Many people (myself included, before I started to research an itinerary for my South America trip) assume that La Paz is the capital of Bolivia. It is after all the largest Bolivian city and the largest centre in the country for commerce, finance and industry. It’s also where the government seat is held.
However Bolivia’s official constitutional capital is actually the significantly smaller city of Sucre. Also known as La Plata, Charcas, and La Ciudad Blanca (The White City), Sucre has a delightful small-town feel to its compact network of clean, safe streets, lined with attractive white-washed buildings and well-preserved colonial architecture.
Here are a few of the reasons that I’m glad I chose to spend over three weeks of my seven weeks in Bolivia here.
My beautiful home, Hostal CasArte Takubamba
Probably not so much of an issue when you’re travelling as a couple or with friends, because you spend more time out and about, but when you’re travelling solo it’s so important to have a safe, relaxing haven to return to at night, and somewhere you feel comfortable and welcomed by the staff and other guests.
Hostal CasArte Takubamba is a family-owned collection of converted historic buildings with original wooden framework and floors. All the rooms are located around a sunny courtyard and garden, and the whitewashed exterior walls are decorated with colourful and unique pieces of artwork.
The hostel is also perfectly located at the southern end of the historic centre and was literally around the corner from my Spanish School.
It’s one of the cheapest and most reputable places to learn Spanish in South America
Whilst I would also have been completely happy to have taken Spanish lessons in Cusco’s artisan quarter, San Blas, deciding to learn Spanish in Bolivia’s capital city was completely the right decision.
There’s a huge array of Spanish schools to choose from, prices are incredibly cheap (I paid B45 / £4.11 per hour), private or group tuition is available (with the option of a homestay), and timetables can be arranged and amended to suit your own travel schedules and learning ability.
Although I took private lessons, there were lots of opportunities to socialise with the tutors and other students outside of class, and every single one of us was welcomed into the South America Spanish School family with open arms.
Chilling up on the rooftops of the Convento de San Felipe Neri
I loved this place so much I returned three times. Historically the Convento de San Felipe Neri served as a monastery, but is now used as a parochial school. You have to ring the bell (to the right of the padlocked gate) to be let in, and the entrance fee is B10.
The building contains beautifully preserved corridors and a large inner courtyard, however the real delight is the view of the city from the tiled rooftops. This is the place to come for THE best panoramic view of Sucre.
The walk up to Plaza Recoleta – and the view from the top!
From Grau, it’s about a 10-minute walk up a very steep hill to reach Plaza Recoleta, but the views from up here make the short hike completely worthwhile.
The Museum of Indigenous Art is up here too, and is definitely one of Sucre’s most interesting museums. There’s also a cafe (pictured) where you can sip a coffee or Pisco sour and look down on to the city below you.
Shopping for ‘palta’ at Mercado Central
For those of you who haven’t been to South America and don’t speak the language, ‘palta’ is (South American) Spanish for avocado. Avocados are native to Mexico and central America, and, having not yet made it to central America (although a visit to Cuba is on the cards for next year), I can honestly say that the avocados available in plentiful supply and at ridiculously cheap prices across Peru and Bolivia, are the ripest, juiciest, and tastiest avocados I’ve ever eaten.
I’d pass by the market after my morning Spanish lessons, and purchase several of these delicious fruits, which I’d eat with my scrambled eggs and chapla for breakfast in the hostel garden every morning.
I’d learned from one of the girls who’d led our walking tour in La Paz, that you don’t get a better bargain in Bolivian markets by shopping between competitors; you stay local to one market vendor. I’d return to the same lady each day and – not only was it a great way to practice my Spanish, but each time I’d visited I’d get a little more for my money, or a slightly cheaper price. Or a free mango or two.
Café hopping in Sucre’s charming historical core
Part of the joy of living in Sucre (albeit for a small amount of time in the grand scheme of things) was simply wandering around the charming streets of its historical core, photographing its beautiful, whitewashed buildings, and enjoying a coffee or a spot of good food.
Café Metro (right on the edge of Sucre’s Plaza de Armas) was my favourite place to stop for coffee. I’d grab a seat in the window, and watch the lives of the city’s residents play out on the busy streets in front of me.
Condor Café was my go-to place for a spot of lunch – although most days my complimentary hostel breakfast (with additional avocado!) was enough to fill me up until the early evening. The entirely vegetarian café is a fairly new edition to the Condor Trekker offices, a non-profit tour company who organise a variety of hikes into the surrounding areas. The food is delicious, locally sourced, and ridiculously cheap.
In the evening I loved the dimly-lit, atmospheric Florin. Their Ensalada Titicaca and Pad Thai were my favourites, washed down with a craft ale or two (some of which are laced with coca!)
So if you ever find yourself in Bolivia, be sure to dedicate a few days to discovering all the delights of its beautiful capital city.