8 Best Sights in La Paz, Bolivia

Iglesia de San Francisco

Fodor's choice

Considered one of the finest examples of Spanish-colonial architecture in South America, the carved facade of the Church of San Francisco is adorned with birds of prey, ghoulish masks, pinecones, and parrots—a combination of Spanish and indigenous motifs created by local artisans in a style known as baroque mestizo. Built on the site of the original 1549 church, the church as seen today was constructed in various phases between 1743 and 1885. Crafts stalls line the church wall; most days you'll find colorful weavings and handmade musical instruments. Although entrance is free, it is only with a guided tour (Bs20) that you can climb the tower to appreciate the expansive views from the top.

Museo de Instrumentos Musicales de Bolivia

Fodor's choice

This museum, founded by local musician Ernesto Cavour, is the most complete collection of musical instruments in the nation; if you think it's all charangos and quenas, you haven't seen half of what Bolivian music has to offer. Seven rooms feature over 2,000 percussion, string, and wind instruments used in the various regions of Bolivia. There is a special section where children can play ancient instruments made from such materials as wood, bone, turtle shells, and toucan beaks. On Saturdays after closing there is a concert (Bs. 20) led by Cavour and two invited artists.

Museo Nacional de Etnografía y Folklore

Zona Central Fodor's choice

Not to be missed, the excellent National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, popularly known simply as MUSEF, provides the most complete review of Bolivia's varied and colorful cultures from the pre-Columbian era to the present. Highlights include the collections of pottery, traditional masks, and textiles that span 3,000 years of history and are well presented in this attractive and modern space.

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Mercado de las Brujas

On Calle Linares, just off bustling Calle Sagárnaga, you'll find the Witches' Market, where indigenous women in tall bowler hats sell lucky charms, curses, medicinal herbs, and ingredients for powerful potions. You can have your fortune told through the reading of coca leaves, or if you are building a new house, you can buy a dried llama fetus to bury in the yard for good luck. Although this market is internationally recognized, it is not the best place to find gifts for the folks back home.

Mercado Negro

Near the intersection of Calle Max Paredes and Calle Graneros, the streets are filled with peddlers hawking clothing, handcrafts, and household goods. Making your way through the twisting maze of knock-offs and cheap imitations can take time, but you can find just about anything. Tucked into alleys and courtyards are tambos (thatch or tin roof structures meaning "place of rest") where you can purchase oranges, bananas, and coca leaves. The leaf is chewed by farmers and miners (and tourists) to ward off hunger and the effects of the altitude.

Museo Nacional de Arte

Zona Central

The 18th-century palace that houses this museum is almost worth the visit alone, with three floors overlooking a central stone patio and a lovely alabaster fountain. The well-curated collection is heavy in religious oil paintings and includes works by Melchor Pérez Holguín, considered to be the master of Andean colonial art. There are also some excellent contemporary works by artists such as Marina Núñez del Prado, a leading figure in Latin American sculpture.

Palacio de Gobierno

Zona Central

The imposing Presidential Palace was guarded by tanks and machine gun-toting soldiers until 1982, when the constitutional government was restored following a 1979 coup and three years of military rule. Presidential guards now watch the front door instead. In front of the palace is a statue of former president Gualberto Villarroel. In 1946 a mob stormed the building and dragged Villarroel to the square, where he was hanged from a lamppost. The structure, which is closed to the public, is also known as Palacio Quemado (Burned Palace), because it has twice been gutted by fire.

Teatro Municipal

Zona Central

A handsome building both inside and out as a result of an extensive restoration, the Municipal Theater regularly stages traditional dance and music, as well as classical music performances and theater. Check the sign outside the theater or the newspaper for upcoming events.