Our first stop in Bolivia (after the briefest of visits to Uyuni) was Sucre, Bolivia’s capital city. This city goes against everything we’ve come to expect of a South American capital city. Towering sky scrapers were replaced with small white, terracotta roofed houses, wide freeways were replaced with narrow cobbled streets and bustling shopping centres were replaced with small intimate markets and town squares. Pretty quickly it became obvious that this wasn’t going to be a place for activities, this was going to be a place to relax and catch our breath after a pretty whirlwind 6weeks travelling through South America.
So that’s exactly what we did; our first 3 days were spent sitting in cafes, reading our books on our hostel’s sun terrace and eating at the many ridiculously cheap eateries. These varied in price from 12 Bolivianos in the central market (£1.20) to 22 Bolivianos if we were feeling fancy in our favourite relaxation spot, Condor Cafe. For this you received a 3 course meal comprising of a wholesome soup/stew for starters, some kind of (occasionally questionable) meat and rice for mains and a cake for dessert. A drink was also provided. This was a bit of a shock to the system after the expense of food in our previous stops. In all truth, we lived the life of luxury, not cooking a single meal.
By our 4th day our wine and dining lifestyle was beginning to take its toll and we decided it was time to get out of Sucre and experience some of the local attractions. We subsequently took a 20 minute bus ride to visit the largest paleontological site in the world! It was discovered 20 years ago when a concrete mine unearthed the largest set of dinosaur footprints ever seen in one location – not great news for the mine.. which was promptly closed down, but great news for us as we got to spend the day observing dinosaur bones and touching their footprints. It’s fair to say it brought out the inner nerd in both of us!
Our last day was a bit of a disaster. We had planned on doing a 2 day hike to a local crater which we had been assured from fellow backpackers in our hostel was an easy hike to do on your own without the aid of a guide. They were wrong. We initially got the first of 2 buses in the completely wrong direction leaving us in an obscure and slightly sketchy part of Sucre. By the time we had tracked down another bus to get us back to the start point we were an hour behind schedule which meant we subsequently missed our second bus to the start of the hike. Reluctantly we returned back to Sucre in pretty somber moods.
All in all, this was a pretty downbeat end to an otherwise great few days in Sucre. We had relaxed, enjoyed the sites and most of all.. eaten far too much Bolivia food. We left feeling refreshed and ready for what the rest of Bolivia could throw at us.
La Paz is the highest administrative capital in the world, resting within the Andes at more than 3500m above sea level. Having travelled to almost 5000m during our three day trip to the Uyuni salt flats, we experienced no difficulty with the altitude. Many people we met, however, had suffered illness upon arriving at La Paz and were out of action for days.
The city is completely bonkers and is quite a site to behold, stretching upwards to hug the mountainside. The views are stunning although It took me three days to realise that the clouds I could see from the city were actually snow capped mountains!
In every South American city that we’ve been to we have mastered the public transport: buses, trams, the underground. In La Paz, however, they use a different form of public transport: cable car. No surprise with it being such a high city and we had great fun riding it to various points of the city, giving us picturesque views as we went.
The first thing we like to do upon arriving in a new city is to take a walking tour. This gives us all the information we could want whilst simultaneously placing our bearings and showing us how to get around. The tour we did in La Paz was extremely interesting (if not tiring – lots of hills!) and we learned about how corrupt Bolivia is. Indeed, one of our stops saw us outside the infamous San Pedro prison, the only prison in the world run completely by the prisoners themselves. Here we learned all about the cocaine trade and how the prisoners are some of the worst offenders. The police, of course, are all involved.
We also made a stop at the thoroughly disturbing, but incredibly interesting, Witches’ Market. Here one can buy everything from a dried llama fetus to potions that will make a man love you, or persuade a woman to leave you alone. Although the multitude of dried llama babies was rather off-putting, in this market we learned loads about Bolivian practices and beliefs as well as the rituals that are still performed today.
Another aspect of South American life that was explained to us on this tour was about the women. Some women in South America dress very distinctively and had not gone unnoticed by us on our travels. Full, colourful skirts, tight bodices, long braided hair and top hats are the traditional dress of women dubbed ‘Cholitas’. They can be seen everywhere in South America and choose to copy the fashion of European women from the time when South America was colonised by the Spanish. Although very out of date now, their fashion is a tradition upheld by the Cholitas and brightens up the streets.
After learning about Cholitas, we then discovered that a traditional part of Bolivian life is women’s wrestling, and not just any women: Cholitas. We signed up immediately and spent an evening cheering, booing and gasping in equal measure. Bizarre, crazy, empowering and utterly hilarious are a few ways to describe this traditional event. Indeed, the Cholitas of Bolivia actually went over to the USA in order to pertition for professional status and are now acknowledged as part of the WWE!
Overall, La Paz came across as an absolutely crazy city: mountain tops, altitude, witch markets, cocaine bars and women wrestling. We had great fun here and are pleased to be able to say that we have stayed at the highest city in the world. If you’re after an experience of something a bit different, of a city like no other, then La Paz is your place.