Coordinates La Paz: Greatest Underrated Downhill Mountain Biking in the World

July 22, 2016

by Joy Martin
Coordinates La Paz: Greatest Underrated Downhill Mountain Biking in the World

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Destination name: La Paz, Bolivia 

Common nickname: "The City That Touches the Clouds" 

Location: Located on the western side of Bolivia in South America, La Paz sits at a lofty 11,975-feet above sea level, making it the highest administrative - and adventure - capital in the world. Access this landlocked country via El Alto International airport (LPB) or, if you're traveling around South America, by bus. Note that US citizens are required to obtain an entry visa through the Bolivian consulate (~$135USD).     

Primary active pursuits

From an adrenaline-infused day spent downhill mountain biking in the Andes to a five-mile hike on an easy-going trail across Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca, discover both natural and cultural beauty in La Paz's altiplano playground.  

Specific Micro Destinations

When it comes to downhill mountain biking, most La Paz visitors opt for the tourist-favorite Death Road excursion, a 90-percent downhill ride consisting of 40-miles and 11,800-feet of elevation loss. But for serious bikers wanting to experience a ride like no other, embark on one of these other legendary itineraries with the creators of The Death Road ride, Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking ( 

Chacaltaya - Zongo - Touting "The World's Greatest Loss of Altitude" in a single day of riding, this epic journey starts in the Andean mountains at 17,500-feet above sea level and descends through five biomes and a mix of ski slopes, singletrack, scree fields, and dirt roads to 3,280-feet above sea level in the steamy jungles of Zongo. That's over 14,000-feet of elevation loss, with only 20 percent of the ride consisting of uphill travel. 

The Ghost Ride - Much like the Chacaltaya ride, this mostly-downhill ride consists of unrivaled mountain vistas, "scree-ing," spectacular singletrack, and colorful villages and over-zealous dogs. The biggest difference is that this adventure culminates at a haunted castle over a feast of Pongo trout. 

Sorata Singletrack - Expert riders will find sheer joy in exploring the trails around Sorata just outside of La Paz. Single- and multiday excursions are available in this understated region of mind-blowing downhill riding and fast-flowing singletrack. Permagrin included. 

Mountain biking not really your thing? Take a three-hour bus ride to Copacabana, get a room in a  lovely hotel (see below), and then climb aboard a boat for a 45-minute, one-way trip across Lake Titicaca to Isla del Sol. Beginner-friendly hiking with roughly 800-feet of elevation gain along eight-kilometers of gently-rolling trail gets you up-close-and-personal with one of the most culturally-significant sites in Incan tradition.  

Best Season

Weather-wise, wintertime in Bolivia (between April and October) is the best time of year to travel to La Paz and the surrounding altiplano and highlands, featuring drier, cooler weather and clearer, bluer skies. However, this is also when most people visit, so prices are higher and destinations busier. November is good for budget-hunters and those still wanting to trek and bike, considering that the summer rains begin in early December. While the roads become muddy and views obscured until March, the wildflowers are popping and the otherwise dry altiplano is lush and lively. The author recommends a Winter Solstice visit (December 21), as a fascinating festival takes place on Isla del Sol. Sometimes the President of Bolivia shows up in a helicopter!  

Other Recreational and Cultural Gems

For a delicious cultural experience, don't shy away from the many street food vendors in La Paz. For early-morning mountain biking departures, beg your guide to stop for Quinoa con manzana, a yummy, hot breakfast item for mere pennies. Don't judge that plastic bag with the straw sticking out of it! Energy-for-days awaits. 

Lodging and Dining

From $19USD single rooms to $66USD triple-superior suites, La Cupula Hotel boasts private bathrooms, colonial and pre-Columbian/Arabic architecture, and remarkable views of Lake Titicaca. In La Paz, check out the Adventure Brew Hostel and the Adventure Brew Hostel Bed & Breakfast, which include beer and a pancake breakfast with every night of stay. Dorm beds start at $7USD. 

Best Single Reason to Visit

The mountains. Altitude-induced happiness awaits as you ride steep and get high. From the buzz of city life in La Paz to the snow-capped peaks surrounding this remarkable region, some of South America's most majestic adventures await in this cheap, charming, elevated destination.     

Getting Equipped

The Lonely Planet website has excellent information and advice on the city they deem "adventure up high." For another perspective, checkout


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