Every Sunday and Thursday in El Alto, the now independent suburb formerly part of La Paz, tourists and locals of all ages congregate for an early evening’s entertainment of wresting. The wrestling is similar to the Lucha Libre style popular in Mexico, where participants wear colourful masks and perform high flying moves. It also has elements of WWE from the US with its out of the ring antics and fake blood.
However, what makes this event stand out from others is that a large proportion of the wrestlers are “Cholitas” the indigenous Aymara or Quechua ladies known for their unique dress and bowler hats. Okay, so the wrestling is more theatre than sport, but its still a good evening out.
Historically, the Cholitas (or Cholas to give them their official name), have been an oppressed, racially discriminated against group of people. Until recent decades the poor rural peasant women who had migrated to the cities were not allowed to walk in certain public places or neighbourhoods. The Flying Cholitas are an all female wrestling troupe that compete against both male and female wrestlers, allowing the women not only a means of making money but also an opportunity to be empowered in a “man’s world”.
All hostels and many tour agencies offer tourists “package tours” to go and see the event. These will include transport, entrance, ring side seats and a snack. The tours will cost in the region of Bs80/90 and there are other tour companies that include a visit to the famous El Alto black market for a much higher price.
Tour companies and a lot of websites will tell you its difficult to navigate and can be dangerous. However, getting there (and back) on your own is very simple, cheaper and safe as follows:-
1. Get to the nearest Mi Teleferico station – Red Line, La Paz’s answer to London’s tube network, a cable car transit system that joins La Paz to El Alto (and one of C’s favourite things so far).
2. Buy a ticket for only Bs3 for a single and alight when you reach the 16 de Julio/ Jach’a Qhathu stop. Not only is the ride fun but you get some amazing views of La Paz as a bonus.
3. Walk out of the station towards the El Alto market. Immediately after entering through the gate, turn left and follow the road ‘Panoramica’ (it is likely the market stalls will be stood on this road) until the market ends.
4. The building, Multifuncional de La Ceja de El Alto, is located where the Panoramica road crosses over above the main Ruta Nacional 3. It is likely that you will see a queue of people or be lead by a Cholita to the ticket window in any event.
5. Pay Bs50 for your ticket, join the queue and take your seat. There is also a refreshments table selling drinks, sandwiches and sugary snacks once inside.
6. Sit back and enjoy the entertainment! Once its over, jump in the ring for a quick photo before doing the route in reverse.