The steep terrain, narrow streets, and dense population of La Paz caused years of transportation issues which have been alleviated in recent years by a novel solution: the world’s largest urban cable-car system. For a city shaped like a bowl nestling in a ring of Andean peaks, these lines running up and down the hillsides is ideal. At 13,000ft above sea level, this cable-car ride is also the highest in the world. If you’d like to know more about riding above the world’s highest capital, read on!
Three lines are currently serving locals and travelers alike, the red, yellow and green lines. They were named after the Bolivian flag and are recognizable by car color. (Six more lines are underway as part of the Mi Teleférico project, but are not yet operational.) Each car can accommodate 8 people and has a solar panel on its roof to power its doors. Entel provides Wi-Fi during the service, but we recommend that you concentrate more on the windows than on your screens. During the ride, you’ll enjoy views of the three snow-covered peaks of Mt. Illimani and the other mountains surrounding La Paz. You’ll also get a privileged birds-eye view of the city.
If you fly into the El Alto airport and would like to reach the La Paz city center, it will take you an hour to get there by car, but just 10 minutes to make the same trip by the red or yellow lines. The cable cars can shuffle 3,000 passengers between La Paz and El Alto every hour! It’s not just faster, either, it’s also cheaper: a one-way ticket is 3 bolivianos, less than US$0.50, which undercuts the 5 bolivianos bus fare between the two cities. Our hostel in La Paz is located just two blocks from Sopocachi cable-car station, and we’re immensely pleased that it’s now easier for guests flying into the city to reach us.
Currently, there are 11 stations, each with both a Spanish and an Aymara name, such as the red line’s Estación Central/Taypi Uta. Despite the traditional names, their appearance is more futuristic. Service is continuous from 5am to 10pm, with a cabin leaving every 12 seconds. Thus far, the stations have a reputation for being spotless- we really hope they stay that way!
For Bolivians, the cable cars symbolize an effort to bring Bolivia’s traditional values forward in a modern world. The system runs on electricity, part of which is provided through solar power, thus cutting into the amount of gas-created smog clogging the city air. As Marco Valverde Carrasco, the Bolivian consul general in Los Angeles, explained, “The basic view for us as a country is that we must both modernize and respect the Earth.”
While other cities can rely on subway transport, La Paz had to be more creative in order to deal with its unique geographical challenges. Constructing the cable-car system seems to have been the right decision for the city, with 2.5 million passengers riding in the cable cars during their first 10 weeks of operation alone.
Our half-day city tour in La Paz includes a ride on both the yellow and the green line as part of a circuit that takes you through Plaza Murillo, San Francisco Church, the Witches’ Market, Killi Killi Lookout, and the Valley of the Moon. The full-day La Paz city tour makes use of the red and yellow lines during part of its circuit.