Why La Paz Is Now South America's Coolest City
With an impressive food scene and a gorgeous new design-driven hotel, the Bolivian city has become one of South America's most exciting places to visit.
Once beleaguered by frequent strikes, roadblocks, and a paucity of amenities, the backpacker haven of La Paz, Bolivia, has emerged as a true culture capital. Infrastructure has played a key role: in 2014 the city—which was named one of Travel + Leisure's Best Places to Travel in 2017—introduced Mi Teleférico, a network of aerial trams that transport riders across the city in minutes on routes that once took an hour by bus. For less than 50 cents, travelers can ride from Zona Sur up to the windswept Altiplano in El Alto, where architect Freddy Mamani is designing whimsical, New Andean–style homes for the newly wealthy.
The first rumblings of a renaissance came in 2013, when Noma cofounder Claus Meyer opened Gustu (tasting menus from $59), a fine-dining restaurant where—in classic Noma fashion—local ingredients like caiman and fermented Amazonian honey get haute-cuisine treatment. It’s the flagship of a larger culinary revitalization project that includes 10 cooking schools in low-income areas, a collective of street-food vendors, and a bar devoted to regional craft brews, Tarija wines, and Bolivian spirits like singani.
Since then, the La Paz restaurant scene has exploded with surprisingly diverse ventures from Gustu alums: elevated vegan fare at Ali Pacha (tasting menus from $22), locally inspired pastas at Propiedad Pública (591-2-277-6312; entrées $9–$11), and house-roasted, single-origin coffee at Typica. The city’s latest upgrade came with the arrival of its first Design Hotel, the Atix, which opened in the upscale Calacoto neighborhood last fall (doubles from $161). If a stellar Bolivian restaurant and a bar featuring cocktails by award-winning mixologist David Romero aren’t enough of a draw, each of the 53 rooms doubles as a gallery, displaying works by Bolivian artists like Gastón Ugalde. It’s a microcosm of the city’s thriving contemporary art scene: galleries like Mérida Romero, Mamani Mamani, and the reopened Salar Galería de Arte showcase much of the country’s top talent.