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La Paz’s cable-car system Teleferico a heady ride that bridges Bolivia’s values

La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz’s public transportation system Mi Teleferico features color-coded gondolas that have solar panels that supply power for lights, doors and Wi-Fi.

(Benji Fernandez)

Wedged into a crevice in the Andes, La Paz is high, steep, crowded and chaotic.

The administrative capital of Bolivia, with close to a million inhabitants, sits at nearly 12,000 feet in a bowl ringed by mountains. Terra-cotta-red buildings tumble down the hills, and the narrow, vertiginous streets are jammed with motorcycles, buses, cars, motor taxis and pedestrians. Triple-peaked Illimani, always covered with snow, towers dramatically over the city.

But above all of this is the brilliant Mi Teleférico, a 21st century transportation system uniquely suited to La Paz: Red, yellow and green gondolas glide up and down the hillsides, skimming the skyline. A ride costs about 50 cents for a one-way ticket.

To get to the red line from our hotel, we hiked about a half-mile up a hill, then walked through gridlocked traffic circles while dodging vendors, cars, buse

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The Estación Central/Taypi Uta station is futuristic, spotless and high-tech. Each gondola has solar panels on top that power the doors, lights and Wi-Fi for passengers’ use.

“The basic view for us as a country is that we must both modernize and respect the Earth,” said Marco Valverde Carrasco, the Bolivian consul general in Los Angeles. “We are integrating a lot of green technology in all of our modernization. We believe we should develop, but not at a pace that affects ecosystems.”

When we entered the eight-person cabin, the city dropped away and became silent. The snowy peaks of the Cordillera Real rose to the east of La Paz as we floated toward El Alto, the second-largest city in Bolivia adjacent to La Paz on the Altiplano highland.

The Teleférico offers spectacular views from each line, as well as bird’s-eye views of life in La Paz. You can see distant mountains and clouds, but also soccer fields, cemeteries and guinea pigs being raised in people’s backyards. Locals estimate a Teleférico ride from El Alto to the center of La Paz is about three times faster than taking a bus or taxi. Along with pedestrian bridges and more public transportation, Valverde hopes the Teleférico will ease the traffic gridlock that plagues the city. But they are as much inspiration as solution — we could have ridden them all day.

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travel@latimes.com

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