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Tarija. Travel Guide of Tarija City, Bolivia

Welcome to our Travel Guide of Tarija City. You will find here a comprehensive information over Tarija, including Tarija hotels, Tarija history, Tarija climate, around Tarija, activities in Tarija, festivals and events, travel companies and hostels.

Tarija Travel Guide.

1. History of Tarija.

Tarija Travel Guide, Bolivia

The capital of the region is a quiet provincial town, with few visitors and some quality Argentine-style meat houses. The mild climate has attracted a few foreign settlers in the recent years, and tourist facilities and activities are beginning to develop. The wine country surrounding the city of Tarija offers some good tasting opportunities.

Despite the fact that the Bolivians from bigger cities regard South Central Bolivia as a half-civilized backwater, and that chapaco is the butt of tasteless jokes told in La Paz, Tarija is a pleasant place to stop off on your way to Argentina.

This little city is as laid-back as they get, with palm-lined squares, sizzling Argentine barbecues, sprawling bar and cafe terraces, and tight streets with narrow pavements.

Nothing much happens in Tarija, but the city has some interesting colonial architecture and grows on those who stay a while taking in the atmosphere. If you have time, go around some of the surrounding wineries and try the Bolivian vino or the throatheating singani (distilled grape spirit).

Tarija was founded as La Villa de San Bernardo de Tarixa, by Don Luis de Fuentes y Vargas on July 4, 1574, under the orders of Viceroy Don Francisco de Toledo. In 1810 the region declared independence from Spanish rule. Although the breakaways were not taken seriously by the Spanish, the situation did erupt into armed warfare on April 15, 1817. At the Batalla de la Tablada, the chapacos won a major victory over the Spanish forces. In the early 19th century, Tarija actively supported struggle for independence of Bolivia. Although Argentina wanted to annex the agriculturally favorable area, Tarija opted to join the Bolivian Republic when it was established in 1825.

2. Basic Information About Tarija.

Emergency Police (T. 6642222, corner Campero and 15 de Abril).

Immigration Migración (T. 6643594, Ingavi # 789) For entry/exit stamps or to extend your stay.

Internet Access Internet places are ten a penny and usually have phone cabins incorporated as well. Try along Bolívar for decent connections.

Laundry Out of hours at the lavandería, ask at larger hotels. Lavandería La Esmeralda (T. 6642043, La Madrid O-157, 8:30-12:30 and 15:00-19:30 Mon-Fri, 8:00-13:00 Sat) Does a quick machine wash and dry service.

Medical Services Hospital San Juan de Dios (T. 6645555, Santa Cruz s/n).

Money There are numerous ATMs around the plaza. Casas de cambio (Bolívar) change US dollars and Argentine pesos.

Post and Telephone Post office (corner Sucre and Lema).

Tourist Information There is a tourist booth at the bus terminal (T. 6667701) which is open when the main offices are closed. Departmental tourist office (T. 6631100, corner 15 de Abril and Trigo, 8:30-12:00 and 15:00-18:00 Mon-Fri) Distributes basic town maps and is reasonably helpful with queries regarding sites within and around town.

Electricity 220V.

3. Weather in Tarija.

The saying Las golondrinas nunca migran de Cochabamba (The swallows never migrate from Cochabamba) aptly describes what cochabambinos believe is the most comfortable climate of the world, with warm, dry, sunny days and cool nights.

Temperature in Tarija, Bolivia Rainfall in Tarija, Bolivia

4. The City of Tarija.

a) Museo de Arqueologia y Paleontologia

Tarija Travel Guide, Bolivia

The free university-run Archaeology and Paleontology Museum (corner Lema & Trigo, 8:00-12:00 and 15:00-18:00 Mon-Sat) provides a good oveview of the prehistoric creatures and the early peoples that once inhabited the Tarija area.

Downstairs you will see the well-preserved remains of several animals: megatherium, a giant ground sloth which was the size of an elephant; glyptodon, a prehistoric armadillo-like creature about the size of a Volks wagen Beetle; lestodon, another ground sloth which resembled a giantclawed aardvark; scelidotherium, a small ground sloth; smilodon, the saber-toothed tiger; and Cuvierionius tarijensi, a fossil elephant discovered by the great French zoologist Cuvier close to the city.

Displays are accompanied by artistic representations of how the animals appeared in the flesh. The archaeological section displays ancient tools, weapons, copper items, textiles and pottery from all over southern Bolivia.

The rooms upstairs focus on history, geology and anthropology, containing displays of old household implements, weapons, ceramics and various prehistoric hunting tools, including a formidable cudgel known as a rompecabezas (head-breaker).

Look for the desiccated, mummified corpse of an adult human from the Pampagrande area that has shrunk via natural processes to measure just 35cm long.

b) Casa Dorada

Tarija Travel Guide, Bolivia

The Gilded House (T. 6644606, Ingavi O-370, 8:00-12:00 and 14:30-18:30 Mon-Fri) dates back to 1930, when it was one of several properties owned by the wealthy Tarija landowner Moisés Navajas (often described as Teddy Roosevelt of Bolivia) and his wife, Esperanza Morales. The building appears imposing and impressive on tourist brochures, but in reality the exterior is sloppily splashed with gold and silver paint, and the roof is topped with a row of liberating angels.

The ground floor is painted a scintillating shade of purple and the frescoes could have been the work of precocious preschoolers.

There is also a winning kitsch collection of lamps: rose lamps, peacock lamps, morning glory lamps and, of course, crystal chandeliers that sprout light bulbs. Perhaps the most worthwhile relic is the funola, an early type of player piano that produced music by forcing air through a strip of perforated paper. The building now belongs to the university and houses the Casa de la Cultura.

Brief guided tours are sometimes offered for a small donation.

c) Churches

Tarija Travel Guide, Bolivia

Architecturally, the most unusual church and major landmark of Tarija is the bright, white 1887 Iglesia de San Roque. Dedicated to the patron saint of the town, the church sits on the hill at the end of General Bernardo Trigo, lording it over the town. Its balcony once served as a lookout post.

The rather dull-looking cathedral (corner Campero and La Madrid) contains the remains of prominent chapacos, including founder of Tarija, Don Luis de Fuentes y Vargas. It was constructed in 1611 and has some interesting stained glass depicting harvest scenes.

The Basílica de San Francisco (corner Campos and La Madrid) was founded in 1606 and is now a national monument. The 16th-century convent library and archives, which may conjure up images from The Name of the Rose, can be used only by researchers who have been granted permission by the Franciscan order. Inside the basilica, the free Museo Franciscano Frey Francisco Miguel Mari (8:00-18:00 Mon-Fri) displays ecumenical paintings, sculptures and artifacts.

The Iglesia de San Juan, at the top of Bolívar, was constructed in 1632. Here the Spanish signed their surrender to the liberation army after the Batalla de la Tablada. The garden serves as a mirador (lookout) of Tarija and its dramatic backdrop of brown mountains.

d) Mirador Loma San Juan

Tarija Travel Guide, Bolivia

This park area above the tree-covered slopes of the Loma de San Juan provides a grand city view and is a favorite with smooching students. Climb uphill to the end of Calle Bolívar, then turn right behind the hill and follow the footpath up the slope that faces away from the city.

e) Castillo Moises Navajas

Tarija Travel Guide, Bolivia

The exterior of this oddly prominent and deteriorating private mansion (Castillo de Beatriz, Bolívar E-644) is worth a look for its garish blueand- white striped bananas in pyjamas extravagance. It is still inhabited but is occasionally open for informal tours.

5. Around Tarija.

a) Represa San Jacinto

Tarija Travel Guide, Bolivia

If you are hot in Tarija and after some aquatic refreshment, go to the 1700-hectare reservoir, 6km southwest of town. There is a tourist complex with little cabañas (cabins), a restaurant serving dorado (a delicious local fish) and a place to rent canoes or, if you feel the need for speed, jet-skis. Those who prefer more tranquil ways to enjoy themselves will delight in the nice walks along the shore and surrounding ridges.

Though billed as one of the biggest attractions of the region, its not, but it does make for a pleasant day-trip and is popular with chapacos on Sunday afternoons.

b) San Lorenzo

Tarija Travel Guide, Bolivia

San Lorenzo, 15km north of Tarija along the Tupiza road, is a quaint colonial village with cobbled streets, carved balconies, a church built in 1709 and a flowery plaza.

It is best known, however, as the home of one José Eustaquio Moto Méndez, the hero of the Batalla de la Tablada, whose home now houses the Museo Moto Méndez (9:00-12:30 and 15:00-17:00 Mon-Sat, 10:00-12:00 Sun).

His personal belongings have been left exactly as they were when he died. Méndez left everything he owned to the people of Tarija.

The popular Fiesta de San Lorenzo takes place here on August 10 and features chapaco musical instruments and dancing.

After seeing the museum, head 2km north to the Capilla de Lajas, a delicate chapel of exquisite proportions and a fine example of colonial architecture. It was once the Méndez family chapel and remains in private ownership. Just to the north is the former home of Jaime Paz Zamora, with an adjacent billboard paying homage to the ex-president.

b) Padcaya

Tarija Travel Guide, Bolivia

Visiting Padcaya, south of Tarija, brings full meaning to the old saying that it is better to travel than to arrive, the route twisting its way through 45km of lovely mountainous desert with green river valleys. The town itself has a few old colonial buildings and is located in an area rich in fossils, meaning you are more likely to bump into a paleontologist than another tourist.

If you are up for something totally off the wall, check out the annual Fiesta de Leche y Queso in Rosillas, west of Padcaya. This festival of milk and cheese takes place during the last week of March and celebrates the vital contributions of local cows.

c) Chaguaya

Tarija Travel Guide, Bolivia

Chaguaya, 68km south of Tarija, is home to the pilgrimage shrine Santuario de la Virgen de Chaguaya. The Fiesta de la Virgen de Chaguaya begins on August 15; celebrations follow on the subsequent Sunday.

Alcohol is forbidden at this time. Pilgrims from all over Bolivia arrive during the following month, some making the trip on foot (including an annual procession from Tarija).

d) Reserva Biologica Cordillera del Sama

Tarija Travel Guide, Bolivia

The Sama Biological Reserve protects representative samples of both the Altiplano and the inter-Andean valley ecosystems. In the highland portion of the reserve (3400m above sea level), one can visit the Tajzara lakes, an important site for aquatic birds.

Temperatures in the highlands stay quite chilly year-round but are slightly more comfortable in the drier winter months (May to August). The best time to visit the lower elevations is in the summer, when it is warm enough to swim.

Tajzara SectionThe area known as Tajzara lies high on the cold and windy puna (high open grasslands) of western Tarija department. Here, several shallow flamingo-filled lagoons appear like jewels in the harsh Altiplano, vegetated only by thola (a small desert bush of the Altiplano) and paja brava (spiky grass of the high Altiplano). The New Agers of Tarija consider Tajzara to be a natural power site whilst the locals claim that the lakes are haunted by nocturnal spirit voices, and woe betide anybody that stays out after dark. The night air does produce some eerie voice-like cries, but unimaginative people ascribe the phenomenon to winds rushing through the thola.

Along the eastern shores of the lagoons, the wind has heaped up large arenales (sand dunes). An interesting climb takes you to the symmetrical peak of Muyuloma, which rises about 1000m above the plain. The summit affords views across the lagoons and beyond to the endless expanses of the southern Altiplano. The return climb takes the better part of a day.

Near the center of Tajzara visitors, there is an observatory where birdwatchers are able to spot the 45 resident species including three of the six flamingo species of the world, and horned and giant coots. Hikers can spend a very enjoyable six to eight hours on the wonderful Inca Trail as it descends 2000m to the valley below.

With luck, you may see vicuñas, condors or mysterious petroglyphs of unknown origin. Arrive the night before you intend to hike and bring food supplies with you.

Inter-Andean Valleys During the summertime, there are several places in the valley to go swimming in the rivers, including Tomatitas, Coimata and Chorros de Jurina.

1.- Tomatitas Tomatitas, with its natural swimming holes, three lovely rivers (the Sella, Guadalquivir and Erquis) and happy little eateries, is popular with day-trippers from Tarija. The best swimming is immediately below the footbridge, where there is also a park with a campground and barbecue sites. From here you can walk or hitch the 9km to Coimata.

From Tarija, turn left off the main San Lorenzo road. After less than 1km, you will pass a cemetery on the left, which is full of flowers and brightly colored crosses. Just beyond it, bear right towards Coimata.

2.- Coimata Once there, turn left at the soccer field and continue to the end of the road. Here you will find a small cascade of water and a swimming hole that makes a great escape, as lots of Tarijeño families can attest. There is also a choice of small restaurants serving misquinchitos and doraditos (fried local fish with white corn), as well as cangrejitos (small freshwater crabs). From this point, you can follow a walking track 40 minutes upstream to the base of the two-tiered Coimata Falls, which has a total drop of about 60m.

Another swimming hole and waterfall are found at Rincón de la Victoria, 6km southwest of Tomatitas in a green plantationlike setting. Instead of bearing right beyond the colorful cemetery, as you would for Coimata, follow the route to the left. From the fork, it’s 5km to Rincón de la Victoria.

3.- Chorros de Jurina The twin 40m waterfalls at Chorros de Jurina, 26km from Tarija, also make an agreeable destination for a day trip. Set in a beautiful but unusual landscape, one waterfall cascades over white stone while the other pours over black stone. In late winter, however, they may diminish to a mere trickle or even be dry.

The route from Tarija to Jurina passes through some impressive rural landscapes. From near the flowery plaza in San Lorenzo, follow the Jurina road, which turns off beside the Casa de Moto Méndez. After 6km, you will pass a school on the left. Turn left 200m beyond the school and follow that road another 2.5km to the waterfalls. From the end of the road, it is a five-minute walk to the base of either waterfall. The one on the left is reached by following the river upstream; for the other, follow the track that leads from behind a small house.

e) Reserva Nacional de Flora y Fauna Tariquia

Tarija Travel Guide, Bolivia

The lovely and little-known 247,000-hectare Tariquía Flora and Fauna Reserve (created in 1989) protects a large portion of cloud-forest and a smaller area of Polylepis woodland on the eastern slopes of the mountains of the department of Tarija. Ranging in altitude from 400m to 1500m, it houses rare animals such as the spectacled bear, as well as hundreds of bird species including the threatened rufous-throated dipper and the spectacular military macaw.

The only way to see this largely wild reserve is on foot, but hiking can be challenging in this remote area and is best done with a guide. The best time to visit Tariquía is during the dry winter months (May to September) when the climate is mild and river crossings are possible.

f) Valle de la Concepcion

Tarija Travel Guide, Bolivia

The Concepción Valley, or simply El Valle, is the heart of Bolivian wine and singani production. La Concepción still bears many picturesque colonial elements and the plaza sports some lovely endemic flowering ceibo trees.

To visit the wineries of the valley, contact the winery offices in Tarija. The Fiesta de la Uva (Grape Festival) is held here for three days in March, corresponding with the grape harvest.

El Valle lies off the route toward Bermejo; take the right fork at the tranca east of Tarija.

6. Tours and Activities in Tarija

a) Wineries Tours

Tarija Travel Guide, Bolivia

Tours to major wineries at Valle La Concepcion is highly recommended. Taste flavor of highest wines of the world.

7. Festivals and Events.

January 1: New Year 's Day.

February or March (changeable date): Carnival.

April (15-21): Anniversary of Tarija.

In keeping with its gaucho heritage, Tarija stages an annual rodeo in Parque Héroes de la Tablada, beginning on the departmental holiday. Rodeo Chapaco (April 15-21) includes all the standard cowboy events.

April (Changeable date): Easter.

Palm Sunday: The Saturday before Easter. People enter temples with branches which the clergy bless.
Holy Thursday: It is a tradition of the people to visit 12 temples of the city, one for each apostle, in this day.
Good Friday: Procession of the Holy Sepulchre.

June (Changeable date):

Corpus Christie: Commemoration of the Body of Christ.

August-September: San Roque.

The well-known Fiesta de San Roque of Tarija (August 16) gives thanks to the saint whose appearance supposedly marked the end of the plague and leprosy in the area. The main celebration, however, does not begin until the first Sunday of September and then continues for eight days. It features traditional musical performances and a colorful Chuncho (an indigenous tribe) procession in which the participants wear cover-all clothes traditionally worn by lepers. A statue of the saint is carried, his clothes being changed daily during the festival, and believers line the streets asking him to cure their ills of the family.

September 21: Day of Spring. Youth and Students of Bolivia.

October (2nd Sunday): Fiesta de las Flores.

The annual Fiesta de las Flores (2nd Sunday in October) is a religious celebration dedicated to the Virgin of Rosario. It begins with a procession, which sets off from the Iglesia de San Juan. Along the route, spectators shower participants with petals. The highlight of the day is a colorful fair and bazaar in which the faithful spend lavishly for the benefit of the Church.

November 1: Todos Santos (All Saints Day).

This is a pre-columbian tradition when the people go to visit the Tombs prepared at home by the relatives of the deceased and where the friends are offered the same food and drink liked by him.

November 2: Difuntos (Day of the Deceased)

The tombs are dismantled and the people celebrate in the memory of the deceased.

November 3: Alma Cacharpaya (Soul of the Calypsobreakers)

Those in charge of dismantling the tombs show up in the home of the deceased with an orchestra so that the soul of the deceased will be happy.

December 24 and 25: Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

8. Travel Companies and Tour Operators in Tarija.

VTB Tours (T. 6643372, Ingavi O-784) also runs trips to most sites of interest around the city and the region.

Sur Bike (T. 76194200) For quality biking and hiking with a knowledgeable guide in the surrounding hills and stunning countryside, try, which comes highly recommended by readers.

9. Hotels and Hostels in Tarija.

Hotel Salvador (Alejandro del Carpio # 840, Website).

Hostal del Carmen (Ingavi # O-784, Website).

Hotel Los Ceibos (Panamericana # 612, Website).

10. Restaurants and Bars in Tarija.

Club Social Tarija (T. 6642108, 15 de Abril # E-271, lunch only Mon-Fri) Old-fashioned almuerzos are the favorite of the loyal crowd of monthly meal-plan subscribers.

Serenata (Trigo) This palaparoofed restaurant is an atmospheric place to enjoy a great value almuerzo, which includes a salad bar and a drink.

Chingos (T. 6632222, Plaza Sucre) Juicy steaks are the name of the game at Chingos, specializing in hefty Argentine beef parrillada (barbecued or grilled) with all the standard trimmings – rice, salad and potatoes. Pizzas and chicken dishes are also available for a similar price. Delivery to hotels is for a nominal fee.

11. Getting There and Away.

Air Daily flights to La Paz, Sucre, and Santa Cruz from International Airport of Oriel Lea Plaza.

Bus The main bus terminal of Tarija is east side of the city.

  • La Paz-Tarija-La Paz: (750 Km paved and unpaved road) Daily departures at 19:00.
  • Oruro-Tarija-Oruro: (600 Km paved and unpaved road) Daily departures at 19:00.
  • Sucre-Tarija-Sucre: (605 Km paved and unpaved road) Daily departures at 18:00.
  • Potosi-Tarija-Potosi: (450 Km paved and unpaved road) Daily departures at 18:00.

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