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In the wide wild wonderland that is South America, Bolivia is probably one of the most overlooked destinations. True enough, it is wild and wide – but not the least wonderful. Often seen as a rough destination for budget backpackers and runaway desperados, it counts with a few urban gems. Among them, Sucre, the country’s 6th largest town, has everything to please everyone. It might come from the clean look of its white buildings, or the cosy atmosphere of its streets and squares; as a matter of fact, we fell in love with the town – like many travellers before us. May this weekend guide to Sucre make your heart flutter for the most precious town in Bolivia.
View on the “White city” from La Merced rooftop
Why visit Sucre
We knew long in advance that Sucre would be part of our Bolivia itinerary. I had already visited some 15 years before and had kept memories of a pleasant stroll in a white paradise.
In fact, the city is known in the country as the white town, “la ciudad blanca”. We needed no more than 1 minute and 27 seconds to understand why. The whole city centre is built in whitewashed neoclassical style, giving it an air of purity stuck in time. This time again, our favourite activity in Sucre was to wander on the main square Plaza 25 de Mayo and in the romantic streets of the historic centre.
Despite its colonial flair, Sucre has a modern feel that departs greatly from the rest of the country. Everything here seems more accessible, if you see what we mean. You can also enjoy as many things (cuisines, services, events) as in countries that are more developed; even La Paz cannot boast of the same offer.
Sucre is a world on its own in a country that can be somewhat rough on the traveller. We give many tips to visit Bolivia confidently in our Bolivia travel guide.
What to see in Sucre
In all this white splendour, our favourite building was the Casa de la Libertad, the “Freedom House”. Set in a gorgeous mansion on the main square, this museum tells everything you should know about Bolivia’s political history. It’s a real treat for anyone interested in understanding this overlooked country, and putting a face to the names of Simón Bolívar (the general who gave his name to the country), Antonio José de Sucre (who gave his name to the town) and Juana Azurduy (who gave her name to nothing, because she was a woman).
The many churches are as many colonial jewels, all of them with an exquisite baroque decoration. We recommend in particular the Templo de San Felipe Neri and the Iglesia de la Merced. Both of them have a (paying) access to their rooftop, which offer a pretty view on the city centre and the surrounding mountains.
If you’re in search of more views, climb up to La Recoleta. We could spend hours chilling on this wide square, fascinated by the colonial architecture of the town under us. There are many other viewpoints in a city built on the hills – the best is to follow your nose and explore. That’s another great thing about Sucre: it’s safe to roam and discover on foot.
Sucre is the kind of town where you should take your time and unbridle your curiosity. When we visited, we entered any building that we found beautiful – and there’s a lot of them! Many of them are universities, among the oldest on the continent. Others are museums or governmental buildings; in fact, Sucre is the constitutional capital of Bolivia, while La Paz is only the seat of government. Did you know that?
The Indigenous are also represented at the Casa de la Libertad
What to eat in Sucre, and where
On top 10’s of favourite world cuisine, we don’t often get to see Bolivia. Yet, in a country of such diverse landscapes and climates, the meals can be very varied. In Sucre, all cooking traditions come together in a great variety of restaurants.
Salteñas and Tucumanas are the Bolivian take on empanadas, those triangle-shaped pastries filled with meat and vegetables. Salteñas – meaning “from the town of Salta, Argentina” – are oven baked, and Tucumanas – “from the town of Tucuman, Argentina” – are fried.
Papas rellenas are mashed potatoes filled with a hard boiled egg, cheese or meat, and fried in the shape of a ball. They cost close to nothing and can be found at many a street corner. It’s our go-to at any Bolivian street food cart.
The Locro soup can be found all across South America, but each country makes its own version. Bolivians cook it with pumpkin. Although it’s usually with meat, we found a tasty vegetarian version at the Non Profit vegetarian restaurant on Bolivar street.
Another common soup in Bolivia is with quinoa, the famous Andean corn. After we had it once in Potosí, we made it ourselves, with fresh veggies bought at the market.
Quinoa soup, in an authentic Bolivian plate
EI Germen is another unpretentious vegetarian restaurant, on San Alberto street. For a hidden gem with a view, try Qaway Mirar, on Avaroa street.
Note that Bolivians like it hot. In restaurants, food is usually served with two sauces, both spicy:
- Ají is green and made with hot peppers, tomatoes, onions and coriander
- Llajwa is red and prepared on a traditional grinding stone with tomatoes and Andean hot chilli peppers called “locotos”
What to drink in Bolivia
Api is a warm drink made of either yellow or purple corn. Yes, there is such a thing as purple corn. The drink can be found in any eating place or on the street, sold in plastic bags. Yes, they serve your drink in a plastic bag.
It’s more of a morning drink, but there’s a fermented version called chicha that can get you going all night. The best place to have one is at the market hall, Mercado central.
There’s a real lot of places throughout Bolivia to drink juices and smoothies. We loved indulging in them, trying out fruits we had never heard of before; like tumbo (banana passion fruit), acerola, kinoto or tamarillo (tree tomato). Our favourite place to drink a fresh juice in Sucre is Carrot, very close to the main square.
Although there’s a fair amount of coffee shops in Sucre, in Bolivia the main drink besides juice is tea. There are many herbs that are good for the stomach or against altitude sickness, that people drink all day long as an infusion. The most common are coca, melissa, yerba buena (a kind of mint), muña (another kind of mint)…
Infusion of muña
When the time has come to get serious, have a go at Singani, the national liquor made of grapes. Although it’s a speciality from the highlands, it’s easy to find in Sucre too. We didn’t have it there, but we heard good things about the one from Reset Bar, on Nicolás Ortiz street. Singani can also be mixed with ginger ale and served on the rocks to make a Chuflay.
Have more time? What to see around Sucre
Fans of big lizards should pay a visit to Cal Orcko, a paleontological park showcasing an impressive 5,000 dinosaur footprints. Tours include the transportation from Sucre centre to the site.
Potosí, the high-lying town that used to be the world’s richest, is only a short 4-hour bus ride away. It’s got its own charm, that seems like a world apart from the White Town. Make sure you take it easy at first, because at 4,090 metres (13,420 ft), the altitude can be a problem.
Samaipata & Amboró National Park are more distant, to the north towards Santa Cruz. They make for a precious weekend getaway, but take a night bus or you’ll waste too much time.
The rest of the country is as interesting as it can be wild. From the largest salt flats to the highest navigable lake to the thickest rain forest, Bolivia is a fascinating destination. It deserves to be at the heart of any travel through South America.
Anna & Anthony write about budget travels in South America, on the responsible travel blog GreenMochila.com. They offer inspiration to the curious backpacker, travel stories for the online generation and incentives for a more responsible and greener way-of-travel for everyone. Follow Green Mochila on: Facebook | Pinterest | Instagram | Twitter