Teleférico de La Paz Bolivia

La Paz’ Cable Cars in the Sky

The city of La Paz is one of the most unusual places I’ve ever been simply given its unimaginable geography. Built within the deep walls of a canyon La Paz snakes and sprawls down preposterously steep, narrow and congested streets making mass transit an absolute nightmare. The only way to get around is on foot, by cab (which is expensive for most Bolivians) or to ride in one of the city’s 40,000 over-packed minibuses.

High above Zona Sur and central La Paz, lies El Alto, a city within itself that has exploded over the years as Bolivians migrate from the countryside into the city. Today, El Alto has over a million people and getting from El Alto to the center of La Paz and Zona Sur (way down below at the bottom of the canyon) can prove to be a long affair especially at rush hour.

Understanding the great need for a better mass transit system, the Bolivian government set their hopes high on a rather unusual solution: The construction and implementation of one of the  largest urban cable car systems in the world to be used for transportation.

As an avid skier, I have experienced the luxury and ease of riding a Swiss-made gondola high above the snow-covered peaks of the Alps. But I had never in my wildest dreams imagined the same kind of gondola would be used in a huge, chaotic city like La Paz.

When I first saw the cable cars in the sky I was stunned. Little dots were everywhere floating graciously up the mountains. I asked the cab driver if they were for sightseeing but he said no. They were for transportation. Instantly I knew I had to take a ride for myself and experience an urban gondola. I grabbed my camera knowing there would be many amazing views from above, and was off.


Teleférico de La Paz Bolivia

First sight of the cable cars in the sky

Teleférico de La Paz Bolivia

Teleférico de La Paz Bolivia


In search of the perfect Guatemalan Chicken Bus

I must admit, I seem to have an odd fetish when traveling.  Every time I go to a new place there is something unique that seems to gravitate to me. In China, it was the exotic foods.  In Morocco, the goods at the souq. In Nepal, the prayer flags.

So what was it when I was in Guatemala?  Hands down the funky, multi-colored Guatemalan Chicken Buses that grace the roads and streets throughout the country.  Known as “las camionetas“, the Chicken Buses are decommissioned American school buses that are sent on a long journey south to poor countries in Central America, where they are repainted, refurbished and act as the main source of transportation for the Guatemala’s 13.8 million people.

While researching my trip to Guatemala, I had read about the much loved and hated Chicken bus.  I even googled it and found several silly pictures of these elaborately decorated buses.  I knew that they were cheap, relatively reliable and safe (that is for the most part) but I wasn’t sure where the name came from and whether or not there would be real, live chickens on board.  The origin of the name still remains a bit of a mystery to me today as I never did see anything except people on board.  Then again, I only got to actually ride inside one chicken bus so that is perhaps not very good odds.

Today, while I was tooling around on the internet,  I found an interesting piece on Chicken Buses calledLA CAMIONETA: The Journey of One American School Bus” which offers a rather fascinating account of how the school buses arrived south of the border as well as some rather grueling facts about the dangers Chicken Bus drivers face.  I was warned to never take a bus at night yet I met plenty of young travelers who did.   Not sure how their trips ended up but hopefully they were safe.

Above is my first sight of the Guatemalan Chicken Bus!  I had heard so much about these old American buses that were shipped south of the border and then painted in an elaborate spectrum of colors.  My fabulous hosts informed me that each bus is color coded for its destination.  Pretty clever!