The 6th biggest city of the poorest country in Latin America. When you say it like that you shouldn’t expect much. However, Sucre will surprise you by its charming and well preserved historic centre, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The lively and beautiful town was our choice to spend a couple of weeks learning Spanish and discovering the Bolivian culture and culinary specialties. Sucre is a very special place to us where we learnt the longer you stay, the harder it is to leave.
We started what was a 3 month trip in Bolivia in the white city of Sucre. After traveling non-stop through South America for 4 months, we chose Sucre to be our first destination were we could breath and take it easy. In Argentina and Chile, we never really had the opportunity to do so. The higher cost of travel meant we had to justify our activities and try limit those “do nothing” days.
Thanks to the low cost of living, coupled with great infrastructure and a clear Spanish accent, we could finally understand, we finally allowed ourselves to slow down. As you may know, we are pretty bad at doing nothing. So, we kept busy. We took Spanish classes and worked in our hostel in exchange of free accommodation and breakfast.
While we were improving our Spanish or changing bed sheets, we explored everything Sucre had to offer and managed to take some day trips into the incredible surrounding towns. Here are the highlights of our 25 days in Sucre.
Less chaotic than the rest of the country, the centre was built in 1538 by prosperous Spanish colons who benefited from the silver mining in the southern regions. The streets of the historic town, bordered by white houses topped by red terracota roofs offer nice strolls to the central market, the main plaza and numerous other places to visit or relax with a book in hand.
The town can easily be visited in a couple of days, but what makes Sucre so special is the laid-back atmosphere, the great food scene, and the surroundings that offer an authentic get away into the Bolivian culture. Staying a couple of weeks won’t be a waste of time. On the contrary, it should be a must for those who truly want to get a glimpse of what the country of Bolivia has to offer.
Did you know ?
While La Paz is the “national capital of the Plurinational State of Bolivia” where the government sits, Sucre remains the Constitutional Capital.
What to do in Sucre ?
- In all the towns in Bolivia the main square is called “plaza 25 de Mayo” and is the heart of the vibrant city. There is always something happening. If there aren’t strikes, locals meet at the square on a regular basis, hold book and music festivals, student university fairs or well, Bolivia being Bolivia, social protests. We loved sitting down in the shade of the many high trees of the plaza and watching the kids running after the pigeons and the street vendors advertising their freshly squeezed orange juice. Things just work differently here. A must in any city visited in Bolivia.
- The Recoleta Mirador is one of the main touristic spots that offers an incredible view of the town. As you walk up, a bit out of breath, and pass the souvenir stalls, you enter the colonial square “Plaza Pedro de Anzúrez“, which is bordered by an arcade walkway leading to a viewpoint, a church and a school. Many tourists like stopping at the “Café Gourmet Mirador” for a cocktail with a pastry and enjoy the view from there. The prices being outrageously high compared to the rest of the town, we preferred sitting under the arcades and watching the school kids during their break.
How to get there ? From the plaza 25 de mayo, take the road Audienca until it turns into Grau street for 7 blocks (cuadras). Turn right onto Iturricha and walk this cobblestone street all the way up to the square.
- La Merced and Colegio Maria Auxiliadora churches are great places to visit as you are allowed to go onto the rooftops. From there you have splendid views of the whole centre of town and the surrounding mountains. It is also one of the only places where you have the chance to see the famous terracotta rooftops of Sucre. It is easy to spend an hour just relaxing on these rooftops enjoying the view.
- The city cathedral cannot be visited but there is one thing about it that you might be interested about. Check the clock below and notice something odd. No, this one isn’t anticlockwise like many clocks in Bolivia… Something else, can you see ?
Check the number 4 ! That’s not the right roman number…
- The Central Mercado of Sucre is a must visit. It is the main place to buy fresh fruit, veg, meat, pastries, spices, eggs, cheese, etc. We absolutely loved this place which is the heart of Sucre where families shop, teenagers flirt, and elderly meet for a chat. On the first floor there are 3 different “comedors” where we found incredible homemade cooked andean dishes for less than one euro!
- The cemetery of Sucre is also a park where people like to walk around or sit down with a book. It probably has to do with the peace of the place and the many trees that provide nice cooling shadows. The cemetery itself should be visited too as the graves are built quite differently as back home, they look like appartement buildings…
Find the Zebras
As strange as this title might be, we are not going to talk about the species that live in Africa, but about the volunteers dressed in zebra costumes which are found in the streets of the Bolivian’s major cities. Inspired by the “zebra crossing” and a similar initiative in Bogota, Colombia, the Bolivian government established a program to regulate traffic in the capital and large cities of the country.
The “cebritas”, as they are known in the country, act like a civilian police, high-fiving adolescents, hugging tourists and helping elders, while also using humour to fight against the law-breaking drivers. They also help against littering in the streets by installing cameras and painting messages on the walls and investing time through educational programs on themes such as recycling, water conservation and bullying.
What to do outside of Sucre ?
Cal Orck’O and Cretacico park
The park “Cretacico Sucre” situated 5 km north of the town was opened to the public in 2006. It was built right next to Cal Orck’O, a 1.5km limestone wall on which more than 5000 dinosaurs’ footprints have been found. These were discovered by the local cement company Francesa in 1985. After excavation and studies for few years, the museum was opened and guided tours onto the quarry organised.
If you miss the tour onto the quarry, it is not really worth going as the footprints will be hard to be seen from the viewpoint in the museum. The whole experience is to put on the helmet, goggles and entering the Francesa quarry which is still in use. During our visit we could see the tractors passing by and we could hear the TNT detonation followed by giant fumes!
How to get there ? There is a public bus that can be unreliable at times. For this reason, you should leave very early or take the “tour bus” that leaves from the main square on the cathedral side. Impossible to be missed this double-decker red bus drives the visitors to the quarry just on time for the tours in Spanish and English at 1 pm. As for us, it is worth spending a couple of euro more to make sure to make it on time.
Tarabuco is a small town 3 hours east from Sucre. Every Sunday, farmers from the most remote countryside gather to buy or sell their products. Still preserved from mass tourism, Tarabuco manages to keep its true self. It is easy to walk around and appreciate the many local colourful clothings that differ from one community to another. Probably the most authentic market we have been to in the whole South America (and we have been to many many many) – Our dedicated article will be posted in the coming days.
How to get there ? Take a taxi or bus to the crossing of Avenidad de las Americas and Avenida German Mendoza (you can ask “collectivo por Tarabuco”. Hop on a collectivo with the locals. It will cost 20 Bs (€1.30) return and takes 2 to 3 hours, depends how crazy your driver will speed…
Maragua crater – 2-day hike
“Maragua Crater hike” is a famous 2 to 3 day trek that takes you through remote villages and unlikely-to-see-somewhere-else landscapes. The trek starts with a 1 hour walk down Inca Steps into a beautiful valley leading to the village of Maragua. Once past the crater-like plateau where Maragua was built, the hike leads you across even more smaller villages, dinosaur footprints and choclo farms, before arriving at the small town of Potolo. From there, we took a bus back to Sucre. It is an incredible hike that can easily be done without a tour or guide. We will write more about it in the coming days.
How to get to the start of the hike ? Take a taxi (20 Bs) to “la parada por Potolo” and hop on the 9:30 am bus or on the back of a truck. Ask the driver to drop you off at the inca steps (Virgen de Chatanquilla)
Where to eat or drink ?
As is it often cheaper to eat out than in in Bolivia, we spent a lot of time in cafés and restaurants. Here are our favorite places :
- Condor café is a charity based restaurant that serves a cheap vegetarian menu and a la carte delicious meals. Fancy a stuffed potatoe, a Quinoa soup or a falafel ? This is the place to go. They also offer tours and a climbing wall. It is also a famous place to get reliable wifi or chill playing games.
Café Condor: Calle Calvo No. 102
- Chifas are asian restaurants in South America. The Chifa we recommend mixes Bolivian and Asian food and offer very good menu for lunch.
Chifa & Thai : Calle Calvo No. 70
- On the main plaza, if the weather allows it, make sure to pop by the Ice cream shop “sucre” and try the many localy sourced flavours such as : Maracuya, Quinoa.
Sucre: Plaza 25 de Mayo
- Salteñas are our favourites. You may know empañadas from Argentina, but do you know Salteñas ? Also originated from Argentina and more precisely from Salta, Salteñas are however absolutely amazing in Bolivia too. El Patio is only open in the morning and every single day it is packed. This the place the “SUCRENOS” snack or order for the whole family/office. You can choose between meat, chicken or veggies.
El Patio: Calle San Alberto (close to the mercado central)
- Our #1 place to eat dinner was recommended by our favourite food/travel blogger Heneedsfood.com – As always, John saw it right : probably the best Chicken we have had in South America. And we have had fried/roasted chicken at least once a week during our travels. Here, you order the size you want and the part of the bird you prefer. You get a smoked chicken with great fried potatoes on the side. Can’t get any better.
Pollos a la Brasa “El Oriental”: Calle España
- If you are into juices and smoothies, Carrot is your place ! Jenny went many times to order her “own” gastritis juice that was always tasty despite the weird flavour she’d asked for : spinach, ginger, carrot !
Carrot: Avenida Arenales No. 5
- Mercado Central – if you are seeking well served, cheap tasty andean lunches, with locals, the central market is the place to go to. It will be about €1 per person or less if you only fancy a soup. Our favourite dishes were : Saice, Sopa de Mani/Quinoa/Rice.
Where to stay ?
There are a few nice places in Sucre. It really depends what you want. We stayed and volunteered at The Beehive Hostel for 2 weeks and loved our stay there. Nice and quiet, the Spanish classes which take place on site are very good and tailored depending on your level. There is a kitchen, yoga classes and a great patio to chill in the sun. But the main killer point of this hostel is the breakfast. On weekdays you choose between tortilla and toast, fruit salad or Oats and fruits with granola.
It is well served and there are usually 7 different fruits on your plate ! The Granola is homemade. On Saturdays, they make French toast and on Sundays pancakes. Finally, the manager of the hostel runs a lot of charity programs for kids and women and part of the profits of the hostel go to the project.
The Beehive: Calle Avaroa 607
Fancy party hostel, don’t go there but choose Kulture Berlin where the parties are the best in Sucre.
Where is Sucre and how to get there ?
Sucre is situated in the southern part of Bolivia, nestled at 2400 masl. It has a hot and dry weather in summer and cold nights in winter even though the days are generally pretty warm.
- Chile. If you arrive from Arica or Iquique, you will have to go all the way to La Paz and change for another bus. Coming from San Pedro de Atacama, you will probably have to take the tour onto the “Uyuni Salt flats” and take a bus from Uyuni or go through Calama.
- La Paz. There are many night and day buses. It takes around 12 hours to Sucre and the roads are actually okay.
- Uyuni or Potosi. The road is good but twists and turns alot, not great for motion sickness. It should take around 4 hours from Potosi and 7 from Uyuni.
- Santa Cruz of Saimapata. The road is not the best in Bolivia and usually not recommended. We never took this road but we heard from many other travelers that it is unpaved and very bumpy. Some, prefer going back to La Paz or flying which can be quite a bargain.
Cost and Useful information
Exchange rate (avg. June-August 2017) : €1 = 7.82 Bs
La Paz to Sucre (bus transcopacaban MEM): 120 Bs (€15) – Night bus
Sucre to Potosi: 10 Bs (€1.30) + 5 Bs (€0.30) terminal tax
Bus to Cretacico park (return): 15 Bs (€1.92)
Collectivo to Tarabuco (return): 20 Bs (€2.50)
Bus for Maragua Crater hike (return): 23.50 Bs (€3.00)
The Beehive: 55 Bs (€7) in a 6 bed-dorm – 52 Bs (€6.60) in a 9 bed-dorm
Spanish classes at The Beehive (private lesseon): 35 Bs/hour (€4.50)
Entrance Cretacico Park : 30 Bs (€3.84) + 5 Bs (€0.32) for the photographic rights
La Merced entrance : 10 Bs (€1.28)
San Felipe Covent/Colegio Maria Auxiliadora : 15 Bs (€1.92)
** note that all the links we add are FYI. We are not remunerated by either the companies/organisations nor per click.
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