11 Reasons Why Bolivia's Sucre Should be a Stop on Your South American Travels
Like most, I largely booked a travel leg in Bolivia to see the Uyuni Salt Flats. But since travelling through the country is no easy feat, I decided to break up my journey with some stops along the way. Fast forward many Pinterest pins and post-it notes later and I’d buffered in a full week of my South American backpacking itinerary to unwind in Sucre, a gem of a town in the heart of Bolivia.
This beautiful Bolivian city is known as the White City thanks to the chalk-white colonial buildings that shine brightly throughout its cobblestone streets. Sucre translates (from French, oddly enough) to sugar – an apt namesake for this adorable little town. Within days, I felt like a local greeting my local pipoca (popcorn) seller on my way into town and navigating familiar streets to pick up my 'regular' from the nearby coffee shop.
What’s great about Sucre is that you can actually catch all of the city's highlights but still have time to relax without getting any sort of FOMO. It provides the ideal blend of sightseeing and chill time that every holidaymaker or weary backpacker needs. And for those looking to improve their Spanish, it also happens to be one of the most affordable places to take lessons in all of Latin America.
But if you’re on tighter timelines (I had almost three months to travel through South America), you don’t need to commit a week to Sucre. Three full days is plenty to explore this charming town. I flew direct from Santa Cruz to save myself some travel time (it’s a 45-minute flight) but there are buses to Sucre too – from all other major Bolivian cities including Uyuni, Cochabamba, La Paz and Santa Cruz. You just have to prepare yourself for some rougher travel conditions.
But the trip will be worth it. Plus, you can book yourself into some lovely (and affordable) accommodations to recover from your journey.
Here are my top 11 reasons why Sucre is a worthwhile pitstop on your backpacking or holiday adventures through South America:
1. The climb to the top of Convento de San Felipe Neri at sunset: This beautiful church is the highlight of any trip to Sucre. If you’ve seen any Instagram pics of the city, they’ve probably been taken from this wonder. Its architectural details are stunning and its chalk-white fittings, though beautiful at any time of day, come to life as the sun starts to set. It’s a short climb to the top and if you time it perfectly, you can find a private little perch to watch the sun disappear behind its walls.
2. A walking tour with Condor Café: I booked this my very first morning to help get my bearings around town. And this three-hour tour, which cost around £6, exceeded all expectations. I was lucky enough to get a 1-2-1 tour with Brian, a knowledgable guide who dragged me all over the city to check out markets, eat some of the city's renowned chocolate, try the local spirits and admire the views from the hilltops. I highly, highly recommend this walk if you want to get a good flavour not just of Sucre but of Bolivian life and history.
3. Fantastic meals at Condor Café: This café also serves up delicious vegan and vegetarian meals. I devoured two dinners here – both three courses and both sensational. Think creamy quinoa soups followed by savoury spinach / feta tarte tartines with crispy flakes that will literally melt in your mouth.
4. Crash courses in Bolivian history at the Casa de Libertad: This fascinating museum is right in the heart of the city. You’ll find artefacts from every era of Bolivia’s history. Find out why the city’s called Sucre and how it nearly became the capital of Bolivia. Or why the relationship between Bolivia and Chile is so fragile. Hear the legends about the woman who fought for the country's independence. The tour guides are brilliant. Not only are they incredibly knowledgeable, they know how to tell a juicy story!
5. Exploring the Central Market: Wandering through a local market is literally my idea of the perfect afternoon. And Sucre’s Central Market did not disappoint. You’ll find fruit and vegetable stalls, delicious home-made cakes, raw butchers’ meats on full display (perhaps avoid this if you’re vegetarian) and so much more. I nearly fell over when I stumbled across the beauty stalls where I bought a beautiful ‘your-lips-but-better’ pink lippie.
6. The tasty sausage sandwiches at Las 7 Lunares: Whilst you’re at the market, don’t miss the sausage sandwiches from the famous ‘Seven Moles’ stall. Fun fact: it's named after its female founder, a strikingly beautiful woman with seven distinct facial moles, who knows how to cook up a mean sausage.
7. The chance to step back in time at the Parque Cretacico (Dinosaur Park): This park gets both praise and ridicule. But for the equivalent of what’s essentially £2, I think it’s worth the day trip out. The tour itself is lacking in detail and the dinosaur replicas are pretty lame, but you have the opportunity to get seriously up-close-and-personal with some of the largest dinosaur footprints ever found on earth. Oh, and you get to wear a hard hat. Which I naturally took many a selfie with.
8. The early morning people watching in Plaza 25 de Mayo: With a good cup of coffee of course. Get to this pleasant little square early, find yourself a bench and watch the locals start their day. You’ll spot businessmen, families and fellow travellers doing their thing. I even stumbled across a local celebration one afternoon.
9. The vibrancy of Tarabuco Market: If you're spending a weekend in Sucre, it’s worth heading to this Sunday market, traditionally for locals but now a popular destination for tourists too. Yet it still retains its authenticity and, if you’re willing to wander into its depths you’ll feel like you’re the only outsider there. You’ll find coca leaves, all things alpaca (I picked up an adorable jumper for £7) and more.
10. The opportunity to sip chicha and hang with the locals for a tipsy round of Sapo – Chicha is the local spirit (not too dissimilar to beer) made from fermented corn. It’s always the drink of choice so you can use it to get in with the locals. And once you’ve won them over, suggest a game of Sapo, a popular drinking game played in all the local bars.
11. The views from the city's Mirador restaurant: Walk to the hilltops until you reach the glamorous Mirador Restaurant. Here you can enjoy a quiet drink (go for the local Bolivian wine) and watch the city come alive at night. I spent a glorious evening bonding with a fellow traveller here.
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