Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The South American Altiplano March 2013 - Radisson Plaza Hotel La Paz

***This post is part 7 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

The Radisson Plaza Hotel is the only international chain in La Paz, but don't go there expecting international standards in decor and upkeep. In its heyday (probably a few decades ago), this was certainly a five-star hotel with its expansive lobby, full-service amenities, and towering presence over one of the wealthiest districts in La Paz. However, time hasn't been particularly kind, and without any major remodeling of the rooms and facilities, everything now looks incredibly dated and tired.

Armed with my U.S. Bank Club Carlson Visa,  I booked two nights here for only 15,000 Gold Points, with the last night free. If I didn't have this benefit, I probably would have just paid for the room out-of-pocket since prepaid nights often go for well under $100 USD. Booking over the Club Carlson website was very straightforward, and they even automatically removed the points deduction for the last night since your credit card and membership accounts are linked.

We arrived at the Radisson Plaza Hotel around 9:00 pm hungry and tired. Thankfully, the wait to check in was short. After an extensive day of traveling, I didn't have the energy or patience to take pictures of the facilities that night, but I did so the next morning. All we really wanted to do was throw our belongings into the room and quickly find something to eat in the area.

Radisson Plaza Hotel La Paz


Unfortunately, since the booking only allowed a maximum of two adults in the room, we needed to add a third person to the reservation at check-in, resulting in a supplemental $50 USD per night charge. While this was certainly annoying, I was also pleasantly surprised about a couple of things. First, we were upgraded to a room on the 14th floor, just below the penthouse level, and given access to the executive lounge on the 12th floor. In addition, all guests at the hotel were provided a complimentary buffet breakfast, regardless of the rate booked.

As I mentioned before, the room itself looked incredibly dated. That in and of itself is perfectly fine in my opinion, but what was unacceptable, especially in a large international chain, was the lack of upkeep and cleanliness. The sheets were becoming threadbare, the carpets were worn, and the furniture had stains on them. The king bed was old and springy, let alone the rollaway mattress brought in for the third person. Overall, things in the room just felt dirty. Remarkably, the room had a modern flat-screen television.

The bathroom wasn't much better, and in many ways, was probably worse. There was rust and mold in the shower, and the water did not drain properly. Judging by the TripAdvisor reviews, the drainage problem seems to be a frequent issue at the hotel. In addition, next to the existing toilet was a circular hole covered by a piece of plastic. I'm assuming this was where the toilet used to be, and it would have been nice if they covered the void with something opaque so guests couldn't see the brown gunk inside.

I suppose these are all first world problems at the end of the day. I've stayed at plenty of hostels and backpackers lodges that would put the Radisson Plaza Hotel to shame in terms of grossness factor. What it all comes down to, however, is expectation. When you book a night at a large international chain, you expect a certain standard and quality. When those expectations aren't met, it's usually a bigger disappointment than experiencing the exact same problem at a $20 per night hostel.

Now that the negatives are out of the way, one thing about the room that had me smiling from ear to ear was the spectacular view. We had an incredible panorama of the city, including the Puente de las Americas bridge right in the center. Since the Radisson Plaza Hotel is located in the Sopacachi district, near the bottom of the canyon that central La Paz sits in, you get a fascinating view of the urban sprawl climbing its way up the steep slopes towards the south. On the second day, as sporadic rain fell, a beautiful rainbow appeared above the city just as I was staring out the window.

View from the room

Rainbow over La Paz

The breakfast buffet in the downstairs restaurant was decent, considering the fact that it was included with every booking. There was a wide selection of fruit and bread. Hot entrees included scrambled eggs, sausages, french toast, and empanadas. There was also of couple of different cereals and juice options. Of course, they had plenty of coca tea as well, which was fast becoming indispensable for me. 

Breakfast buffet

The executive lounge was open for breakfast between 7:00-10:00 am, and for cocktails and light snacks between 6:00-9:00 pm. It was a nice, quiet space with plenty of tables and some comfortable couches. There was a small bar in one corner with an equally small selection of liquor and beer.

We stopped by for the early evening service and initially found it to be completely empty. By 6:30 pm, they had laid out some hot hors d'oeuvres, nuts, cookies, and chips. There was also a large pitcher of delicious papaya smoothie. For the entire time that we were there, I think only two other guests stopped by, grabbing a few bites and leaving soon after.

Executive lounge



Local beer Paceña

There was a health spa at the hotel, but unfortunately, the gym was closed due to construction. Strangely enough, we had to walk through a long, winding, industrial-looking corridor to get to the pool, which was rather small. The business center, on the other hand, was quite large, with plenty of computers for guest use. They even provided paper for us to print out our boarding passes.


Business center

I probably would not recommend the Radisson Plaza Hotel unless you find a very cheap rate or have a lot of Gold Points to burn. There are now a number of higher quality hotels in town for an incremental increase in cost. While I appreciated the upgrade, complimentary breakfast, and other features of the hotel, ultimately, what it really comes down to (at least for a large international chain) is cleanliness and comfort, both of which were sorely lacking here.

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