At a lofty 4000 m above sea level, La Paz is the sprawling capital of Bolivia. While the city of La Paz historically only comprised the valley region, unbridled population growth has merged it with the satellite city of El Alto, forming a hybrid and immense metropolis. Tucked into a cleft between the Andes, La Paz’s social class is reflected in its geographical stratification; the lower into the valley one goes, the wealthier the neighbourhoods become. The slopes surrounding La Paz are dotted by winding roads and makeshift houses, cascading down towards the business district.
La Paz is a city brimming with quirky peculiarities. The city’s zebra crossings are populated with energetic young people in full-body zebra costumes – whose purpose is to educate pedestrians and drivers on road safety – dancing and posturing their way through the city centre. Another particularity is that young boys who shine shoes in the city centre often wear balaclavas. Shoe shining is apparently so shameful that they will conceal their identities while on the job.
The tumultuous history of Bolivia may suggest that its capital is a hub of instability. It is in fact quite the opposite. La Paz is a fascinating mix of cultures that live together in harmony, a morass of indigenous Aymaran customs and colonial Spanish practices. Amid the hustle and bustle of modern La Paz, the diverse flavours of these cultures are on show throughout the city.