A Weekend in Wine-Country: 3 Days in Tarija, Bolivia

Steve and I are big believers that experiences are much more important than things. That’s why we try to buy each other activities instead of presents for important holidays. Since Steve’s birthday was this week, and the weekend before was a long weekend, we decided to go on a little getaway to see another part of Bolivia.  After looking at the options for what might be available on such short notice, in the rainy season, and wasn’t too expensive – we decided on Tarija!  Tarija is only a short 30 minute flight away, and it’s the home of all our favourite Bolivian wineries – the perfect way to relax for a few days! 🙂

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Tarija is full of statues and monuments. 

Friday – Steve met me at work on Friday, and we grabbed a taxi to the airport. When we travel just for a weekend we usually try to share just one duffle bag for all our checked stuff, plus a carry-on bag each for our book, snacks, passport, etc. We drove the 45-minutes to the airport and checked in for our flight. We still had time to spare so we went upstairs and grabbed a small sandwich for lunch. When there was about 45 minutes to go, we went downstairs but the gate wasn’t open so I was forced to go shopping (what a drag :P) and bought some chocolate from Para Ti! With about 20 minutes to go they let us into the boarding area/gate.  I bought some water and then we boarded right away. The flight was only about 30 minutes, and we arrived in the early afternoon.  We heard that if you take a taxi from the airport they’ll charge you 50 Bs. ($10 CAD) even though it’s only a 10-minute ride. Instead, we walked out to the street and found a bus into the city. It wasn’t too complicated and only cost us 3 Bs. ($0.60) for 2 people. The bus didn’t go exactly to our hotel, but we got off maybe 5 blocks away and walked there. Unfortunately, the hotel (Kultur Berlin Tarija) wasn’t actually there or at least wasn’t open even though we had a reservation? So we found a new hotel and checked-in. Hostel Miraflores wasn’t fancy, but we had a room, it was only 100 Bs ($20) a night for a private, and it was only 3 blocks from the main plaza.

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The Paleontology Museum has a very impressive collection.

We really wanted to check out 2 museums, and they’re only open on weekdays.  We dropped off our bags in the room and changed quickly into summer clothes. The weather in Tarija is a lot hotter than in Sucre (due to the altitude). We walked the 3 blocks to the main plaza and then found the Paleontology museum. It was really great! First of all, it was free, and secondly, the collection was really impressive! Although it was only one small room, it was filled to the brim with giant bones and skeletons. I wish the museum had a bigger budget for signage, recreations, and the like, but even just the bones were really cool. They have so many that you can’t even see them all very well, since they’re placed underneath tables and on every available surface. I can’t imagine how amazing the museum would be if they actually had a budget for signage and such. After the bone room, we went upstairs where there’s a similar room full of minerals, pottery, arrow heads, and a few human remains. Great museum all around. Outside of the museum we got some fresh squeezed orange juice – super yum!

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Some of the shells and bones are huge! and the collection is so big that they store more skeletons under the main exhibit tables.

We were then headed to the second museum, Casa Dorado. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get in, so we wandered around a bit more. We got some ice cream at Gloria Helados Artesanales (the oreo comes highly recommended and doesn’t disappoint). Then we did a few errands: buying snacks, water and wine for the hotel; sun tan lotion for the next day; and some other random stuff along the way. We had also booked a wine tour for the next day but they never officially confirmed. So we went to a little tourist agency we saw near the plaza and were able to book a full-day tour for the next day, for half the price – score! We stopped in a cafe patio beside the square (GattoPardo) and got some drinks and fries to tide us over until dinner.

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Left: Our hotel wasn’t fancy but we had so many beds to choose from! Right: Yummy ice cream.

We had heard that Pizza Pazza was a really cool restaurant on Friday nights, so we decided to check it out. We made a reservation (but probably didn’t need to) and then found our way to the restaurant. It was on the other side of town (about a 25-minute walk), and once we arrived we thought we were in the totally wrong place. But we had 3G and GPS on our phones so we weren’t too worried, and eventually found the restaurant.  I absolutely loved it! The vibe immediately made me want to put my phone away for the whole night – which is a good sign. There are complimentary shots of cocktail when you walk in and everyone sits at long benches. We ended up sharing a table with a couple from Cochabamba. There was a guy singing and playing guitar, and the lady who owns the place comes around and gives a kiss and a hello to every single person! The restaurant is all about pizza (not surprisingly) but you can get 2 separate halves (which is what we did) if you like different toppings or want to have some variety.  We got there around 9, and by the time we left (around 11) it was packed, so I’m glad we arrived when we did.  I would highly recommend it – great atmosphere! Afterward, we took a cab back to the hotel and went to bed for a full day the next morning.

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The orange juice here isn’t made from concentrate, it’s actually all orange! I think it takes about 4 full oranges to make a cup. I love the cute husband and wife team! 🙂

Saturday – We woke up and had a simple breakfast at our hotel (just coffee and buns). We arrived at the meeting spot in the plaza at 8:45 and a guide from La Ruta del Vino came to talk to use. She put us on the bus with two other groups; two volunteers from Germany living in Cochabamba, and a couple with their two kids.  Tarija is the wine region of Bolivia, so you can get lots of cheap wine locally.  We wanted to visit four of our favourite wineries, but the tour only included 3 places (2 famous ones), so we figured that was good enough. First we visited Casa Real, which produces Singani (a local liquor made from grapes). It was neat to see all the intense machinery used in distilling and botteling the alcohol. Afterwards we had a taste of it mixed with gingeral (it was still before 10 am!).

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Getting our drink on – we’re on vacation!

Our second stop on the tour was my favourite brand of wine, Campos de Solana. I like it because they’re one of the only Bolivian companies with a rose, which is my favourite. We were able to see all the vines and grapes up close, and take some pictures. After that, we had a tour and learned about the differences processes for red/white, and various vintages. The tour ended with a tasting of a red wine, including some cheese, crackers, ham, and olives.  The third and final stop was at an artesenal winery. The first two places are industrial and work on a huge scale to supply supermarkets and restuarants all over the country. This one only had one small machine for each process, and they buy grapes from other vineyards. We had a tour and were able to try three different varities. Steve loved the full-bodied red with a strong flavour, and I loved the sweet white that almost tasted like a dessert wine. We bought a bottle of each and it only costed 70 Bs (about 14 dollars) for two bottles from an exclusive artisanal winery – not bad!

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Left: View of the lake. Right: The biggest wine glass in the world(?)

We had booked a full day tour (which costs less than 2 half-day tours, and includes lunch), but I guess they were actually separate tours. So, at 12:30 they dropped us in the plaza and gave us some money for lunch. I much prefer that to having a “traditional lunch” that’s spicy and I probably won’t enjoy. We ended up spending more, but we went to a nice patio on the plaza called El Marques. We got cocktails, pasta, and a hamburger but it was a lot of food. We also got free bread (my favourite), and instead of having oil or butter we actually got 4 different dips for the bread – I liked the dill one! After lunch, we had some time so we dropped off our wine at the hotel and had a bit of a nap.

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So nice to put your feet in the cool water on a hot day.

We arrived about 10 minutes early for our 2:30 start to the afternoon. This time we were joined by about 5 other groups including couples and families with kids. The tour was a bit of a hodge-podge of activities. I was never really sure where we were going next. But it did give us an opportunity to see a lot of the surrounding sites that we wouldn’t have experienced in the city, since we didn’t have a car or anything. First, we visited Lago San Jacinto and bought some popsicles (it was a really hot day). Then we headed to the Coimata Waterfalls, which were really nice. I would have loved to spend a whole afternoon swimming there, maybe with a picnic, which is what a lot of the locals were doing. On the way there we passed Mirador de los Suenos (Lookout of your Dreams) which is a lookout over the city that has the largest wine glass in the world (apparently) covered in lots of little mirrors.  Our last stop was to the little town of San Lorenzo, where we had some snacks, visited a museum of some historical guy, saw the church, and basically just wandered. There’s not much to do there, so I don’t recommend it, but I enjoyed the other parts of the tour. We were back in the main square around 6:30, so we went to our hotel to chill before dinner.

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Wall mural and church in San Lorenzo.

That night we were really lazy and didn’t want to walk far for dinner. Plus I wasn’t really hungry so we went to the final café by the square, which is called XOXO. Although it seems like a small café with a patio from the outside, it’s actually a full bar/restaurant with a big menu. I got some cheese sticks and Steve got a full meal. The servers were really attentive. My only complaint is that the tables are too high for the chairs, which is really a strange feeling when you’re eating. Then we went back to the hotel to chill some more – it had been a long day!

Sunday – We already knew that nothing would be open on Sunday, so we slept in and skipped breakfast! We showered and got ready and decided to try and find brunch. Most restaurants looked closed, so we went to one of the patios (El Marques) by the main plaza again. It turns out they had a whole American breakfast there even though it was noon. Steve got eggs, ham, two types of toast with butter and jam, cheese, juice, coffee, AND steak for only $8 – not bad! After we were filled up, we headed about 10 minutes down the road to a fancier hotel with a pool called Los Ceibos. We paid to enter and she reluctantly gave us one towel to share (thankfully, we had also brought one of our own so we now had one each). Then we just relaxed by the pool all afternoon.

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Chilling by the pool.

The weather was really hot when we arrived, so we got some nice deck chairs under an umbrella and put down all our stuff.  Steve immediately headed for the pool but the cement was so hot you had to jump right in (or burn your feet). We alternated between reading our books in the shade, napping in the sun, taking dips in the pool, and drinking wine.  Not a bad way to spend the afternoon. Eventually some clouds rolled in and it looked like a storm was coming, but it blew over. Around 6 pm we decided to head back to our hotel. On the way back from the pool we checked in on a few restaurants that were recommended but they were all closed for dinner on Sunday. Instead, we went back to the hotel and chilled for a bit before dinner (since most places don’t open for dinner until at least 7 pm anyway).

We decided on a cute Mexican place called Agave Azul that was highly recommended online, and left the hotel around 9 pm. We ended up taking a taxi there because it was about a 25-minute walk, and the sidewalks aren’t great in that area of town. It wasn’t busy, but it was really nice! You can tell the server was the owner and he was really enthusiastic. There weren’t many drink choices (surprisingly no tequila on offer) so we got something called “Jugo de Jamaica” and really enjoyed it. Steve got fajitas and I got tacos, and they were all really fresh. You can tell that thy made their own corn tortillas – yum! The food came out really quickly and we ate it all. By the time we were leaving it was pouring, but we were able to get a taxi easily on the corner back to our hotel. I highly recommend the restaurant if you want fresh, Mexican food! That night we just hung out a bit at the hotel before bed.

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Tarija loves giant pots, and you can find them everywhere in the plazas of the city! Tarija is also a great climate for growing flowers.

Monday – On Monday we were feeling super lazy. We slept in again and slowly spent the morning packing, reading, and napping. Eventually, we were all ready to go so we checked out and left our bags at the hotel. It was a bit early for lunch, so we poured the rest of our wine into a water bottle – such rebels! 😉 – and wandered around town. We walked by the museum but it was closed as we predicted, so we headed to the main plaza.  We read our books on a bench (while drinking the rest of our wine) and watched the locals feed the pigeons. At around 11:45 we walked over to a little café (GattoPardo) and got lunch (inside this time, because it was a bit chilly). Steve got a foamy, chocolate, coffee, booze drink and chili, and I got asparagus soup (which apparently is my new favourite in Bolivia!). We were hoping to visit this cheese shop on the way home, but they had closed early for lunch (not super surprised).

Back at the hotel, we got our bags from storage and tried to get a bus. Unfortunately, none of the buses that passed us were headed to the airport, so when a taxi pulled over we got in. He was a really nice driver and chatted with us the whole way. He was impressed we had only been speaking Spanish for five months and told us all about his life. He gave us a fair price and talked about how other people in Tarija pretend to be religious but then they rip everyone off, and that’s basically bad for karma and makes you not an honest person. He dropped us outside the airport gates (it costs more if the car has to go through the gates because they have to pay a toll) and we walked up to the building.

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Left: Drinking wine in the park! Right: They gave us giant umbrellas to get to the plane without getting soaked.

In the airport, we checked in, but the flight was delayed. We read and napped some more until they let us into the gate. There was tons of rain so the flight was delayed (a few times). We were a bit concerned that our flight would be cancelled until the next day (which has happened to us before in Bolivia), but thankfully that wasn’t the case. We just read our books and ate snacks until they eventually told us we could board (with umbrellas) about 2 and a half hours after our originally scheduled departure time.  By 5:30 pm we were back in Sucre, quickly got our bag, and grabbed a taxi back to the city. At 7 pm we went to meet a friend of ours for dinner in town. It was the perfect end to a relaxing weekend!

We had a great trip to Tarija.  Originally we were planning to go to Valley of the Condors (near Tarija) for the weekend to see some impressive birds, but camping in rainy season on a mountain isn’t exactly ideal! I’m glad we decided to stay in the city – it was the perfect way to relax and unwind.  If you love good food, seeing where your favourite Bolivian wines are from, and relaxing by the pool – then Tarija is a great destination for you! However, not everything was perfect.  If you want to hear about everything that went wrong, check out my previous blog – Travelling in Bolivia: A Great Way to Work on Your Patience and Flexibility!  If you’re planning your own trip, I also recommend that you travel to Tarija during the week, since almost all museums, big wineries, and other tourist activities aren’t open on weekend or holidays.


About Amanda

Hi, I’m Amanda! Originally from Ottawa, Canada, I am currently living with my partner (Steve) in Sucre, Bolivia for the next year. I work in the unique space between industrial design and international development – but what does that even mean? I’m passionate about working WITH marginalized communities in a way that utilizes design to improve the lives of different types of people around the world. I have worked, studied, traveled, and researched on every continent (except Antarctica), and most recently I lived in Ghana, Bangladesh and Nepal. I love exploring new cultures and learning more about myself along the way.
This entry was posted in Bolivia - CUSO (2016/2017), Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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