I’ve learned at least one thing on this trip – I prefer to be in smaller towns than in big cities. Before leaving for South America, I was begging Wayne to let us have at least 4 weeks in Buenos Aires. The thought of being in a big city with so much to do was very appealing to me. I’m so glad we didn’t follow my original recommendation because I absolutely was ready to leave after a few days. I get tired of seeing the graffiti, the trash and all the traffic. I want to be in open areas where you feel safe walking around all hours of the day. Maybe that’s Morehead, KY coming out of me!
The best small town in South America
During the past week, we have found our #1 perfect gem of a small city in South America – Tarija, Bolivia. We love it so much we would consider moving here if we thought there could be opportunities in a hostel. Unfortunately, it’s not on the backpacker trail for a good investment, but it should be as it’s an awesome place to visit! The city has beautiful clean squares and cafe bars with WiFi which we dined at every evening during our visit. You can tell the people living here are extremely proud of their city and you would be really frowned upon if you threw trash on the ground (as you should be!). They have people dressed in zebra outfits holding signs about throwing trash out the bus and car windows. One would think people would know better, but it’s not the case in Latin America! We totally didn’t expect to fall in love with this place – we had heard to expect Bolivia to be dirty and the roads filled with trash, but that must be in the area near La Paz because we haven’t seen anything like that yet!
“Why are there people dressed like zebras on the side of the road?”
Did we also mention there are endless roadside vendors selling freshly squeezed orange juice for around 50c, which neither of us could get enough of.
Tarija is the capital of the Tarija Department in the south of Bolivia, it’s in a valley surrounded by mountains and beautiful wine country. We only made it here because it was the closest town to Tupiza where we start our salt flats tour. We spent one night in the brand new Hostal Granny. I didn’t want to leave because the bed, floor and bathroom were so clean – we also had a huge room where I could easily do my Pilates. The big problem was we are in Bolivia and $42 for a room is outrageous so Wayne ventured out to find us a cheaper accommodation. After an hour, he said we were moving to Hostal Carmen which was nice enough with fantastic views from the rooftop terrace, good WiFi, a kitchenette and we were only paying $32 a night. The breakfast was a disaster almost every morning – it was never ready on time or they ran out of eggs, yogurt or bread.
“Huevos en la mañana…what about today?”
There was also a nice little bike shop in town, Sur Bike, where Wayne was able to rent a bike to work on his La Ruta fitness.
Bike Wine Tour
We rented mountain bikes from Sur Bike for the day and rode to La Concepcion, 25km from Tarija. The traffic was pretty scary getting out of town as we had to navigate a few roundabouts with suicide Bolivian drivers. Once we survived the initial scare, the roads opened up and there was a nice bike lane almost the entire way. The big winery’s are closed on the weekend, but there were 3 smaller artisan places we were told to visit. We ended up spending the day at Casa Vieja as it had a scenic outdoor patio with views of the mountains and a huge pig on the grill! We had our fill of wine and food and cycled back to Tarija. We ended with 72km of pretty difficult rolling hills – enough to knock us out the rest of the day, and that was without the wine tasting!
Sunday we decided to head to the local Mercado Campesino to load up on fresh fruits and veggies so we could have meals in our room. Once again this city didn’t disappoint as the market was wonderful with the most colorful and freshest produce we’ve found!
Prior to leaving for San Lorenzo we came across the town swimming pool which happened to be hosting the yearly Tarija triathlon – this was fun to watch and wasn’t too different from a triathlon back home. The swim was multiple laps of the pool, the bike eight laps around local streets and the run, well we’ll have to visit again next year as we didn’t hang around that long. Aerobars would have looked like something from a different planet at this race for sure, but it didn’t stop the participants from having a great time!
Sunday midday we took the local micro to San Lorenzo, a small pueblo 15km north, because we had heard about a nice organic restaurant in town that was a must-do! Little did we know that it was closed on Sunday. The town is very quaint, but not much to do so we found another place to eat and headed back to Tarija to visit Hotel Las Parrales, the No. 1 choice on Tripadvisor with views of the city and surrounding countryside. The hotel was dead and the bar was closed, but we were able to get a drink from the restaurant and enjoy the scenery.
Tonight we take the 8 hour “Death Bus” from Tarija to Tupiza – we’ll update everyone when we arrive safely!
“20 buses take the plunge from this road every year!!”
June 27th – July 3rd 2013