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The Weirdest Jail In The World – San Pedro Prison, La Paz Bolivia

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Anyone who’s been to Bolivia in South America would know that it’s a great place to visit, and it’s home to some great things to experience such as mountain biking down the world’s most dangerous road, the Salar Uyuni, and the Salt Hotel.

But there’s one attraction that’s a bit weird that would be both awesome and a bit scary to experience – that’s the San Pedro Prison in La Paz, Bolivia. It’s is one of those more unusual incarceration places out there in the world.

That’s because once you’re inside, the prison has it’s own rules – and it’s run by the inmates once you get past the guards on the outside.

That’s like having a hospital where the patients are treated like other patients!

You can’t really get inside to have a look (tourism there is ‘illegal’) but apparently you can have a look if you really know someone there (or maybe pay the guides a very large bribe!) – which I guess is a good enough reason not to go!

This is the view from the outside – it just looks like a plain old building in South America.

San Pedro Prison – La Paz, Bolivia

San Pedro Prison - La Paz Bolivia Jail.  Subject Of Book Called Marching Powder By Rusty Young.
San Pedro Prison, Bolivia

When I interviewed Sunday Night foreign correspondent, Denham Hitchock, he had gone inside to conduct a few interviews – with a hidden camera of course so that he didn’t become a casualty or statistic from annoying inmates who didn’t want to be filmed. Geez, I’d be using some Spanish curses if I was inside there!

He came out alive, but I bet he was wearing a pair of brown underpants for the experience!

Denham Hitchcock From Sunday Night At San Pedro Prison Bolivia
Denham Hitchcock at San Pedro Prison

San Pedro prison is home to over 1500 inmates – in a place that originally designed to house only 250! So I’m guessing it might become a little bit ‘intimate’ there sometimes!

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But what’s strange is that the prisoners need to support themselves, so the place is like a little city where everyone has a job and earns money to ‘pay’ for the piece of prison real estate doing all sorts of menial chores. It’s like a city within a city!

There are hairdressers, a dentist, a doctor (maybe not Doctor Bong), and who knows what other professions who have been on the wrong side of the law.

And the more money you have, the more fancy your pad. And you won’t have to sing for your supper.

There are actually entire families, including women and children who live inside the prison, because the man of the family has been sentenced for something like drug offences, or murder, or maybe even worse!

San Pedro prison has attracted media attention from all over the world just because of the unusual model on how it’s run. That’s because it’s probably cheap and the government doesn’t have to spend too much money to lock away some of Bolivia’s undesirables and feed them only watery soup!

But it’s not exactly Utopia in there. People have been killed inside, and some kids have been attacked. But life goes on in there, and it probably will be for a while!

Anyway, if you’re interested, check out the great doco Denham Hitchcock conducted in San Pedro prison.

It’s worth a look!

You can read more at Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America’s Strangest Jail.

Marching Powder Rusty Young

For more jail stuff, check out Boggo Road Jail and Crime and Punishment in Dubbo.

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If you’re planning a trip soon, check out my best travel insurance tips, and get a quote on some Backpacker Travel Insurance.


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3 thoughts on “The Weirdest Jail In The World – San Pedro Prison, La Paz Bolivia”

  1. Avatar Of Manuela Bender
    Manuela Bender

    Those numbers are wrong – the latest (2016) documentary states that San Pedro was built for 600 inmates but houses about 3000!

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