Highlights of Tarija, Bolivia!

When mentioning Bolivia, wine isn’t the first thing that would come to mind.  We didn’t know it either until we perused the guide-book, and since wine is something we really like, it would have been remiss of us not to visit the wine country of Bolivia.

At 1,854 m (6,083 ft), Tarija is in one of the highest growing wine regions of South America.  They like to say it is the highest in the world, but it certainly is the highest in Bolivia.

El Valle de la Concepción

El Valle de la Concepción , the wine route

We arrived very early in the morning from Sucre.  We sussed out our next departure at the bus terminal and hopped into a taxi to our hotel.  We had booked three nights at the Terravina Hotel de Vino via Booking.com.  The only room available to us online was a triple room, but when we arrived at the hotel, we were able to have a double, which meant we paid less.  While we were waiting for a room, we were offered breakfast (for a fee, which was only right as we were very early).  However, breakfast was very good with fresh eggs, fruit, coffee and an assortment of other tasty items. At breakfast we met a charming young lady who was trying to get on a wine tour.  As it was Carnaval weekend, tours were going to be limited and another tour was offered instead.  It turned out there were a few places available and so we joined the bandwagon along with some other guests staying at the hotel.

View of Tarija from the Mirador Loma de San Juan

View of Tarija from the Mirador Loma de San Juan

We started with a drive to the Mirador Loma de San Juan, a lovely park with a great view of the city.  Note that the city is not very large by any means.

IMG_0812We drove around the reservoir where some of this water is used to irrigate crops and vineyards.  We drove to the pretty town of San Lorenzo where we also stopped for lunch.

Tarija Web7The venue where we stopped for lunch was very attractive and clean.  However, I wasn’t a big fan of the food I had chosen.  When I ordered pork ribs, I was thinking of something different.  That’s the way it goes sometimes.

Tarija Web1 After lunch we went for a walk to some waterfalls.  After what seemed like an interminable amount of time, we finally found them.

The next day was Carnaval and all the action was taking place in the square.  We grabbed some ring-side seats in the ‘safe zone’ and settled in to watch the show.

Tarija Web3The council had someone set up with a hose attached to a water supply so the kids could fill up their super-soakers, balloons, buckets or any other vessel.  The fountain wasn’t off-limits either, if you could get there without getting wet.Tarija Web4It may have been a bit overcast, but the weather was warm.  Many people wore summer clothes covered by a plastic rain jacket.  The phone companies had been giving away waterproof bags for people to put their phones and money in!Tarija Web5As is the case with Carnaval everywhere, there is always somewhere where you can purchase a bucket, balloons, or spuma if you run out.

Although we were in the ‘safe-zone’, we still came out with our waterproof ponchos.  It didn’t matter too much for Bob as he got drenched with a bucket while taking these photos.  At least they only got him down his back and not over his head while taking pictures.

IMG_0402Later on there was some live music which got a lot of people on their feet and dancing.  It was a great afternoon, full of clean fun.  I don’t see that happening where I live without riot police at the ready.

We had a wine tasting that evening organised by our hotel.  The top brands of wine grown in Bolivia are Aranjuez and Kohlberg – -Kohlberg being the oldest producer of wine in the area.  We tried a Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and both were pleasant.  Bolivia doesn’t really produce enough wine for export, although some of it does get exported to the Netherlands.  However, most of it stays in the country.  The area also produces Singani, a clear distilled spirit made from grapes. It is most commonly drunk with Coca-Cola.  We purchased a small bottle.  We were not overly impressed with it.  Chilean Pisco is by far our favourite distilled spirit in South America and is right up there with drinking a single malt.

There isn’t really much to do in Tarija if you are not going to venture out-of-town to visit the bodegas.  There wasn’t a tour in English available because of the Carnaval and we opted out on the tour the hotel organised as it was all going to be in Spanish and we had done one before in Argentina.  I know that sounds a bit defeatist, but it can be really frustrating not understanding the language, especially as we struggled with the information from the wine tasting organised by the hotel.  We opted to stay in town and walk around to see the sights and to locate a restaurant for lunch as it seemed most everything was closed.

Architecturally, Tarija is nothing special.  There are a few interesting buildings, but on closer inspection you can see that they need a bit of TLC.  None of the buildings is particularly ancient.

Tarija Web2There are few pretty and tidy squares and there is a long park along the river.  There is also a market that sells everything.

Tarija Web6We went for a walk to see the Copa.  There is meant to be a viewing platform, but I didn’t feel comfortable walking up there.  It was too quiet and I wasn’t really sure about the neighbourhood.  Sometimes you have to go with your instincts.

Although there isn’t a lot to do here to justify spending 3 nights and 4 whole days, we really enjoyed our stay.  Carnaval was entertaining, we met some lovely people, the hospitality at our hotel was excellent and we had some really nice meals out.  Plus, we drank some good wine.  🙂