Tarija is home to Bolivia’s exciting wine scene
Take a few days to discover and relax in Tarija, Bolivia
Before arriving in Bolivia, I didn’t even know that the country produced wine. However, after tasting a delicious glass of red with a meal in La Paz, I found out that not only did they make wine, but it was very good. A few days later, a friend told me about the town of Tarija, where you could do vineyard tours, learn how the wine was produced, and most importantly, taste the wine. After making a stop in Sucre, I took a ten-hour overnight bus to discover this sleepy town that many tourists skip – if they even hear about it at all.
Tarija was very different from the experience of Bolivia that I’d had already. The super-modern and clean bus station had lines of well-kept, new taxis outside, which took me to the city center along tree-lined boulevards made of tarmac, rather than dust. The city had a distinctly European vibe to it; it almost felt I’d stepped out of South America.
An affluent city supported primarily by its wine industry, the city center is home to some beautiful churches, squares, clean streets, and lots of good restaurants, where you can enjoy a meal with a glass or two of the wine produced just kilometers away.
The city is a great place to relax, stroll around the small center, or while away an afternoon in a café or bar; however, it’s just as rewarding to get out of the city. As well as a wine tour, I headed out into the Valle de la Concepción, towards the Argentinian border. Here, the desert-like landscape is spread out in front of you, and the parts that aren’t covered vineyards are reminiscent of scenes from the Wild West. The valley and the San Jacinto Dam are two of the best places near the city to watch the sunset.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
As many tourists on the Gringo Trail see La Paz, the Salar de Uyuni, and sometimes Sucre, Tarija is well of Bolivia’s beaten tourist track. Therefore, it’s not the most accessible place. Buses from La Paz take 18 hours and cost around 100 BOB; from Sucre, they take at least 10 hours, costing between 80 – 140 BOB. The quality of the buses varies, so sometimes it can be worth paying a bit more for a nicer, safer bus.
If you don’t want to spend ages on a bus or take a night bus, you can fly directly from La Paz and Santa Cruz with the airline BoA. Prices are around 75USD.
Do – Activities & Attractions
Learn and try wine produced in the Tarija region
A wine tour is one of the most popular activities in Tarija, and a great way to learn about how wine is produced while sampling the local wines – as well as the Bolivian national drink, Singani. It’s also an excellent way to see the surrounding countryside. Most tours will take you to two or three industrial wineries, and an artisanal one too, located in the Valle de la Concepción.
Get a great panorama from a viewpoint, which is also the world’s biggest wine glass
In keeping with the city’s wine theme, Tarija is home to the world’s biggest wine glass. Also known as the Mirador de los Sueños (the viewpoint of dreams), the monument is situated on a hill which overlooks the city and surrounding valley. The wine glass itself has seen better days but is still a fun attraction, and you’ll get some great photos of Tarija from afar.
Inspect some antique furniture at Casa Dorada
Casa Dorada was built at the end of the 19th century in the art-nouveau style, for wealthy couple Moises Navajos and his wife, Esperanza Morales. Because they were childless, the building fell into disrepair before being renovated in the 1980s. It now houses an art gallery, a museum, and a chapel. Guided visits are possible, although only in Spanish.
Admire the supposedly haunted Casa Azul
Another building dedicated to Moises Navajos, this large, blue, historical house isn’t always open to the public, but there are sometimes informal tours. If you can’t get one, it’s still definitely worth seeing from the outside. The extravagant blue and white striped edifice dominates a suburban street, and there’s even talk that it may be haunted.
See the sunset at the San Jacinto Dam
A great way to spend half a day, especially the later half, San Jacinto Dam offers beautiful views of the sunset. Lakeside restaurants serve the Bolivian specialty of tiny crabs – cangrejos – which you can eat whole. Enjoying these with a bottle of wine is a great way to take in the view. If that’s not enough for you, fishermen also take tourists out on boats onto the lake for a small fee. Whichever you choose, it’ll be a tranquil afternoon/evening.
Stay – Accommodation
Casa Blanca Hostel
An excellent option for budget travelers, Casa Blanca is a small and friendly hostel which offers free wi-fi, a good breakfast, and some really cool murals on the wall, which you can admire from your hammock.
Hotel Mitru – Tarija
A mid-range option, hotel Mitru is very close to the city’s main square. Not only will you have free wi-fi and a buffet restaurant, but there’s a TV in your room too. If you want to go on a tour, you don’t even need to leave your hotel for bookings, as there’s a tour desk too.
Hotel Los Parrales
This 5-star option is great if you want to treat yourself when in Tarija. There’s a garden, swimming pool, restaurant, and bar. If that’s not enough, there are also spectacular panoramic views of the Guadalquivir River from many of the rooms.
Eat – Restaurants
Mercado Central Tarija
One of the cleanest and most modern food markets in Bolivia, Tarija’s Mercado Central is a fantastic place to try typical dishes like sajta de pollo (chicken stew), chicharron de chancho (deep fried and battered pork), and trucha (trout). You can pick up an almuerzo (two-course lunch with drink) for as little as 10 bolivianos.
One of the best restaurants on the main square, Gattopardo taverna serves up traditional Bolivian fare, as well as a number of tasty international dishes. It’s a great place to sit and people watch with a glass of wine, or chuflay – Bolivia’s favorite cocktail which consists of singani, lemon, and ginger ale.
El Fogón del Gringo
Not one for vegetarians, El Fogón del Gringo serves up huge, perfectly-cooked steaks for the solo traveler – or judging by the size of some of the cuts of meat on offer here, a group of about 10. It also has an extensive range of sides and salads which you can help yourself to after ordering your main dish.
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
Tarija has a pleasant climate year-round, and the dry season runs from April to October. However, the hottest months are from November to January, although you might get a little wet if you visit then.
Safety – Possible risks
Tarija seems to be one of Bolivia’s safest cities. However, travelers should not become complacent; in an area with a low tourist footfall, they will automatically be targets for pickpocketing. Fake police scams and dodgy taxis are rife in La Paz and Sucre, so it’s a good idea to be vigilant against these in Tarija too.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
Although Tarija seems affluent on the surface, it won’t cost you any more than visiting Sucre or La Paz. Few tourists come here, so you’ll find it very easy on the wallet. You can pick up a hostel for as little as 50 BOB, and taxi prices around the city are capped. The most common export here is wine, and although the quality is excellent, that’s not reflected by the price – as it’s mostly consumed within Bolivia. You can pick up a bottle from the vineyards for as little as 20 BOB (less than £2.50).
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Alcohol in Tarija is used for consumption in the region. However, if you want to buy some as gifts, it will support the local wineries and save you money over buying in an airport. It’s a win-win situation for your wallet and responsible travel.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Although it’s well worth going to Tarija and it’s not difficult to get to, it does take a long time – unless you’re going to fly, and then it will be more expensive. However, because it’s set at a lower altitude than other Bolivian cities and the climate is warm and pleasant, it’s not a wasted trip.
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