La Paz is the third most populated city in Bolivia after Santa Cruz de la Sierra and El Alto, with around 750,000 residents. The official capital of Bolivia is Sucre, but La Paz is the seat of the Bolivian government, making it the highest administrative capital in the world at approximately 3,650 m above sea level. Expats moving to La Paz will need to adjust to living at altitude.
La Paz sits on the western side of Bolivia, and the full name of the city is Nuestra Señora de La Paz, which translates into English as 'Our Lady of Peace'. The Cotapata National Park is roughly 18 km away to the east of the city, and Lake Titicaca, which is divided between Bolivia and Peru, is about 65 km to the west.
La Paz technically sits in a bowl created by the Choquetapu River, and has gradually crept up the surrounding hills of the altiplano in varying elevations. The river runs north-west to south-east and there is a thoroughfare that follows the river all the way through the city. The central part of this thoroughfare is called the Prado.
The climate in La Paz is somewhat unusual, in that the higher parts have a subtropical highland climate, with sub polar oceanic characteristics. The average temperature of the warmest month in these higher areas is lower than 10°C, which seems low, considering the city’s proximity to the Equator.
The temperatures in central La Paz, at around 3,600 m, are warmer, but still not very hot. Winters are typically dry, with some snow. The driest months are June and July, which also happen to have the most hours of sun, at around nine hours a day. Summers are rainy, with the wettest month being January. The rain during summer months can lead to mudslides and there are roughly only five hours of sunshine per day.
It can be said that the altitude of La Paz reflects housing and society. The lower altitude areas of the city are the more affluent areas, with many middle class families and professionals living in high-rise condo buildings near the center. The neighborhoods situated in the even lower areas south of the Prado have very wealthy residents.
There are seven urban districts within the city, with a number of neighborhoods in each. The zones are called: Zona Centro, Cotahuma, Max Paredes, Periferica, San Antonio, Zona Sur and Mallassa. Expats moving to La Paz might consider settling in San Jorge in Cotahuma. This neighborhood is one of the main residential areas, but also has a number of embassies, making it an attractive prospective area for diplomats. Also in Cotahuma is Sopocachi; one of the oldest residential neighborhoods, which is around ten minutes outside of the city center.
Expats who appreciate history and architecture might like to consider moving to Casco Viejo, the ancient center of La Paz and today a combination of residences, museums, shops and hotels.
Expats moving to La Paz to teach might consider the Miraflores area, where there are a number of university campuses, as well as the large sports stadium, Estadio Hernando Siles. The Southern District, or Zona Sur, has become the city’s second financial and commercial center, with many multinational organizations having their headquarters there. The most exclusive residential areas are within Zona Sur, along with Bolivia’s largest shopping mall.