During our visit to La Paz, I didn’t only engage in adrenaline fuelled activities such as biking down death road or abseiling down a building. I was also keen to find out a bit more about Bolivia, especially its people and their traditions, as Bolivia is a country rich in history, rituals, and culture. For me the perfect way to do that was to take part in a free walking tour which really brought this incredibly interesting and complex city to life.

free walking tour la paz view of la paz

La Paz – The highest capital city in the world

1. San Pedro prison

Our group was lead by two very knowledgeable and entertaining sisters with the tour starting at the famous San Pedro prison, the largest prison in La Paz. Although it was only built for 250 inmates it is actually home to close to a claustrophobia inducing 1,500 prisoners. What is really unusual about this prison though is that it like a little community as families can live together with their convicted family member. Each prisoner has to pay rent for their cell space meaning the more money you have, the more luxuries you can get, from TV’s, Play Stations, and proper kitchens. The most luxurious cells cost about $1,500 per month which is a pretty steep price in a poor country like Bolivia.

Tourists used to be able to tour inside the prison -including to visit British inmate Thomas McFadden who started offering tours a few years ago – but because of too many bad incidents (including rape and assault) this is no longer possible. If you would like to find out more about life in this prison though I highly recommend the book Marching Powder, written by Rusty Young, which describes the experiences of Thomas McFadden.

2. The Cholitas

After visiting a few local food markets our tour group couldn’t help but notice the lovely local ladies, also called Cholitas, wearing their traditional outfits which include braided hair, a bowler hat – which as a British civil servant I particularly liked – and layered skirts which are long enough to cover most of their legs but short enough to get a glimpse of the women’s calves. According to our guides Bolivian men from the La Paz region tend to prefer more well-built women as they believe that they are stronger and better able to look after the household and children. So while European men tend to like a good cleavage, Bolivian men like some good strong calves and when they want to flirt the men apparently ask the Cholitas to show them their calves. Sometimes the women will lift their skirts slightly to give the men a quick glimpse and if they have strong calves the men are suitably impressed. Men are so easy!

free walking tour la paz cholitas

Cholitas showing off their calves- much to the delight of by standing men

3. Witchcraft and smoking gods

No visit to La Paz is complete without checking out the witches market where you can buy all kinds of love potions, medicine, herbs, and other offerings including llama foetuses or sweets for the various gods Bolivians believe in. The owners of these market stalls are all witches and if you are an annoying tourist and take a photo of them without asking they will promptly curse you.

free walking tour la paz love potion

If you want more dominance over your partner then this is the powder for you 😉

free walking tour llama foetus

Llama foetuses are used for all kinds of offerings and are also buried under each newly built house to please Pachamama

Although most Bolivians are Catholics, they also still believe in the traditional Incan gods as well. One of the most important gods in Bolivia and across the Andes is Pachamama, the Quechuan word for ‘Mother Earth’. She is the supreme goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes. She provides life, food, and protection. To stay in the good books of Pachamama there are several rituals you should undertake – for example the burial of cooked food, coca leaves, llama foetuses, cigarettes, and alcohol. Before drinking alcohol many people will first spill a tiny amount of the alcohol on the floor as an offering for Pachamama, before drinking the rest.

Another important god is Ekeko, the god of abundance. Most households in Bolivia have a statue of him in their homes and they offer him all kinds of goodies to keep him pleased. Apparently Ekeko loves cigarettes, and alcohol in particular. Our visit to La Paz coincided with Bolivia’s Alasitas festival, the festival of miniatures, which is an event mixing ancient traditions and beliefs with modern-day consumerism. The idea of the festival is to buy what you want in the coming year, in miniature form, and get it blessed by a priest or yatiri (witch doctor) and then offer it to the cigarette-puffing Ekeko – all in the hope that the gods will convert your dreams into life-sized reality. In the build up to the Alasitas festival you can buy all kinds of miniatures from mini-diplomas, to work contracts, suitcases if your dream is to travel, mini-houses, marriage certificates, or money. I got myself a little passport in the hope of continuing my travels this year. 🙂

free walking tour la paz ekeko and offerings

Ekeko on the left and all kinds of sweet offerings for him on the right


Diplomas, work contracts or marriage certificates – no matter how big your dream is Ekeko will take care of it

I thoroughly enjoyed the free walking tour and can highly recommend it. I wouldn’t have learned any of these things from a guidebook, so I was really pleased that I went along.

So guys, now I want to know from you, do you know of any weird facts or traditions from any countries you have visited, or if you had to buy something mini in the hope of it coming true in life-size, what would it be? Please do tell me in the comment section below.

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About Tammyonthemove

Tammy & Chris are a couple hailing from Germany and England, meaning between them they are efficient and polite, but unable to talk about football. Find out why they stopped pushing pens around the British civil service to travel the world on their blog.

26 Thoughts on “Smoking gods, love potions, and llama foetuses – Welcome to La Paz

  1. The Cholitas must have been fun to watch indeed, but with all the respect for their traditions I wouldn’t have enjoyed seeing llama foetuses used everywhere, I think it’s cruel 🙁
    Franca recently posted…The Highlight Of Vegetarian Cuisine In London – tibitsMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on March 21, 2014 at 1:38 pm said:

      I know what you mean Franca, I felt a bit sorry for them too. However, apparently they only use llama foetuses from llamas that are already dead, otherwise it would upset Pachamama.

  2. So interesting! I think I watched an episode of Locked Up Abroad about the prison.
    Anna @ The Blonde Banana recently posted…Countdown: I’m Going to Denmark & Norway in 1 Month!My Profile

  3. Great post! You really liked this place. As for your question, I would like you to mention the food next time – what you loved to eat, what new food you have experienced and how much it costs to dine out in la Paz :).
    Agness recently posted…Ways To Get Across Australia With Little To No MoneyMy Profile

    • Thanks Agnes. We actually went to the world’s highest curry house and Chris had the world’s spiciest curry. They had a challenge that if you manage to eat the whole portion you get a free T-Shirt. It was disgusting though, as they only served a curry paste with rice, so it was really thick and inedible really. Most people who took on the challenge to eat where dying because it was so spicy and most also had to get some fresh air every now and then or go to the toilet a few times (too much information?) 🙂
      tammyonthemove recently posted…Smoking gods, love potions, and llama foetuses – Welcome to La PazMy Profile

  4. How interesting! We love free walking tours. They are the perfect way to get to know a new place. Something mini growing to life size though? Not entirely sure.. maybe a puppy? :p
    Dan @ A Cruising Couple recently posted…Casa Hamaca Guesthouse | Featured Accommodation ReviewMy Profile

  5. Witches market sounds very interesting! 🙂 I will buy a love potion for my girlfriend so that she will love me more LOL! Thanks for the share anyway, can’t wait on your next post.

  6. A witches market. A prison. Learning that you have to bury llama foetuses to stay in the good books of “Mother Earth”. A very interesting walking tour!
    Sand In My Suitcase recently posted…Hiking in the Mae Lai Forest – no tigers, but…My Profile

  7. Really interesting blog post Tamara! And lovely pictures 🙂 Great idea to join in on the free walking tour, always a good way to find out about the place you’re visiting!
    Victoria Dovaston recently posted…A Weekend in Paris #3 : Hitting the shops (I wish!)My Profile

  8. I loved the witches market. Hope the little passport you bought does indeed enable you to continue to travel for as long as your wish!
    Dave Briggs recently posted…TBEX Athens 2014 – Why I am Going AgainMy Profile

  9. I am a huge fan of free walking tour – they are always interesting! I love this post! A little scary (and very interesting) about the witches and cholitas. Sounds like this place is awesome 🙂
    Aggy recently posted…Travel While You’re Still a Student!My Profile

  10. Witches market. Fascinating indeed. Curious.
    Peter Nena recently posted…Many FacesMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on March 26, 2014 at 11:19 am said:

      It was a fascinating place indeed Peter. I have never seen so many potions and the witches looked a bit scary too at times. I kept thinking they are going to curse me any minute now. 🙂

  11. Fascinating stuff! I’d love to visit Bolivia and experience this unique culture for myself!
    Heather recently posted…Cherry Blossom Afternoon Tea at the Willard IntercontinentalMy Profile

  12. Witches market. Wow. I’d sure like to visit that.
    Judy Charlotte recently posted…Ruby Weight LossMy Profile

  13. Interesting article.!

  14. excellent writing. keep it up.

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