I knew that Bolivia’s capital, Nuestra Señora de la Paz, is the highest capital city in the world. But somehow I pictured a remote, sleepy Andean retreat. Instead we discovered a chaotic city of a million souls spilling improbably down the sides of a steep canyon.
On the map La Paz looks like a short hop from the shores of Lake Titicaca. But our bus took its time winding through the rugged mountains of the Central Andes. As in the Sacred Valley of Peru I was stunned by the drama of the landscape. The colors are so vivid — deep blue sky, bright green trees, and billowing snow-white clouds. As I contemplated the drama of the clouds a thought suddenly occurred to me: Perhaps they are so stunning simply because we are so much closer to them! Here we are rolling through the landscape at 12,000 feet. Planes fly at 30,000 feet, and they are way above the clouds. So we must be roughly halfway to them. No wonder they form such an integral part of the landscape.
The Spanish founded La Paz in 1548 in a narrow bowl in this canyon, surrounded by the high altiplano. As the city grew it climbed up the walls of the canyon and spilled out into vast suburbs in the altiplano. The result is a city that ranges in elevation from 10,500 ft. to 13,500 ft. Transportation is a nightmare of long, twisting, clogged streets — until the birth of Mi Teleréfico.
Inaugurated in 2014, this will be the world’s most extensive (and only) rapid transit network consisting primarily of aerial cable cars. Today three lines — red, yellow, and green — whisk passengers from station to station, rising and falling over steep Andean peaks in between. The cars leave every 11 seconds, so you virtually never wait. Then you fly above the density and traffic, enjoying stunning views all the while — all for less than 50 cents a ride. Heck, you’d pay $15 for a ride like this in some other city! Seven more lines are in the planning stages.