This was one of the most unusual, awkward, and interesting tour i have ever done. Ok so this tour is in no guidebook because it´s technically an illegal tour. I heard about this tour traveling around chile and bolivia.
I heard that there is a prison tour which you go in and tour a bolivian prison with an inmate. I also heard that the prison is run by the prisoners and that there were no prison guards inside but that it was completely safe. So i was down to do this tour for sure!
So when i got to la paz i instantly asked around about the tour. Prices, duration, and general information about the prison tour. I was told that it was a must-do while in la paz and to do was to go to san pedro plaza and that i would be approached by foreigners that would start the whole operation.
So I went with martin and another frenchman we met while in la paz and we went to the san pedro plaza and within 30 secs we were approached by a south african (white) guy that said if your interested in the tour that it was 250 bolivianos (40usd) and we said we were up for it and then he introduced us to his girlfriend, also south african, and she brought us to the entrance of the prison, with all the prison guards standing there, and brought us 3 thru the guards and into the guardsman room. She told us that we would be guided by a prisoner, that to tell the guards that we had no cameras (which i did) and to give her the money (40usd) to bribe the guards, also we had to write our names on a list and get marks on our arms. All of this was pretty standard operation and it didnt feel sketchy at all but nevertheless i was a bit nervous.
So 5 mins. later we were in the prison with a prisoner as our guide, amazing!!! He told us that no guards are inside because it´s not safe for them, that the prisoners control the entire prison. The prison is layed out in different cell blocks. However, different cell blocks house different prisoners based on economic status. Any prisoner can buy/rent prison cells. Some cell blocks are much nicer than others. Some cell blocks have a younger crowd who does more harder drugs..ie cocaine and harder drugs...while there are family cell blocks which has a more family atmosphere..ie pool/older crowd..and there are cell blocks which have more amenities..for example the rooms are nicer/cleaner and access into these cell blocks are restricted by the prisoners.
So we walked around all these cell blocks and it was one of the most intruiging things i have ever expericenced! There were prisoners that had jobs as security guards, policing the prisoners. There were families in the prison. Wives, teengagers, children, and babies livivng with the prisoners during the day. There were prison shops..barbers/resturants/cafes/and even a bar!
All the prisoners were exetremly friendly. They constantly said hello (hola amigo) and would give shake our hands and give us high fives. We bought some cigarettes outside the prison and would sometimes give them to the prisoners as gifts. The guide showed us where their cocaine factory and the roof of a building where they use to smuggle cocaine in and out of the prison.
At the end of our tour he took us to his room, which was nice and big, and offered the group cocaine and marijuana, for a price of course. There was no way i was going to do drugs in a foreign country, let alone a country that is technically at odds with the USA, and not in a prison either. So i respectfully turned it down. There were people in our group that did take the offer up though. An english couple bought a couple grams of coke, about a dollar and a half for a gram of near pure cocaine, which is incereibly cheap!! They did a line and bought a couple more grams of coke and a little bit of weed and then the tour was over. Just as fast as it started it ended with a memorable experience, watching tourists buy and do coke in a prison cell in la paz. UNREAL!
While the tour was over we were not obliged to leave the prison. Myself, martin, and the frenchman ate at the prison restuarant. Remarkable good and cheap, chatted with some prisoners, and watched the english couple smoke some joints across the way. We had another quick walkaround the prison and called it a day. We went to the entrance/exit gate where all the prison guards were located. Showed them our arm mark, signed out on the tourist ledger and we were back in the free world. I will never forget this tour ever