Sweet Like Sucre

Unlike Rio de la Plata, named in the false hope of silver which would later be found in Potosi, Sucre has no relation with sugar in spite of the link forged by my mediocre French. The city was named for a General who played a part in the independence of the country, but to me the erroneous connotation seems more fitting today as it’s a sweet place to spend a few days while exploring Bolivia. Perhaps due to its relative size, or reputation for being a poor and underdeveloped country, most tourists use Bolivia as a crossing between its coastal neighbours (it borders Peru, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil) and only make time for the biggest sights. I, however, spent almost three weeks in Bolivia and found ‘The White City’ to be one of my favourites. After the metropolis of Rio or Buenos Aires to the east, and Lima and Santiago to the west, Sucre is smaller, quieter, calmer, and remarkably less European.
The city is famous for its historic centre, wherein the whitewashed walls give it the nickname ‘The White City’ and its rich gathering of colonial architecture is able to be explored entirely on foot. Without having any real destination it’s easy to stumble upon beautiful churches, historic buildings and Instagram-worthy streets, centred on the beautiful Plaza 25 de Mayo. It is also renowned for its Spanish courses and provides the perfect relaxed environment for brushing up on your language skills while exploring a different side of the Hispanic world. There are museums and galleries galore scattered through the streets and my favourites just scratch the surface: the Casa de la Libertad, home to their Declaration of Independence; the Museo Nacional de Etnografía y Folklore and its representation of Bolivia’s diverse ethnic groups; and the Museo de Arte Indígena which was full of local crafts.

‘The White City’ © author’s own

Close to this last museum is a beautiful viewpoint from which the entire city unfolds before you within its surrounding hills, and there’s even a small cafe which makes for the perfect sunset location. If a calm vista isn’t enough relaxation, try the Parque Bolívar where you can doze in the sun next to a miniature Eiffel Tower circled by a pond (complete with pedal boats) or have an al fresco lunch.

The food in Sucre is also amazing: the local market offers everything from fresh fruit and prepared snacks to kitchenware or a cow’s head, in startling abundance and at remarkably low prices, while the volume of tourists means that cafes and restaurants abound and there’s even provision for vegetarians (try the Cafe Condor!). For something that feels authentically Bolivian, the Lonely Planet-recommended Flores serves delicious salteñas, a snack akin to an empanada or small pasty. And it’s notable that in the entire country I didn’t encounter a single Starbucks or McDonalds, much to my great relief.

Overlooking the city © author’s own

If you’re in town for more than a few lazy days of sightseeing, the surrounding hills offer an incredible number of activities, from treks and adventure sports to visits to small villages where you can engage with a more indigenous side of Sucre (and of Latin America). A highlight is the nearby Sunday market at Tarabuco, offering a chance to see and buy artesanías (handicrafts) straight from the artisans themselves. Plus you can see the trade of items taking place instead of money changing hands in their food market, and listen to Quechua being spoken all around (they speak Spanish to tourists as well, but forget English!)
Sucre was closer to what I had expected from Latin America: smaller, with colonial architecture lining the streets and less influence from abroad, with a local tourist-ready charm which eases visitors gradually into a lifestyle that is vastly different to those of neighbouring Brazil or Argentina. It was my favourite city in the country, more beautiful than La Paz and at a lower altitude too, but visiting anywhere in Bolivia should come with some fine print. When visiting from the Western world you have to lower your expectations with regards to public transport, road quality and amenities as the country is poorer. I heard people dismiss Bolivia as a mess, too underdeveloped, or unworthy of much time but I think they had their expectations set too high. The infrastructure is admittedly lacking, and the way of life is decidedly un-Western, so of course it could seem disappointing. Personally, however, I treated the different standards simply as different and not inferior. Despite some hair-raising journeys and necessary adjustments to my routines, I had the time of my life.