On my recent trip to Peru, an Australian who I was hiking the Inca trail with introduced me to the infamous San Pedro prison in downtown La Paz, Bolivia. For the uninitiated, this is a one-of-a-kind place–and the inspiration for the Panamanian prison on Fox Network’s Prison Break–where the prisoners are the ones running the show.
That’s because there are no guards inside the compound. Seems like the worst place to go for a tour, you would think. Turns out it’s one of the most coveted destinations in South America, though also one of the hardest to crack.
My friend Matt the Australian was there a few months ago, and ended up running out of time before he could arrange all the details. I’m hoping you’ll have better luck. Here’s how you do it.
First, don’t utter the words “tourist” or “tour.” And don’t bother hanging around the prison hoping to find a tour guide. That’s the easiest way to get scammed. What you’ll have to do is call the public phone in the prison (2324033), and tell them you want one of the prisoners to show you around (ask for George Redcloud if you can only speak English). Thursdays and Sundays are the usual visiting days, though bribing the guards (your “tour guide” will handle that) could mean visiting any morning.
On the day of your trip, don’t bring any valuables (duh), including a camera, and expect to pay 50-80 bolivars. As if you need to be psyched up even more, here’s a cool photo gallery of the place and here’s the bestseller, Marching Powder, that was written from the inside. Have fun!