A Bolivian winemaker describes La Paz as “chaos, color and kitsch.” Indeed, the city bursts with dozens of ethnic groups that intersect over food, culture and dress. It’s the world’s highest capital, at nearly 12,000 feet in elevation, and it’s packed with dynamic restaurants, internationally recognized wineries and gripping scenery. It has all the makings for a trip of a lifetime.
Bolivian wine is commonplace at restaurants, though selections typically cover the bigger players: Campos de Solana, Bodegas Kohlberg, Bodegas y Viñedos La Concepción, Aranjuez and higher end Vinos 1750. To taste pours from tiny labels, try Hay Pan. The owner, Sukko Stach, opened this wine bar to fill a niche, along with a coffee shop based on a similar premise, Antigua Miami. Umawi Coffee & Bar, which translates to “let’s drink” in the indigenous language of Aymara, taps the region’s flora for its creative cocktail program.
It also serves Bolivian espresso drinks and quirky, minimal-intervention wines. For city views in swank surroundings, savor a glass of Tannat at +591 Bar inside the Atix Hotel, the city’s sleekest property. In addition to creative burgers and custom toppings, Crafted Burgers N’ Beers offers a solid roster of Bolivian craft beers.
Gustu kicked off La Paz’s restaurant revolution. Established in 2013 by Noma co-founder Claus Meyer, the nightly tasting menu offers a paean to Bolivian products. Its sommelier, Bertil Levin Tøttenborg, works closely with small producers and champions natural wines. In a similar vein, vegan eatery Ali Pacha plays with texture, flavor and presentation. Sebastián Quiroga sources ingredients from the Amazon to the Altiplano, reconstructing everything from potatoes to corn. He also supports natural wine producers.
For handmade pastas and vegetables from Gabriela Prudencio’s garden, visit Italian-leaning Propiedad Pública. Jardín de Asia prepares Andean-Amazonic food with an Asian twist alongside mainstream Bolivian brands. Popular Cocina Boliviana, opened by Sukko Stach, serves an updated version of the three-course lunch. The Atix Hotel’s Ona has a strong local wine list to pair with its modern Bolivian cuisine.
Second only to its wines are La Paz’s textiles, and you can snag traditional rugs and colorful pillow shams at bargain prices. Start a spree in Mistura, a lifestyle and concept store co-owned by a member of the Bodega Sausini family. Sausini wines are for sale alongside alpaca ponchos and scarves. For fine wares by Bolivian artisans, Walisuma stocks clothes and jewelry. Spend an afternoon in the mystical Mercado de las Brujas, or Witches’ Market, which focuses on tourist trinkets. Adjacent streets are chock-full of vendors, including Fair Trade markets like Ayni Bolivia.
To skip the world’s largest salt flat would be folly. The mesmerizing Salar de Uyuni, created by prehistoric lakes that dried into a mind-bending crystalline plain, is a great day trip. Tour operator Black Tomato arranges custom tours (pricing upon request) that include lunch paired to Bolivian wines amid the dazzling flats. It also serves sundowners that feature a selection of wines and singani, the local grape spirit. Bring your camera.
4 Hour Getaway
Practically kissing the Argentine border, Tarija is home to Bolivia’s critical mass of vineyards and only organized wine route. Valle de Concepción, just beyond the city, is the main production valley. Grapes grow at around 6,200 feet, and the resulting wine is high quality. You’ll find big reds like those from Salta, Argentina. Campos de Solana delivers the most sophisticated experience, with polished wine offerings. Its white, TRIvarietal, wins awards. Also visit Aranjuez, Bodegas y Viñedos La Concepción and Bodegas Kohlberg. For lunch, sip robust reds with beef at El Fogón del Gringo.