History of El Alto

The city contains La Paz's El Alto International Airport. El Alto is one of the highest major cities in the world, up to 4150 meters (13,615 feet) above sea level. It has a cold climate, reaching the maximum temperature of 17 degrees Celsius (62 F) in summer. It is one of the fastest-growing city in Bolivia, due to a trend in migration from Bolivia's rural areas to the La Paz region that started with the rural reform of 1952 and increased in the last 10 years. Some migrants say the difficulty of growing crops in the countryside drove them to move to the city. El Alto is the largest city in Latin America which has a mostly Amerindian population. About 76% of its inhabitants are Aymara, 9% are Quechua, 15% are Mestizo (descendants of Amerindian and White Europeans) and less than .1% are Criollos (of European descent).. El Alto was once known as La Paz's bedroom community, though recent growth of commerce and industry has led some local authorities to claim the title of "Bolivia's Economic Capital." Along with that industrial growth concern about water pollution by businesses including tanneries and slaughterhouse has become an issue for the city and communities downstream. Rapid population growth means the city struggles to bring potable water and sewer service to parts of the population, especially on the fringes of the expanding urban area.

The dry and inclement plain above La Paz was uninhabited until 1903, when the newly built railways from Lake Titicaca and Arica reached the rim of the canyon, where the La Paz terminus, railyards and depots were built along with a settlement of railway workers (a spur line down into the canyon opened in 1905). In 1925 the airfield was built as base for the new air force, which attracted additional settlement. In 1939 El Alto's first elementary school opened. El Alto started to grow tremendously in the 1950s, when the settlement was connected to La Paz' water supply