Mild weather, blue skies and amiable people; Tarija is the perfect spot to enjoy a slice of ‘downtime’. It’s home to Bolivia’s wine-producing region which makes it the ideal place to sample a tipple of the local viño.
The city centre breathes serenity and it’s a local pastime to people watch from the shady plazas. However, further afield are some great half-day excursions, all accessible by public transport.
15 km from Tarija
The white-washed houses and vivid flowers are contrasted by the town’s grey, dusty roads. The cute plaza is the centre of (not much) action but if you wander through the streets you’ll get a taste for this peaceful place.
Just 20 minutes walk from the plaza takes you into rural Tarija province. The cobbled streets of San Lorenzo soon give way to hills, farms and curious locals. You’ll find yourself talking to toothless grannies or watching rather skinny cows pulling wooden ploughs through the fields, led by farmers donning straw hats.
The still air is disrupted only by roosters, whose lack of punctuality appears to be in the genetic makeup of Bolivians, as the birds squawk all day long.
How to get from Tarija to San Lorenzo
From Calle Domingo Paz, opposite the yellow languages centre, take the bus signed ‘San Lorenzo’. They depart quite frequently and return from the plaza in San Lorenzo throughout the day, once full. It takes 20 min and costs BS3 .
EL VALLE DE CONCEPCIÒN
15.5km from Tarija
If you like a tipple of wine and aren’t too fussy about the quality, El Valle de Concepciòn (The Valley) has your name on its label. The numerous vineyards in the area produce white, red and rosé wine, which in my opinion are either sickly sweet or akin to vinegar. I’m told Kohlberg is the best of the bunch but most visitors head to Casa de Vieja, close to the plaza. The 400-year-old bodega, wine cellar, is the oldest in the country and is beautifully laid out. However, wine connoisseurs will scoff at the method of heating the wine with sugar to ferment it.
Even if wine isn’t your drink of choice (and in all honesty Bolivian wine probably won’t be) the journey is worth the drive. The 30-min scenic trip meanders past low cloud clinging to the hills, which throughout most of the year give way to blue skies and the neat vineyards stretch for miles either side of the road.
Throughout weekends in September 2010, the Fiesta del Amor (Festival of Love) will take place, which strangely has nothing to do with romantic encounters. Instead visitors can sample local food, wine, music and dancing. The main activities will be held at the central plaza or at Valle d’Vino (just off the main plaza, everybody in the village knows where it is).
How to get from Tarija to El Valle de Concepciòn
Take a colectivo (shared taxi) from the corner of Calle Corrado and Calle Gral. Trigo. They leave several times per hour, when full and the journey takes 30-40 minutes and costs BS5 per person. For the return journey, colectivos leave the plaza in The Valley when full.
SAN JACINTO LAKE
8km from Tarija
Just outside the city lies San Jacinto Lake which is a popular day trip for Tarijians. It’s not hard to see why with its inviting colour, bobbing green lilies and surrounding hills. It’s possible to walk from one end of the lake to the other, past beer and ice cream vendors which are perfect incase it becomes thirsty work. If you fancy a short boat trip, rowing boats can paddle you close to the other side (but they won’t land there) and back again. My boat was rowed by a solemn looking lady clad in Tarija’s traditional garb of a short pleated skirt, pinny and bowler hat.
How to get from Tarija to San Jacinto Lake
Take a micro from outside the court building (Palacio de Justicia) on Calle Inga
vi for BS3.50 signed for San Jacinto. Buses leave when full, about twice an hour. On the return leg you can walk down the cycle track at the side of the lake which will eventually take you to the main road where you can flag down any of the buses (stand on the right-hand side of the road).
15km from Taraija
Pack up a Bolivian picnic (chicken, potatoes and rice) and head to the natural pools at Coimata. They’re not extensive but if you’re thick-skinned you might survive the icy water, in winter at least. There are plenty of sun-soaked rocks to laze about on or for those with more energy you can traverse the local farmers’ tracks in the nearby hills. Take sunblock, water and food as there are no stalls at the pools themselves. And if you don’t like Bolivian music, maybe pack some ear plugs as the weekend crowds are equipped with speakers and iPods (or perhaps they use gettoblasters).
How to get from Tarija to Coimata Pools
Take micro B from Calle Domingo Paz opposite the yellow languages building. Jump off at the last stop, Tomatitas Falls (also a popular destination with the locals) and either walk the 5km to Coimata pools or jump on another micro at the same place signed Coimata. If you walk like I did, continue up the road, go past a cemetery and at about 2km the road will fork. Take the right-hand path and you will eventually reach a large wooden gate – the entrance to the pools. It costs BS3 to enter. The bus journey from Tarija to Tomatitas Falls takes about 25 minutes and costs BS3. From there to Coimata takes 10 minutes in a micro or one hour walking.
WHERE ON EARTH?
- The capital city of Tarija province in southwest Bolivia
- One of the country’s most affluent cities with money coming from the sale of natural gas in the area to neighbouring Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay
- Has mild weather year-round, except July and August, but blue skies are still common then
- Is totally off the gringo trail so it’s a great place to practice your Spanish
PHOTOGRAPHS COPYRIGHT OF JANE BATCHELOR