, but save your purchasing for when you approach the junction between Calle Santa Cruz and Esquina Linares. There are several vendors selling beautiful handmade jewellery and souvenirs with their wares laid out on the ground, for prices less than a third of those in the market stores.
If you want a cheap alpaca sweater, go for a walk along Graneros and Max Paredes.
Most people have heard of the world’s only cocaine bar, but it’s often excluded from mainstream travel sites. To get there, just ask any taxi driver. Nobody seems to know the address, and unfortunately, I wasn’t exactly clear-headed enough to write it down when we visited. Or to really know where I was.
From our hostel near Plaza Murillo, it cost only 15 bolivianos.
There’s a small entry fee of 25 bolivianos, and to buy a gram of coke at the bar it’s 150 bolivianos. This is a lot more expensive than the street price of cocaine in La Paz, and the stuff they serve is cut with speed, but I suppose you’re paying for the experience.
That being said, the place itself isn’t the strobed up underground hotspot I’d imagined. There was certainly no scantily clad Latino goddesses serving up lines of cocaine on silver platters. A portly, elderly woman plonked down a gram of coke in a half-folded napkin and we coughed up our 150 bols. Suave.