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)
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. It’s very crowded and a little overwhelming.
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’.
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.