A few years before I arrived at Bolivia for the first time, a wild hailstone created a mudslide that caused to a small section of the Andean Plateau to slide down upon the city of La Paz. Many people and a neighborhood just disappeared in a couple of hours. The result was an area reminiscent in its shape of an inverted eyebrow (ceja, in Spanish), sitting on the busy interface between the cities of La Paz (on the slopes toward the Amazonian Basin) and El Alto (on the Andean High Plateau).
The few streets comprising this area are one of the main commercial centers in the country and it may be the biggest travel hub in the country. South of the unused railway, the area belongs to La Paz; the much bigger part north of it to El Alto. The area is crowded day and night, providing an additional proof to the claim that El Alto is the fastest growing city in Bolivia.
The area is almost unavoidable if traveling on the Andean Plateau and has many attractions of local nature; nonetheless, it may be the most dangerous place in the whole country. Bolivians are slow and good-natured but don’t let the outward sloppiness deceive you, criminal gangs control the area and according to the local newspapers they cooperate with the ubiquitous local police. Walking alone is not recommended even during the day; at night it would be a suicide. However, maintaining a no-nonsense attitude and moving quickly and efficiently through the area would ensure an eventless visit.
The Bus Terminal
Locals prefer the El Alto Bus Terminal to the one in La Paz because it does not charge a use fee, does not request identification and shortens trips by at least half an hour. However, bus tickets are more expensive here, there are fewer companies competing for the passengers, and getting good places is harder.
The city of El Alto is split in two parts by the El Alto International Airport (see separate review); it can easily be reached by foot from La Ceja. La Ceja is where these two parts meet and thus it is the city’s nexus.
The area features an overwhelming number of restaurants; all of them serve just local food. The prices here are slightly higher than in downtown La Paz. Nonetheless, a complete meal will seldom cross the $2 mark. In the restaurants, the food is relatively safe (though the dishes prepared with re-heated oil should be avoided).
The Daily Market
The streets surrounding La Ceja host a huge daily market; care should be taken while walking there.
On Thursdays and Sundays, the longest market in the world (according to Guinness) is assembled between La Ceja and Plaza Ballivian. Anything from used plastic bottles, through rusty iron parts belonging to unidentified machines, 20-year-old newspapers and brand new, though black market, cars can be bought here (see separate entry).