If you are planning a trip to the diverse country of Bolivia, your first inclination may be to visit wonders like Lake Titicaca, Salar de Uyuni, or the preposterously high-altitude city of La Paz.
And while all these places are worth visiting, I advise you to also take a stroll through the central highlands and visit Cochabamba: One of South America’s most enjoyable cities with an ideal climate, rico (rich) food, exuberant culture, and a vibrant nightlife that will keep your heart pounding and your adventurous spirit satiated!
If you only have a few days to visit this exceptional city, I recommend indulging in the following highlights:
I was told that Cochabambinos, “no comen con sus estómagos, se comen con los ojos” (they eat with their eyes, not with their stomachs). Anyone’s first visit to a traditional Bolivian eatery will quickly realize why when they are served a dish of Pique Machu of epic proportions (meat, topped with meat, garnished with meat).
To experience the plentiful flavors of Cochabamaba, sample the street food alongside the main Plazas or checkout the streets that hug the university (Universidad de San Simon). You can also find everything from street pizza to tasty fried chicken to beef-heart skewers on the corners that run through Avenue Oquendo and Heroinas. Vegetarian options are much harder to come by, but pastries and empanadas are plentiful and offer rich fillings like spinach y queso (cheese) to jams such as strawberry and other sweet marmalades.
If you are looking for a more sit-down-style experience, try the Casa de Campo, which serves traditional Bolivian dishes and boasts a spirited vibe akin to what you would expect at a Latin American food-joint.
Cristo de La Concordia is perhaps the must-see-monument of the city, (but don’t expect a jaw-drop). Cristo is the second largest statue of Christ in todo el mundo (all of the world). It is a marvel worth hiking to or taking the Teleférico (cable car) to the top. It’s the perfect lookout point to awe at the humble enormity of the city.
You are not allowed to leave the city without visiting one of the busiest and largest open-markets in the world, La Cancha. With an expansive artisan craft-corridor you can find everything from a signature Alpaca sweater to ornate fabrics and patterns that exemplify the indigenous culture. If you get thirsty, you can sample an array of mouth-watering juices that are arguably made fresh for that day. If you are just looking to quench your thirst, look for a bag of water (yes a bag) that are sold by the cholitas (indigenous people) for just under 50 cents. After that, visit the witch market and either gawk or purchase a llama fetus that pays tribute to the goddess of Pachamama (worshiped by the local indigenous culture).
The avenues that collide into Av. España, cater to the hipster-hole-in-the-wall type of spirit that is looking for more of a café style dining and drinking experience. The bars become lively at around 12:00am, but if you are really hankering for a wild night on the town head to La Recoleta and hit up any bar that has a line out the door (a good indication that it is a local party favorite). If you are in the mood for some heart-pounding beats and some serious elbow-rubbing try La Pimienta Verde, a disco-tech that promises a sweaty good time and a Sunday hangover.
If you have a few more days to spare in Cochabamba a two-hour bus ride brings you to the base of Pico Tunari, the highest summit of Bolivia. The peak is around 5,000 meters so be prepared for a day-long hike and fuel up beforehand on carbohydrates and water. If you plan to take on this advantageous excursion, check out the Blog post, “Quest for Tunari” published by a local reputed non-profit organization, Sustainable Bolivia.
Have you dined and partied through Cochabamba? Where do you recommend to go?