After a few heavy nights in Bolivia’s capital La Paz we were ready for somewhere a bit less hectic. We needed somewhere chilled to spend Christmas and heard Sucre was the perfect place to press the reset button. Bolivia isn’t exactly known for it’s picturesque towns, but Sucre is a notable exception. It’s a fairly prosperous region which benefited heavily from the silver mining boom in nearby Potosi. Big whitewashed houses and wide tree-lined streets set the scene. With a laid back friendly vibe we knew we’d enjoy our two weeks in Sucre.
Spending Christmas In Sucre.
Two days in, we were supposed to move hostels as Liz had found one hosting a Christmas day party. After a few relaxing days we packed up from our initial place (Condor) and hiked across town with rucksacks on our backs. Upon arrival we were told they’d decided not to host the Christmas party due to low expected numbers. We’d had this booked for a month so were slightly miffed at the lack of communication. We cancelled the booking and hot footed back up the road to Condor to ask if we could check back into our old room.
As luck would have it not only was our room still free but they were hosting an alternative Christmas Day Party at their sister hostel (Wasi Masi) 10 minutes away and invited us along for turkey and all the trimmings.
The best thing to do on Christmas Eve in Sucre is find a bar looking over the square, have a few drinks and wait until around 10pm when the church opens for midnight mass. We took advantage of the cheap 1 litre beers and watched a hive of festive activity unfold. Bright lights blinkered as families strolled and excited children gathered to have their photos taken with super heroes. From what I could gather, Pikachu proved most popular with Iron Man coming a close second. Poor old Batman didn’t stand a chance. A local brass band rocked up to blast out Christmas favourites to varying degrees of tunefulness.
Once the church bells rang out to signal mass had begun we walked over to the enormous church and found ourselves a spot in the pews. After a while of semi confusion, an ornately dressed priest dressed came out to say some words in Spanish. Everyone got up as one and moved towards the doors. Behind us followed a huge wooden nativity scene being hoisted high by three burly wise men and a priest. The band from the park joined us and we started a slow procession through the streets of Sucre.
The music got louder and people opened their front doors to join in the fun. By the time we’d done the rounds there must have been nearly two hundred people all clapping, dancing and swaying to the repetitive brassy beats. We marched back through the square and into the church to resume our seats and begin the mass. However by that point we’d had more than enough fun and decided to sneak off back to our hostel rather than sit through two more hours of religiosity.
Arriving at the Wasi Masi Christmas day party we quickly realised we were the only English there and everybody else was extremely hungover. The group of mostly French had celebrated the previous night till the small hours and were now feeling decidedly sheepish. Not the ideal environment for striking up international conversation. Unperturbed we cracked our bottle of red and got stuck in while the frenchies suffered from the night before. After a while the mood brightened and a few more people showed up and got stuck into the vino.
We met a sound couple from Liverpool and ended up chatting with them for the duration. A huge buffet style feast for at least 25 people was served and everybody got stuck in. The welcoming Bolivian hostel owner Roxana had invited many friends and local families which added much to the vibe. After lunch we discovered the local super beer ‘Medusa’, which at 8% was the perfect alternative after dinner accompaniment. After much chat, music and merriment we decided to call it a night around 10pm and wobbled the 10 minutes back to our hostel. In the end, a thoroughly merry Christmas day. Address: Wasi Masi Hostel, Sucre. Annual Christmas Dinner and Party arranged for guests and friends. 50 blvs donation towards food.
What To Do In Sucre.
In terms of activities, there’s not tons to do in Sucre, but that’s part of it’s appeal. We asked around to see what the best walks and attractions were. With varying levels of success, here’s what we ended up doing over the course of two weeks.
1. La Casa de la Libertad – Museum dedicated to the history of Bolivia. You can walk around yourself but we’d recommend a tour with one of the guides (available in English or Spanish). Having just read a great biography on Simon Boliva, liberator of Bolivia, it was interesting to join the dots.
The artefacts are well preserved and the portrait hall of every Bolivian president highlights the country’s troubled history. Well worth checking out. 25blvs including guide. Address: Plaza 25 De Mayo
2. Museo Del Tesoro – Here you can learn all about the historical gem and mineral trade of Bolivia. Surprisingly interesting. We were supposed to be on a guided tour but the guide forgot us and only remembered halfway through the tour. This meant we got to do the beginning of the tour again as a private view. Silver is big business in Bolivia with the worlds biggest mines located in Potosi, three hours drive from Sucre. There’s also lots of rare crystals and mineral formations on display only found in Bolivia. More interesting than it sounds.
Unfortunately you can’t take pictures inside. A ticket will set you back 25blvs including guide. Address: #59 Plaza 25 De Mayo
3. La Glorietta Castillo – We needed to stretch our legs a few days into our stay. Having read that there was a pink fairytale castle situated 5km out of town, we thought it’d be worth checking out. There’s not too much information about this attraction on the web, but another blog had mentioned a walk there. It described a gently undulating walk through small town and green pastures. We set off following the direction and wondered if we were on the same path. We basically tramped a busy main road littered with all sorts of old rubbish. From manky nappies to burnt out cars, it wasn’t quite what we had had in mind. We swung off the main road to find ourselves wandering through a military zone complete with armed soldiers standing guard outside razor wire fences. To be fair they were friendly enough (despite the AK47’s) and waved us along in the direction of the castle. We left the military zone and approached the pink castle in the distance. It’s gates were firmly shut and a stern military man informed us it was ‘cerrado’ closed. We took a couple of pictures from behind the mesh fence and jumped on a bus back to town. We’ve heard it’s nice inside and worth checking out – but we haven’t been back to find out. Major fail.
4. Plaza 25 de Mayo – Every town in South America has a similar Plaza where locals gather to shoot the breeze, and Sucre is no different. However this one has a laid back charm and shady benches where you can easily spend a few hours relaxing. With the temperate weather and a cool breeze it’s the perfect place to sit back and watch the world go by.
5. Immigration Office, Sucre– Not an activity per se, but if you need to extend your tourist visa you can do it relatively easily here. Much less stress than trying to arrange at the hectic La Paz office. The office is on Colon Street, about 4 blocks back from the main square. Make sure you go with less than 5 days left on your visa stamp or they’ll refuse to extend your stay until you have.
6. Learn Spanish – There’s loads of good cheap Spanish Schools in Sucre. Spanish Friends School seemed to be the most well regarded. You can arrange private one-on-one tuition for less than $5USD an hour making it some of the cheapest places to learn in South America. We honestly meant to knuckle down and get stuck in for a week or two of lessons but life conspired and got in the way…
7. La Mirador – It’s only a short hike up the back streets of Sucre to get to the Mirador (lookout). Up there you’ll find a small plaza, a few local indigenous market stalls and a decent cafe. Grab a coffee and enjoy great views across the town and mountains. There’s deck chairs to lounge in for those lazy Sunday afternoons.
Eating Out in Sucre.
While it’s might be light on the activity front, Sucre has plenty of great restaurants. We were there for over two weeks and kept discovering little gems serving delicious food at ridiculously cheap prices. Some of our favourites:
1. Condor Cafe – This place is a local institution. As well as being an awesome vegetarian cafe it also houses a not for profit travel agent benefiting the local community. Serving an incredible medley of innovative dishes, it became our go to place in Sucre.
Huge soups, a generous main and home made juice will set you back 25 blvs ($3USD). The menu changes daily and never missed a beat. Address: #102 Calle Calvo, Sucre. Travel Agent website: www.condortrekkers.org
2. Joyride Cafe – Situated just off the main sure this is a backpacker favourite serving all the home comforts. Huge portions of well known favourites are dished out of the kitchen, and when the food stops, the party starts. There’s three levels here and on weekends it gets lively. There’s a long menu of mind boggling shots. Also I’m not sure if we just had an inexperienced bartender, but the Irish coffee we ordered had enough booze in to sink a small ship. We weren’t complaining. Address: #14 Nicolas Ortiz, Sucre
3. Metro Cafe – Also on the square this place had the best wifi in Sucre and did a great cappuccino. If you need a strong coffee and connection, this is the place. The food looked decent with reasonably priced sushi and sandwiches on the menu. Address: #2 Calvo, Sucre.
4. Cosmo Cafe – Jerk Chicken in Bolivia may sound weird but it was pretty damn tasty. In fact all the food that came out of the kitchen here looked good. The beers are a bit on the pricey side but if you stick to food and don’t stay for a drinking session you can’t go wrong. Address: N. Plaza 25 de Mayo, Sucre.
4. La Taverne – We ate here twice as a treat (Liz’s Birthday) and both times were spectacular. Small rustic candlelit restaurant with delicious French/Bolivian cuisine. It’s not the cheapest place in town but where else can you order a huge Argentinian fillet Mignon, trout with fruits de mar and a bottle of decent red wine for under $40 USD? No steak knives needed as the meat was so tender. Highly recommended. Address: #35 Aniceto Arce, Sucre.
1. Condor – We booked into the Condor Hostel as it was cheap, centrally located and got decent reviews. Having arrived earlier than expected due to an overzealous night bus driver we were grateful they let us in (4.30am). Our large room had barn style wooden ceiling beams and a small Juliet balcony looking over a stone courtyard and fountain. Breakfast was included and served each morning from 8am in the small grassy garden at the back. It was a quiet and relaxed place to sit and enjoy the sunshine during the day.
We ended up staying the entire time (2.5 weeks) here apart from the two days mentioned below and can’t recommend it enough. Address: #243 Eduardo Avaroa, Sucre. Cost Per Night: 140 blvs (120 for 4+ nights).
Blow the Budget Accommodation.
2. Parador Santa Maria – Towards the end of our stay in Sucre, we booked into the swankiest hotel in town, Parador Santa Maria, for Liz’s birthday. With huge suites it was certainly a massive step up from the backpacker hostels we’ve been used to this trip.
A huge room with an enormous double bed, enough pillows to get drown in, fully stocked mini bar and best of all – our own bathroom with full-pressure steaming hot water. Something we’ve certainly missed in Bolivia. To top it off they had a fitness suite, rooftop Jacuzzi and sun terrace looking over the city where we popped a few corks to celebrate.
Breakfast was a belt busting buffet with everything a 5 star hotel should have. After two nights we were a bit gutted to go back to real life, but very glad we got to spend a few nights in luxury. Address: Bolivia, Sucre. Cost per Night: 366blvs ($53 USD)
If you’re in Bolivia we really can’t recommend spending two weeks in Sucre enough. The weather is good, the people are friendly and everything just works. It was a haven away from the rough and ready and the perfect place to unwind for a week or two. If you’re heading that way do yourself a favour and check out what it has to offer. You may find yourself sticking around longer than anticipated.