We arrive in Sucre exhausted from our long bus journey, but since it’s only 9am, our room isn’t ready yet so we head into town for some breakfast. We’re staying at La Casa Al Tronco, a tiny guesthouse with only three rooms in Recoleta, which is set back from the centre of town on a hill. The good news is that we’ve got a stunning view of the city from our bedroom window, the bad news is it’s a bit of a breathless walk home from town – we’re now at 2500m above sea level, our first taste of altitude.
It’s a pretty city, full of whitewashed churches, and it’s not hard to see why it’s now a Unesco World Heritage site. It was formally the capital of Bolivia, and although this crown is now taken by La Paz, it is still the judicial capital. Despite its importance, it retains an intimate, friendly atmosphere, more like a small town than a big city.
That evening, after a much needed siesta, we head into town for something to eat. We pick one of the recommendations from the book – Cafe Florin – a cute little bar/restaurant which does a great mix of international food and two for one happy hour cocktails. The only available table is for eight people so we perch at one end and order some food. We opt for the traditional Bolivian dish of pique a lo macho – a combination of frankfurters, beef, onions, peppers, tomatoes, chillies and boiled eggs, all served on a bed of chips and covered in a spicy gravy. Yum.
As we’re waiting for our food, a party of five come in and the only place left is at the end of our table, so of course, we invite them to join us. As they sit down, I realise I recognise two of the girls from the Pantanal – small world! Needless to say, we get chatting, swapping stories of our travels since we last met, and before long we are taking full advantage of the happy hour cocktails. It also happens to be the King of Holland’s birthday (who knew?!) and since every bar in town seems to have jumped on the Dutch bandwagon there are plenty of free orange vodka jellies being handed out. Let’s just say a great night was had by all and there were a few sore heads (and stomachs) the next morning.
Despite a rather late night, we’re up at 7.30am the next morning after only a few hours sleep to catch a micro to Tarabuco, 65km southeast of Sucre, to visit the Sunday market. Here they sell all manner of traditional handicrafts for tourists as well as goods for locals too. You’ll find alpaca ponchos and jumpers (as well as plenty that look more like they have been mass produced in China), wall hangings, cushion covers, bags, hats – there’s something for everyone. Having said that, you’ll also find most of the same stuff elsewhere in Bolivia, particularly La Paz, so don’t feel this is your only chance to get something authentic. You can haggle a little with the sellers but they don’t come down much – don’t expect it to be like Asia where you can get the starting price down significantly. You might barter a pound or two off the price but not much more.
After a two hour journey winding up through the mountains, we arrive at the market still half asleep and not in the mood for shopping at all. In need of some food, we head to a local cafe for a sandwich and a cup of tea in the hope it will wake us up a little – unfortunately our order of ‘te con leche’ is interpreted as a cup of hot milk with a tea bag on the side. Oh well.
As we venture into the hub of the market, we bump into the girls from the previous night and it’s safe to say they are feeling as rough as we are. Still, as girls we’re programmed to shop even in the face of adversity, so we struggle on, determined to go home with at least a few souvenirs from the wealth of ethnic tat. But by lunchtime, both Rich and I have had enough and we hop on a micro back to Sucre with just a couple of purchases. Back at the guesthouse, we head straight to bed for some much needed sleep.
The next day and we decide to venture out to the Cretaceous Park. On a single day, millions of years ago, herds of dinosaurs made their way across the muddy shores of a long-disappeared sea. The footprints remained preserved until discovered by chance only 50 years ago by local miners. Today, you can still see the tracks. After some confusion over whether there is any public transport running (it’s a public holiday) we jump on the ‘Dino Bus’ (you can spot it from the dinosaur head sticking out the front) to ride the 5kms out of town.
They do a pretty good job of padding out what would otherwise be a five minute visit. First you get an episode of the BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs (some of the special effects are laughable), then a guide explaining in intricate detail how they found the footprints and which species they come from. Only then do you get to see the footprints. It’s definitely worth a visit but don’t expect to be wowed by the footprints. They aren’t that much to look at, although the fact they have been there for millions of years and the sheer fluke of them finding them does make it quite awe inspiring.
The next day and we’re up early to catch a taxi to Potosi, three hours away. You can get a bus, which is obviously cheaper, but at £16 for a private, door to door service, we decide to splash out and avoid the hassle of public transport. Unfortunately, after a lovely stay in a great room with a beautiful view, our departure from Casa Al Tronco is somewhat marred by a long and protracted row over the bill, where they refused to deduct the deposit that we paid on HostelWorld when booking. We didn’t pay it in the end but it put a bit of a dampener on things – if you choose to stay here then make sure your bill is right.
So that’s it. It’s goodbye to Sucre and hello to Potosi – at 4070m, the world’s highest city.