La Paz, Bolivia: Taking the Cable car to El Alto, where I find Cholitas wrestling, a witches market and the biggest street market in South America


View from El Alto

On my last day in La Paz I travelled up to El Alto. Once part of La Paz itself (it’s where the airport lives) it is now a city in its own right (actually the second biggest city in Bolivia, after La Paz).

Standing at over 4,000 metres it offers some great views of La Paz. It’s not the safest place in the world though; I went with only the cash I needed that day.

You can get there by minibus from San Fransisco square or do what I did and take the cable car. The cable car is a lot more comfortable than the bus, has better views and costs a bargain 3 bolivianos (around 30p/US$0.50)


The cable car, heading up to El Alto

On Thursdays and Sundays there is a huge street market, supposedly the biggest in South America. You can buy (literally) anything there: car tyres, DVDs, clothes, medicines; you name it and they probably have it. It gets very crowded and can be a little overwhelming.


I found a rare bit of space to snatch this photo, but generally I didn’t feel safe taking pictures in the market.


witches market

Also there is a witches market. Different from the one in La Paz, this is where locals go when they want to know their future. You can ask the fortune teller questions (typical examples are: should I marry this person? should I buy this house? should I trust my business partner?)

Whilst you’re in El Alto for the market, another thing to go and see is the Cholitas wrestling.  This consists of Bolivian women, dressed in their traditional costumes (long braided hair, long puffy skirts), fighting one another. You’ll be glad to hear this is a staged ‘fight’.



This ‘sport’ is popular with locals who jeer/cheer the women.

Cholita was once a somewhat derogatory term for the indigenous Aymara and Quechua women, which has now been reclaimed by the women, proud of their heritage. These women tend to lurk in the lower socio-economic groups, so Cholita wrestling has given them a way to earn some money and feed their families.


Some Cholitas, all dressed up in their finery

4 replies »

  1. Hello Sarah. Wrestling women. What can I say. I suppose good for them for reclaiming the name and earning food for their families. It really makes you think doesn’t it about how lucky we are. Women in general get it tough all over the world. What a bargain a 30p cable car ride. I cannot think of one thing 30p would buy you in London. A roll is 35p lol. Safe travels my friend xx

    • Yes I wasn’t altogether comfortable with the concept of women wrestling; let’s just say it was interesting. Of course it was all just showmanship really and no real fighting, but still.

  2. This leg certainly left me with a few surprises. What a fascinating little place. Thanks for sharing the intricacies of life there for those living there. I really sometimes finish reading your blog and think I have experienced a little of travelling there myself. THANK YOU

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