The San Francisco Church, or the Basilica de San Francisco, is one of the best remaining examples of baroque-mestizo architecture in the city and is renowned for its intricately carved façade. The first version of the church was constructed in 1548 but subsequently collapsed during heavy snow sometime around 1610. The church seen today was constructed in the 1740s, and part of the convent is now dedicated as a museum.
The church's façade is a beautiful mix of native and Catholic art, decorated with ornate elements like snakes, dragons, birds, and masked figures. Once inside, the influence of baroque architecture disappears and neoclassical takes over with its cedar wood altars inscribed with gold leaf.
Be sure to wander the Plaza de San Francisco in front of the church. It is one of the busiest places in La Paz, with souvenir streets, bus and taxi stops, and a number of small snack bars and stores. Here you will also find a modern stone sculpture paying homage to Bolivia’s three cultures – the ancient Tiwanaku, the Incas, and the modern day Bolivians.
San Francisco Church is open Monday through Saturday 4-6pm. Remember that La Paz is 3,500m above sea level, so it’s important to have altitude sickness medicine on hand and to pace yourself. Drink plenty of fluids and avoid smoking and alcohol, which can make altitude sickness worse. A local remedy for altitude sickness is maté de coca, an herbal tea made with an infusion of coca leaves that locals swear by.