Tarija, the “capital of smile”, is a pleasant town in the south of Bolivia, in the heart of the only wine valley of the country. This city is renowned for the friendliness of its people, its relaxed lifestyle and its sunny climate. Few tourists stop there, however, and they are very wrong. If only to do a few tastings and discover the wine route!
From Copacabana to La Paz…
Last time I wrote on the blog, I was in Copacabana, and there have been a few adventures since then! We spent several days in La Paz, from where Ricaurte and my friend Mathilde left to climb the Huayna Potosi, a summit at 6,088 m above sea level. As I had already been there there a year and a half earlier, I preferred to save my budget and wait patiently in La Paz. I can still offer you some photos of their magnificent ascent 😉
We also went to the Vallee de las Animas, another must-see in La Paz (in my opinion). This huge valley with incredible rock formations has been formed over the centuries by erosion. We did not meet anyone there, only a few locals taking care of their cows and sheep. This place is big enough to spend a full day exploring it.
Be careful though during the rainy season like in February, because the river flowing along the valley can make it a little more dangerous. I finished with my feet in a monstrously high layer of mud, with the impression of sinking into quicksand. Mathilde luckily helped me to het out but it took three days for my shoes to dry after that ^^
We also visited the Musical Instruments Museum of La Paz, a very pleasant little museum created by Maestro Ernesto Cavour (considered as the best charanguist in the world). We discover the whole musical and folkloric tradition of the country, from the oldest to the most recent instruments, and with an absolutely superb collection of charangos and string instruments. A visit that we can recommend without hesitation!
Finally we visited the city by cable car and finished our stay on one of the numerous viewpoint of the city, watching the Illimani (second highest peak in Bolivia, 6 438 m high) at the sunset.
Heading to the jungle
Tired of the city, the altitude and the cold, we then left for Cochabamba (only one day for some shopping) and then Villa Tunari, a small town located in the jungle just 3 hours from Cochabamba (not counting the road works which lengthen the ride at the moment).
We stayed several days in this little piece of paradize, enjoying the breath-taking view of our hostel and its swimming pool, the copoazu juices (a delicious tropical fruit), fishes and other delicacies from the jungle.
We went to Machia Park, where I had had the chance a year earlier to meet a lot of adorable monkeys, but this time we only saw one… they live in freedom in this park and come to see us only if they are around!
From Villa Tunari, we continued towards Santa Cruz de la Sierra, where we stayed for a day until the carnival ended (there were no buses running that day). Finally we left for Tarija, passing briefly through Villa Montes… in short, a very long journey!
Tarija and the wine route
As soon as we arrived in Tarija, we all had the same feeling of a very clean city, pleasant to live in, less oppressive than many other Bolivian cities. We can confirm the friendliness of the inhabitants and the mild climate, which was we appreciated even more after the humid heat and the mosquitos of the jungle.
As we wanted to explore the vineyards, we left with Viva Tours Agency for a wine route passing by bodega and artisanal vineyards, with tasting (of course!) at each stop.
We started with the Bodega Las Duelas, where we tasted some goat cheeses and blueberry jam, accompanied by the Moscatel Blue wine, which as its name suggests… is turquoise blue! Quite surprising for a wine you will say, but it is apparently trendy…
We then continued towards the village of Valle de la Concepción, in the heart of the wine region. We had a great tasting at the Resolana vinoteca, with magnificent murals. Dry and sweet red, dry and sweet white, dry and sweet rosé… we tasted a little of everything, all with very good goat cheese, olives, raisins, nuts… a good little treat.
We particularly enjoyed the following tasting at the Bohémia vinoteca. Liqueur (without alcohol) of grapes and blueberries, then of maracuya, liqueur of maracuya with singani (emblem brandy of the country), a small wine with the flavour of walnut wine, then a local drink, the “doutch rostling » (I’m not sure of the spelling), a refreshing sparkling drink made up of Canada Dry and 43 plants, which is particularly shared during folk festivals where live music is played.
We then fell in love with Casa Vieja, a former convent over 500 years old, where the Jesuits began to produce wine. Today it is a vineyard, a restaurant and a peña, where live folk music is played. The architecture, the view over the vineyards, the warm atmosphere with the music, the wines we tasted… we were really seduced by this place filled with charm and atmosphere.
We finally finished with the Bodega Doña Chela, which also offers a magnificent flower garden with a great panorama of the vineyards. A final tasting, ending in particular with quince liqueur and singani (strong on the palate but very tasty in a second step). Then it was time to go back to Tarija.
We enjoyed a lot this visit, although it does not show anything “behind the scenes” (the barrels of wine, the stages of production…). However, this route only shows artisanal places, where everything is produced on a small scale, which is not the case with the tour passing by the largest wine houses in the country (the latter is only carried out during the week, not on the weekend).
We thus discovered excellent and tasty gastronomic and as for the wine products… it is all a question of taste and palate for everyone! Our guide was cheerful, smily and dynamic, an extremely important element during this type of visit.
After this beautiful wine experience, we spent one last day in Tarija and then left for Tupiza, with the intention of taking a 4-day tour to the Uyuni Desert… but this will be the subject of another article. !
To be continued…
Most night buses arrive in the middle of the night in Bolivia … it’s quite annoying but one should be aware of it and know where to end your night!
Bus La Paz – Cochabamba: 30 BOB, departure at 8 p.m., arrival at 4 a.m.
Bus Cochabamba – Villa Tunari: 20 BOB, in principle 3 hours of road but can take much longer with road work and bad weather
Bus Villa Tunari – Santa Cruz de la Sierra: 35 BOB, departure at 8 p.m., arrival at 2 a.m.
Bus Santa Cruz de la Sierra – Villa Montes: 60 BOB, departure at 10 a.m., arrival at 5 p.m.
Bus Villa Montes – Tarija: 40 BOB, departure at 8 p.m., arrival at 2 a.m.
I will not mention the hostels which only served as a “dormitory” when we arrived in the cities in the middle of the night, and which are not worth describing. Those where we stayed for several days will be enough!
Hostal Backpackers Inti Huasi in La Paz: 40 BOB per person in single or double room. Large very central hostel, with very kind kitchen and attention. Not the warmest or quietest place, but the location is great.
Hostal Mirador at Villa Tunari: 50 BOB per person in a room of 3 with private bathroom. Swimming pool, kitchen, breath-taking view, pool and Ping-Pong tables, weight machines… a real paradise where it is good to settle down for several days.
Hostal Tierra Nuestra in Tarija: 65 BOB per person in room of 3, with breakfast included. Hostel a bit expensive compared to our habits but it is the only one that opened our doors at 3 a.m. and the owners are absolutely lovely, with a real sense of service and sincere kindness.
Ruta del vino with Viva Tours: 120 BOB per person, including transport, guide, numerous tastings and visits to 5 artisanal bodegas. A similar tour exists on weekdays, passing by the big wine houses, which produce in a more “industrial” way and on a large scale. The attention is excellent and the