El Alto and La Paz, Bolivia (Pictures)

It is begining to sound like a cliche in South America, but La Paz really is a city of contrasts. Imagine local folks drinking espresso while checking their iPhones on a sidewalk cafe, then imagine dried llama fetuses being sold next to indigenous healers and soothsayers who can whisk away your problems with a prayer and a dime.

The socialist Evo Morales government of Bolivia has attempted to tackle many of the cities problems by building a series of gondolas connecting the many disjointed parts of this city. The popular gondola system whisks locals from deep in the valley to El Alto on the valley’s rim. It connects the have and have nots and most importantly eases the horrendous traffic.

High above La Paz, sits an even larger city called El Alto. El Alto is the largest indigenous city in the Western Hemisphere, with well over 85% of the population claiming indigenous roots. El Alto is as close to the intensity and chaos of India as one can get in South America. Mini vans turned into public buses fight for a space to pick up riders and young men and women shout out their destination at the top of their lungs.

Some visitors may never leave La Paz, and locals may tell you not to visit El Alto, but if you are ready for an adventure and willing to take a few steps off the beaten path, take that teleferico up the hill and give El Alto a chance, you won’t regret it.

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