Learn Spanish » Spanish Culture Blog » La Paz, Bolivia
Although La Paz is not the capital of Bolivia, it is often considered to be the country’s most important city, housing not only significant governmental buildings, but also a tourist industry that attracts thousands of visitors every year. It is a city that enjoys both modern industry and traditional customs, with the indigenous Aymara making up the majority of the population.
- Officially named La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de la Paz, La Paz was founded in 1548 and due to its location in the Choqueyapu valley, it was established as a centre for commerce rather than mining, which is the main economy in Bolivia
- Originally founded as the central hub of Spanish power in Bolivia, La Paz is one of the biggest cities in Bolivia and is a city of contrasts that successfully combines tradition with modernity
Located in the west of Bolivia, near the Peruvian border, La Paz sits in a valley and is shadowed by the stunning Mount Illimani in the southeast. At more than 3,500m above sea level, the city is relatively new, having been founded in 1548 as a commemoration of ten years from the end of the civil war. It remained under Spanish rule until 1825, when Bolivia gained its independence, and La Paz was the largest city in the country with a population of 40,000 people. Sucre was still the capital, but in the late 19th Century bitter rivalries erupted between the two cities and in 1899 a civil war broke out. It did not last long however, and following its culmination La Paz was named as the centre of government, housing the president and congress, while Sucre remained the capital.
With the Aymara population being La Paz’ majority, the city is home to many indigenous traditions. While there are many modern shops and industrial buildings, the streets are lined with stalls selling indigenous and traditional products from all over the country. There are not many churches or plazas in La Paz, perhaps due to its elevation, but there are several museums around the city that are well-worth a visit. An absence of green areas is also counter-acted by the view of the mountain in the distance, which really is unique and breath-taking.
Arguably La Paz’ most celebrated annual event, La Fiesta del Gran Poder takes place in May or June as a way to celebrate Nuestro Señor del Gran Poder, which translates to “Our Lord of Great Power”. It is a relatively new tradition, having only begun in 1939 and is a celebration for the Aymara population that lived and worked in the area surrounding Buenos Aires Avenue. From 1980 it has become a huge festival that takes over the city centre and is relished by all inhabitants and tourists of La Paz alike. Thousands of dancers from different folkloric groups take to the streets for the entrada which is the procession to open the fiesta. Huge brass bands accompany the procession, and there is a riotous atmosphere in the city during the festival that combines Aymaran folklore with Catholic tradition.