Splayed between El Alto and downtown La Paz lies the most colorful neighborhood in the city. Barrio Chualluma tells the story of its inhabitants through beautiful murals and quotes delicately painted on softly crumbling walls.
A visit to barrio (neighborhood) Chualluma La Paz in Bolivia presents a wonderful opportunity to see a different side of the city. Far removed from the chaos and noise that permeates the center, with 5-star views and hundreds of picture-perfect murals lies a neighborhood that has managed to reinvent itself.
We spent a good two hours walking up and down the many, many stairs in the barrio, reading about the vibrant artwork surrounding us and photographing the red cable cars as they whizz over the city. Read on to find out how to get to Chualluma, what to do, and if it is safe to visit.
Caroline Muller is an award-winning travel blogger. She writes and photographs full-time while oscillating between Sicily and Brussels as a home base. She has documented over 60 countries across six continents and does not plan to stop any time soon. A staunch vegetarian for over 25 years, she loves exploring local cuisine in search of that perfect (plant-based) mouthful.
With this blog, she hopes to help you travel slower, more sustainably and a hella lot more meaningfully. Pack your bags!
History of the Chualluma neighborhood in La Paz
The Chualluma community is made up of 400 families, mainly migrant workers from the outlining provinces who have come to the city for economic reasons. Many sell produce at El Alto or La Paz markets, while others are construction workers or drivers. Contrary to downtown La Paz the dominant language in Chualluma is Aymara.
Under the government-funded program ‘My neighborhood, my home’, the 18,000 m2 that make up barrio Chualluma were transformed from drab faded orange boxes into a vibrant veritable open-air museum. In effect decentralizing art and making it accessible to everyone as was the goal of lead artist Knorke Leaf.
While the murals were painted by professional urban artists, it was the local residents who chose the colors adorning their homes and provided invaluable inspiration for the designs. More on that further on. The patchwork of murals was completed in July 2019.
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How to get to barrio Chualluma
A quick Google search on how to get to barrio Chualluma left me rather empty-handed. Add to that a generous dash of fear-mongering by both locals and various travel forums “It is way too dangerous to go” and it seems an almost herculean task to visit. Fear not, it is in fact relatively easy and safe – that is during the day.
Tip: The steps leading to the barrio and inside the barrio all have an iron cast railing. These railings have been painted a vibrant yellow. If you are dropped off on the outskirts of Chualluma, simply follow the yellow railings (up or down) to reach the colorful neighborhood.
Ride the red cable car (recommended)
Take the Linea Roja (red line) in the direction of El Alto and get off at the stop Cementerio Ajayuni. Exit the metro station through Avenida Entre Rios, and a 15-minute downhill walk (or about 8 blocks) that will get take you straight to the Chualluma neighborhood. Consult the cable car map.
Purchasing tickets: Fares range from Bs 1.50 to 3.00 (Transfer Bs 2.00). Rechargeable smart cards or tickets can be bought directly from the ticket booths outside the metro stations or the automated machines inside the station. Both credit cards and cash are accepted forms of payment.
Why take the cable car to Chualluma?
Riding the cable car is both the cheapest and most scenic way to get to barrio Chualluma. The red line glides over the entire neighborhood providing you with a wonderful birdseye view of the splaying urban rainbow.
Order a Yango
Yango is a popular ride-hailing service that operates in Bolivia. Like other ride-hailing apps (think Uber), Yango allows users to request a ride through their mobile app, and drivers pick up passengers taking them to their destination.
Hail a Taxi
Taxis are readily available in La Paz, and they are generally inexpensive. However, it’s essential to negotiate the fare before getting into the taxi to avoid overcharging. It is safer to take the radio taxis that belong to a company with a sign and telephone number. Avoid taking white cabs which only have a “taxi” sign.
Take a tour: If you are looking for a hassle-free way to get to the neighborhood and learn about the meaning of the murals, try booking an inexpensive private walking tour of La Paz.
What to do in Chualluma La Paz
Stroll around the tiny streets
While the birdseye view of the barrio from the cable car is nothing short of jaw-dropping, the very best way to witness the details of the murals is by walking through the little streets.
The first thing I noticed is the abundance of artwork depicting people: Women selling their goods at the market; children playing and beautiful leather-faced grandparents with twinkling eyes. The murals are in fact a representation of Aymaran culture & the Chualluma community, what they do, and who they are.
This is the reason Knorke was adamant about using the Aymaran language for the lettering to paint phrases and words on the many buildings, as it is the dominant language of the neighborhood.
Hunt down the biggest murals
Various informative panels are spread out across the neighborhood. The “Mapa” (depicted above) is great to have a global overview of where both the largest murals and phrases were painted. It is also very helpful at indicating which streets are filled with street dogs and where to find a little store to grab a nibble or something to drink.
While Chualluma is not big, I did find it super useful to take a picture of the map and use it to navigate around. The 15 main murals themselves have large yellow & red signs explaining what they depict (in Spanish only).
In case you do not speak Spanish and have invested in a local sim card, I encourage you to use the Google Translate scan function to translate the meaning of the murals for you. Personally, I loved learning how the artists translated the lives of the community into a mural.
Take a tour: Alternatively, ditch the phone and invest in an inexpensive private walking tour of La Paz. Your guide will explain the significance of the murals to you!
Grab a snack
If you look closely at the map, a few tiendas or convenience stores are dotted around the barrio. The stores are oftentimes boltholes only visible by a small sign dangling from the front door. We stopped when we read “Hay Pan” (bread available) to try the local bread: Sarnita and Marraqueta.
This particular storefront had a small doorbell which we rang. Upon which an older woman came shuffling to the window to ask what we wanted. If I remember correctly 5 Bolivianos (paid in cash) bought us 2 sarnitas and 2 marraquetas.
Tip: According to local friends, the best time to buy bread in La Paz is before 10.00 am, otherwise the bread will lose it’s crunch due to the altitude.
Take in the panoramic views over La Paz and Huayna Potosi
I found the viewpoint over La Paz from Chualluma one of the best in the entire city. The combination of the large urban sprawl, colorful cable cars, and imposing Huayna Potosi mountain in the background is quintessential La Paz for me.
Note: Photographers need to be mindful that barrio Chualluma is not safe to walk around during sunrise and sunset.
Is this colorful neighborhood in La Paz safe to visit?
When it comes to safety, I have heard & read a lot of conflicting information. To avoid adding to the overall confusion, I will describe our experience and what we were told by our local guide. When in doubt, use common sense: do not flash valuables around needlessly.
Strolling around Chualluma itself during the day is relatively safe. Locals gave us a nod and a shy smile before hurrying off to wherever it was their walk was taking them. Nobody in our group felt unsafe at any given moment. It is noteworthy to mention we went in the morning and the streets were practically deserted.
There are certain areas that have stray dogs running around, while the vast majority happily wag their tail and love a good cuddle, there were a few much less friendly specimens. It is best to calmly walk by them and ignore their barks, causing them to lose interest.
It seems to be a widespread consensus that both barrio Chualluma and the surrounding area is best avoided at dusk for safety reasons. We did not test out this theory but chose to trust local advice.
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