I love exploring villages, towns and cities on foot. In South America, La Paz is one of my favorite destinations, which center is a hive of activity but still has the amiable feel of a town. I lived there with great pleasure for some six months.
However, going on foot is not a matter of course as streets are steep and at an altitude of 3800 meters it is easy to get out of breath.
Taking a taxi or bus is a cheap and often easy way to move around.
Public Transportation in La Paz
And so I found the perfect mix: going downtown and downhill on foot, since my apartment was several blocks higher than the center, and taking public transport to return home. Fortunately, La Paz has a few different forms of public transport: minibusses, microbuses, trufis and taxis. So what’s what?
Minibus or Microbus?
You can hear minibusses coming from afar, whose attendant has the job of shouting the bus’ destination and fare. Windscreens display an amalgam of destinations, which are often landmarks or neighborhoods. However, they will stop at any requested point for passengers to get on and off. The price is between 1 and 3 bolivianos (15 to 45 dollar cents), depending on the distance.
Conspicuous are the microbuses, an intriguing name for the large, mostly blue and sometimes green buses that ply fixed routes within the center of La Paz. Their destinations are displayed on the windscreen and you pay a fixed price of 1 boliviano, no matter the distance.
Trufi or Taxi?
A trufi is a regular car like a taxi, which plies a fixed route within the city, just like the minibus and microbus. They are recognizable by two flags on the bumper and at night carry a light on top of the roof. A trufi costs 2 bolivianos per person regardless of the distance and the driver may stop along the way to take on more passengers.
Taxis are available day and night and you can either request them by telephone or wave them down on the street. However, note that there are some distinctions between the different types of taxis.
A radio taxi is recognizable by its advertising sign on the roof, stating the name of the company and a telephone number. You can wave down a radio taxi as well. You pay between 7 and 12 bolivianos (1-1.75 US dollars) within the center of La Paz, for up to four passengers. If you need a taxi is outside La Paz, for example to go to the airport, the market of El Alto or Mallasse, it’s best to ask the fare beforehand to avoid unpleasant situations afterward.
A regular taxi costs 3 bolivianos per person within the city center and it may stop along the way to pick up other passengers. Sometimes it will serve as a radio taxi and ask for a higher fare, for example when the distance is great. In this case the driver doesn’t stop to take on other passengers. You can recognize a regular taxi by a stripe of yellow-black squares along the side of the taxi and the green-red-green strips painted on the roof.
For safety reasons it is advised to take a radio taxi at night, especially when driving to or from more remote neighborhoods.
Besides avoiding sore legs and getting out of breath, taking a taxi or trufi offered me a great opportunity to practice my Spanish and to have interesting discussions with drivers about politics (always a hot topic in Bolivia) and their national sport soccer.