The city of La Paz is nestled in a valley atop the Bolivian plateau, surrounded by snowy peaks and dominated by the white head of Illimani, the sacred mountain. The setting is sure to take your breath away (and if the setting doesn't, the 3,739m/12,264-ft. altitude will), but that's not what I love best about La Paz. The Paceños themselves, the city's inhabitants, are what make this place unforgettable. No other major South American city holds onto its past so firmly. Many of the women wear traditional clothing every day: colorful multilayered petticoats, fringed shawls, lace aprons, and (oddest of all) bowler hats, which look as if they came straight from a prewar London haberdashery. You'll see these women throughout the city -- on the buses, in the churches, shopping, or perhaps setting up their own shops.
They probably won't be setting up shop inside, though -- hardly anyone does in La Paz. The city is one giant street market. In stalls on the sidewalks or at street corners, you can buy not only batteries and chewing gum, but also dice and leather dice cups, socks, hats, sneakers, cameras, and telephones. In the Mercado Negro (Black Market) area of the city, computers, electric drills, bookcases, office supplies, and everything else you could think of are all displayed on the sidewalk. At the Mercado de los Brujos (Witches' Market), the discerning shopper can find the finest in good-luck statuettes and all the materials required for a proper offering to Pachamama, the Earth Mother, including baskets of dried llama fetuses. Perhaps you aren't in the market for such things, but just being in a place where people are is half the fun of La Paz.