It is unprecedented to think that a travel blog recommends visiting a cemetery as a tourist destination but the General Cemetery of La Paz in Bolivia is a place worth going. We went by taxi from our hotel in La Paz. You can also arrive by taking the red line of the cable car that has a stop in front of the rear entrance. If you visit La Paz it is worth riding the cable car, which is similar to the one in Medellin.
You will notice that the doors of the cable car have the face of Evo Morales, the narcissist president of Bolivia.
At the top of the line there is a mountain on which they do a flea market. We went up to see how it was but it was very local so we did not find anything worthy.
In front of the General Cemetery of La Paz is the bus stop that takes you to Tiwanaku or Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. If you go to any of these two destinations you can visit the cemetery before making the trip.
General Cemetery of La Paz is Historic
On January 25, 1826, the General Cemetery of La Paz was established by decree of Marshal Antonio José de Sucre. During his presidency he established the creation of cemeteries throughout the country of Bolivia. Previously, the citizens buried their dead in the atriums of the churches but this practice became untenable as the population grew.
Its location is between the historic center and El Alto. The main entrance is along Avenida Baptista with an arch that leads directly to the main chapel. In front of the entrance a food market is organized where you can buy fruits and vegetables.
It is common to see many people organizing parties, lunches and family gatherings in the cemetery. On the Day of the Dead it becomes even more animated.
In the 1930s the government of Bolivia took control of the cemetery making it public. This was for the benefit of the poorest residents who had no land or resources to bury their dead.
This cemetery is a site of contrasts since you can find monuments and mausoleums to commemorate prestigious families and illustrious figures in the history of Bolivia.
The General Cemetery of La Paz has a huge size, with 92,000 square meters, which is equivalent to 1.5 miles or 15 blocks of a city. It is the largest in all of Bolivia. However, a long time ago it became too small for the large number of deaths that are on site. The necropolis is made of apartments that can be more than four stories high.
Compact tombs are mounted one on top of the other. The only personalized touch is a showcase on the front where relatives place objects that were precious or represented their loved ones. I found it super funny to find so many tombs with bottles of Ron Abuelo, which is the rum of Panama, and Coca Cola. They also put flowers and photos. If the tombs are on top of the buildings it is possible to use the help of stairs to climb.
The graves are only reserved for 10 years, then they must cremate the bodies or move them to another smaller space. Some people are buried without order or documents. If they do not pay the costs, they are evacuated, many times without notice and the bodies can not be traced later. You can buy a grave for perpetuity but it costs 10 times the monthly minimum wage and few can afford it.
You can visit the General Cemetery of La Paz on your own as we did or go on a walking tour with a guide explaining the history of this interesting place.