The white city and the carnival mecca

Just three hours away from Potosí is Sucre, our next stop in Bolivia. We spent three lovely days in what is the constitutional capital of the country – walking along the white streets, tasting new flavours at the market, visiting a museum and enjoying the lively atmosphere of the city’s main square.

Sucre is probably the most colonial of the Bolivian towns we have visited. Known as La Ciudad Blanca (the white city), Sucre is a beautiful place full of historical buildings. All the white houses with their old wooden balconies, the white universities with their cosy interior courtyards and the white Spanish churches shine even whiter on a sunny day. There are strict controls on development, so if you own a house in Sucre, don’t even think about painting it black! If it wasn’t for the features of the people, the clothing of the cholitas and the accent of the locals I would have said we were in the heart of Andalucia.

Being Sucre the constitutional capital of the country, we thought we shouldn’t miss visiting the Casa de la Libertad or House of Freedom. Nowadays a museum, the Casa de la Libertad is where the independence of Bolivia was declared in 1825. The tour of the museum itself was quick and pretty weak, but we still learnt a bit of the history of Bolivia. Did you know that the country was named after its liberator Simón Bolivar?

For us, the best of Sucre was probably the central market. Markets in general are a great place to learn about the local customs and observe the day to day life, and in Sucre it wasn’t any different. To our surprise the market was very well organized, unlike other markets each section was very clearly marked and delimited: fruits here, meats there, fruit juice stalls in the courtyard, lunch food stalls up to the right, dinner food stalls up to the left… Vendors and all the people we met at the market were extremely kind and helpful, they didn’t mind us asking what’s that or how do you call this. We visited the market several times, for lunch, for dinner, for a mid-morning snack… and everytime we discovered something new: a delicious corn drink called tojorí with jummy buñuelos, a refreshing drink made with dried peaches called mocochinche, or jugo de tumbo, a juice made of a fruit similar to passion fruit (seriously one of the best fruit juices I’ve ever tasted). At the food stall of Doña Guadalupe, a lovely old lady who we could have adopted as our granny, we tried a tasty and spicy pork stew named mondongo and the gorgeous sopa de mani, which is a soup made with beef stock, potatoes and ground raw peanuts.

Finding a bookstore in Bolivia has been a difficult matter. We searched for one in Tupiza, Uyuni and Potosí but we didn’t find more than a couple of street stalls selling only a few novels like the Twilight saga or Harry Potter, a few law books and self learning books like how to use Windows XP or Facebook. And finally in Sucre we found one! Luckily they had the book Isma was looking for, Jonas y la Ballena Rosada by the Bolivian writer Wolfango Montes. Sad that still nowadays the number of illiterates in Bolivia remains quite high.

After Sucre, our next destination was La Paz. But still wanting to taste a bit more of the authentic Bolivia, we decided to stop at Oruro just for one day before heading to the big and chaotic capital. Oruro is far less touristy and I would say that much more humble than Sucre. Like in Potosi, here still many people make a living from the mines, in this case tin mines. Oruro is pretty famous worldwide for its carnival, which happens before Ash Wednesday (sometime between February and March). Although during carnival it’s packed with locals and tourists, outside that time frame there are almost zero tourists.

We arrived to Oruro on the 31st of October, when Orureños were celebrating Hallowen. The city square was packed with cute little witches, little zombies and gothic brides asking for sweets. But to our surprise, Orureños weren’t only celebrating Halloween, they were also celebrating the city’s 406 anniversary. There was a parade around the city centre with loads of locals proud of being Orureños, and in the main square there was a big stage with live traditional music. Even though we were tired after 8 hours on two different buses and were looking forward to resting at the hotel, we had to stay there for a while enjoying the festive atmosphere, pity that we didn’t take the camera with us. The morning after we heard that the party kept going until 4am!

We started the day in Oruro looking for a place where to give away a few clothing items we didn’t need, and we ended up at the Virgen del Socabón church. As it was 1st of november, Día de los Fieles Difuntos (day of the death), many locals were heading to church to pray for their death relatives. We took the opportunity to do the same and we spent a few moments remembering those members of our family who are gone. After that we wander around the city, tried Oruro’s salteñas (which are meant to be the best in the country) and headed to the market. In Oruro we found one of the biggest street markets we have seen so far in this trip, from the city centre to the bus station there were hundreds of stalls selling anything and everything. Of course we ended up buying a few early Christmas presents. And near the bus station, at one of the best charquekanerias in Oruro, we sampled another well know Orureño dish, charquekan, an strange looking and very filling dried llama meat dish. It definitely tasted much better than it looked.

We said goodbye to Oruro with yet another pizza for dinner. At this stage we think that there are probably more pizzerias in Bolivia than in the whole Italy!

Visit our flickr gallery to see all the pictures!

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Accommodation

Sucre, Hostal Colon 220 – The hostal is an old colonial house with a nice and bright courtyard. It’s just a 5 minute walk from the main square. We stayed at a twin room with private bathroom. The room itself was ok and although the beds were a bit hard we slept well. There is free wifi which works everyday, from 8am to 10pm sharp, but doesn’t work on sundays. We paid 120 BOB per night. Breakfast is not included, but it can be arranged for an extra 10 BOB per person. We would stay again.

Oruro, Hotel Hidalgo – This hotel is right in the city centre. Even though it is advertised as mid-range it has little of a mid-range hotel. We stayed at a double room with shared bathroom. And although the room was pretty big the bed was really uncomfortable, neither of us was able to sleep properly. Breakfast was included in the price but was pretty mean, just a miserable piece of old bread with a coffee. The only good things: the hot shower and the free wifi. We paid 120 BOB per night. I don’t think we would stay there again.

Transportation

From Potosí to Sucre by bus (3h) – There are many buses from Potosí to Sucre. We took the first bus to Sucre when we got to the terminal. The road is paved and most of the way is downhill, so the ride was pretty comfortable. We paid 17 BOB per person.

From Sucre to Oruro by bus (8h) – There are only night buses going from Sucre to Oruro, but as we wanted to travel by day, we decided to split the journey in two. First we took a bus from Sucre to Potosí early in the morning (3h) and once we got to Potosí we took the first bus to Oruro (5h). We were lucky because we didn’t have to wait more than 15 minutes at Potosí’s bus terminal. We paid 15 BOB per person for the Sucre Potosí leg and 20 BOB for the Potosí Oruro leg.

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