What to do in Tarija – the capital of smiles
Tarija. A very traditional town in the South of Bolivia, not very touristy but definitely worth a visit! It is a town not just rich in gas (86 % of gas reserve of the whole Bolivia), but mostly rich in history, culture and traditions, together with its landscape. And also agriculture – milk, cheese, fruit, vegetable and sugar cane come from Tarija.
In the last 10 years Tarija town grew up a lot. In the future years, all the roads will be paved so it will be easier for the tourists to come to visit. Now it still takes a long time to come to Tarija because of the bad roads, animals crossing roads whenever they want to and the fact of having to climb all the hills high in the mountains.
Tarija people are smiling all the time, very helpful and super cool, which gave the town its name – the capital of smiles.
The culture, especially the religious rituals (Carnaval, or Easter), dance and music of Tarija are different to the rest of Bolivia. When the Spaniards came, there were not many inhabitants in the area of Tarija so they all mixed and nowadays we can see some Spanish influence in here.
I was really surprised when I visited Tarija as I did not expect much of it. But let me tell you, when I was leaving I wished I could stay for longer!
Check out what to do in Tarija and its surroundings:
Inside Tarija town
Cathedral Iglesia Metropolitana – built in September 1769 by jesuits.
San Francisco Church – built between 1756 and 1767, directed by the architect Fray Francisco Miguel Mari and then visited every year by many frailes.
Capilla Loma de San Juan – created in 1578 by Dominicans, distinguished by its very simple white and yellow Rennaissant style. It was the first chapel in Tarija, dedicated to San Juan evangelist. Get up to the viewpoint with a little park above the chapel to see the whole Tarija and the surrounding mountains like on the palm of your hand.
Casa Dorada – characterised by its Modernist and Art Noveau architecture. Inside you can find a big living room and reception with old European furniture, art gallery, concert hall, music hall and they want to open also a museum upstairs. And as usual, guess where is a bunch of wires? Just in front of the building!
Paleonthological Museum – free entrance, you just need to registrate with your name to enter. The museum was first opened in 1940 and it includes expositions of ceramics, stones, statues found in Tarija province. More important in the museum are the bones of some huge animals found in the surroundings. Very impressive!
Castillo Azul – stunning white and blue Art Noveau building. It really resembles a castle with 2 circular towers and 2 square towers.
Plaza de Armas Luis de Fuentes y Vargas – the main square with palm trees, shoe cleaners and a lot of pigeons.
Mercado central – market with fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and some restaurants to grab a cheap lunch.
Guadalquivir river – it is nice to pass through the bridges or just walk along the river, peaceful!
Surroundings of Tarija
There are many cute places around Tarija town where you almost never will see any more tourists apart from you. You should put all these places on your bucket list.
Lake San Jacinto – with a friend of mine we visited the lake on his motorbike (yes, once again I was in seven heaven) and we rode all along the lake to the other side with many street stalls with local food. I got a traditional pancake which was the same tasty as unhealthy.
Tomatitas – take a bus to Tomatitas and there at the bridge where it leaves you, try the food at the street stall. Nothing better to get the local atmosphere under your skin than sitting in the middle of the main street with local families.
Coimata waterfalls – in Tomatitas, cross the bridge and outside of the school take another small bus which will drive you through small villages. Be ready to hold your breath while squeezing in with the locals and their huge bags full of food and anything you can imagine. You will even drive through a river where you have to get off. Then just walk up to the waterfalls. I think there are three different places where you can get closer to the waterfall. Be careful crossing the second one. Unfortunately I never got to the last one as it started raining so had to go back to Tarija.
Among other places to visit are: Cordillera de Sama, Laguna de Tajzara with sand dunes, Inca roads, La Reserva del Cardon, El Valle de la Concepcion for some good wines, La Vitoria golf campus, Rincon de la Victoria.
- tourism office – in the city centre at Sucre street with Bolivar street
- exchange money – worse exchange rate in the exchange (Bolivar street is full of them) so go to BNB Banco Nacional de Bolivia where you can exchange US dollars and Euro. BNB is at Sucre street close to Ingavi street.
- bus terminal is located at Avenida Jaime Paz Zamora