Bolivia deserves a good itinerary for itself! Many people that visit Bolivia combine it with a visit to Peru (me included). But when that’s not an option, the latter rarely wins the battle. Not rightfully so! Bolivia makes a perfect destination on its own. It’s probably the cheapest country to visit in South-America, it has the richest nature and a very interesting culture that dates back many centuries (if not millennia). Follow this itinerary and be as amazed by this utterly pure country as I was.
Everybody that ever went backpacking or just on a holiday to multiple countries for that matter, knows that crossing country-borders is a stress-full, tiresome but also exciting experience. Sometimes it goes super smooth! Sometimes it takes hours, a lot of bribes and probably ten years of your life because of pure stress. All you can really do is prepare, brace for a long day and hope you get there before nightfall. How best to prepare for the border-crossing between Peru and Bolivia? By reading this article of course!
Sucre, the capital of Bolivia, has a lot of nicknames, but the most striking for me is ‘The City of Eternal Spring’. Walking around in this relaxed, sunny and pretty little colonial city just puts a smile on anyone’s face. With its hilarious ‘zebra’s’, cheap food and Spanish lessons for a dime you wonder why on earth you didn’t consider going to Sucre before.
– Practical Information –
Visit Sucre year-round. The temperature is always pleasant and it hardly ever rains. The Bolivian winter coincides with the European summer and is generally considered high-season – so prices might be a bit higher during those months (May- October). However, Sucre is light on tourism so you do not have to take that into account too much.
In, Out & Around
Alcantarí International Airport
Do not be fooled by its name as this airport only services a few international destinations. Namely Sao Paolo (Brazil), Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Madrid (Spain). For other destinations, a stopover in La Paz will probably be necessary.
The airport is located 25KM (20miles) from the city center and can be reached both by taxi or by collectivo (mini-bus). A taxi costs about 50/60B – the collectivo is only 8B but requires a short walk from the airport (they depart at the corner of Avenida Gregorio Donoso and Calle Camargo.
The central bus terminal of Sucre is located 2KM from the city center and can be reached for 3-5B by taxi. The terminal services most destinations in Bolivia. Take into account that most roads going out of Sucre are unpaved (except the road going to Potosi and Uyuni, and the road going to the airport) which means bumpy rides – it might be worth paying a few extra bucks on a decent bus company to ensure the bus has good suspension.
As sucre’s historical center is not too big – a lot of destinations can be visited by foot. Sucre is build up quite logical: the streets going from North to South are called ‘Avenidas’, the streets from East to West are ‘Calles’ which makes for easy navigation. If you do get lost- just ask a ‘zebra’ for directions. These are former homeless children that walk around in zebra-costumes and function as traffic agents. They are always happy and smiling. One of the best governments-projects I have ever heard of – and one that certainly cheered up the city!
If you are heading out to the smaller villages surrounding Sucre your best bet is either a Collectivo, which are incredibly cheap, or a taxi. Almost every car in Sucre offers taxi-services. Just haul a random car and if it stops discuss a set price up front. Never pay more than 5B for a short ride.
Sucre is cheap, probably one of the cheapest cities worth the visit in South America. A 1.5L bottle of water costs about 7 bolivianos (€0.80/$0.95), a lunch at a mid-range restaurant about 25 bolivianos (€2.80/$3.20) and dinner 40B (€4.80/$5.50). A large beer (bottle of 660ML) is 30B in a café (20B during happy hours) and a hostel can be found from 40B.
– What to do –
The main reason people flock to Sucre is because it is the perfect place to learn or improve your Spanish. Bolivian Spanish is known for its slow pace and clear pronunciation which makes learning a hell of a lot easier. Lessons can be taken/booked at almost every hotel/hostel/tour agency and all offer extremely good value for money. Taking lessons in the morning/early afternoon and using the remainder of the day to explore the city and its surroundings is just the perfect intermezzo for any extended trip in South – America. Many people plan on visiting only a few days but end up staying a week or 2.
Walking around the historical center
The heart of Sucre is the Plaza 25 de Mayo – a beautiful green park surrounded by old colonial buildings. From here you can just circle out and explore the historical center. A little North-West of the Plaza is the Mercado Central where they sell everything the area got to offer. Check out the Butchery area where they butcher whole sheeps and cows – buy a fresh fruit juice for only a few B and head up to the top levels of the building to have the best cheap eats the city has got on offer (delicious Pollo a la Brasa (fried chicken) for only 10B!). From the Central Market, you can head up further north to the Parque de Bolivar with its miniature Eiffel-tower and if you are up for it walk on to the Olympic Stadium. Do not try to complete the circle but just walk back the same way you came through the Parque as the Stadium is located in quite a dodgy area. From the Plaza 25 de Mayo Recoleta is a short 10-minute walk to the South-East and definitely worth taking the detour.
The General Cemetary is located a little further away from the center – west of the Plaza 25 de Mayo. Walking there takes about 25 minutes (going up and down a few hills) but if you like being lazy during your holidays – a taxi is only 3B (after haggling it down). The General Cemetary is not your typical cemetery as the place is used as a park with people coming here to read and relax. Most former presidents of Bolivia are buried here in huge presidential tombs, which are quite the sight. Local youngsters offer guided tours for a few B.
If you walk all the way to the end of the burial place the sad reality of being at a cemetery will hit you in the face, as this is where the deceased children are buried.
As a child, I adored everything that had anything to do with dinosaurs so when I heard that Sucre has one of the largest collections of dinosaur footprints in the world I couldn’t be happier! The Parque Cretácico can be reached by bus (line 4 from Arenales street at the corner of Junin street – 1 block from the Plaza) which only costs 0.5B (oneway). Do not take the dinosaur-bus from the plaza as it is ridiculously overpriced. The entrance fee to the park is 35B, including a guided tour to the cliff-base from where you can see hundreds of footprints going up the cliffs hundreds of meters high. The guided tours start at 10 am, 11:30 am, 12:30 pm, 2 pm and 3 pm – so make sure you arrive a little bit before that.
The park showcases many dinosaur-skeletons, a few dozen life-size dinosaur replica’s and of course the footprints. Even if you are not that interested in dinosaurs – do not skip out on this one, as the collection really is impressive.
Activities & Surroundings
There are a lot of activities to do in and around Sucre and all at excellent value for money. Think Paragliding, Horseback-riding or visiting Tarabuco Market.
– Eating & Sleeping Recommendations –
There are a few places I recommend trying out in Sucre for food. Abis Café (at the Plaza) is great for lunch and serves mean icecream as well. The best cheap eats can be found at the top level of the Mercado Centrál but on top of the list has got to be Pueblo Chico. A restaurant mostly visited by middle-upper class locals but which provides excellent value for money. Huge and delicious portions for about 70% of the price you would pay elsewhere (do not expect fancy food – just good meals for good prices). They also have an extensive cocktail list. At Pueblo Chico, we only paid 77B for a dinner for 2 including a large beer and a soda each (that’s €9/$10.50!).
Sucre has a few bars/cafés that have a great ambiance and a better happy hour. Joyride Café has great 2-for-1 happy hours (sometimes they have dessert happy hour, meaning 2 desserts for the price of 1) and the cocktails and beers during happy hour at La Viega Bodega are the cheapest in town. The best parties are hosted in the Berlin Bar of the Kultur Berlin Hostel. Looking for a place to party with the locals? Ask around for a karaoke bar after 2 AM. Whatever you do – DO NOT request English language songs and start singing them enthusiastically. The local crowd will not appreciate this and show their disapproval by hauling bottles of beer to the stage. Yep, I learned that first hand.
I stayed at Kultur Berlin Hostel and wholeheartedly recommend it! You pay a little extra (55B a night) compared to other hostels but the vibes are great – the bar is excellent and the beds are comfortable. If you are looking for a social place and still get a good night of sleep – this is where you should go.