An Insider's Guide to Cochabamba, Bolivia
Halfway between La Paz and Santa Cruz, chilled out Cochabamba is the perfect stopover for travelers moving between Bolivia’s western highlands and its tropical east. With a perfect year round climate, the tastiest food in the country and a number of interesting things to see and do, Cocha is well worth a day or two of your time.
Bus: Some of the many frequent departures include La Paz (8 hours, 50-100 BOB/US$7-15), Sucre (9 hours, 70-140 BOB/US$10-20), Oruro (5 hours, 28 BOB/US$4), Potosi (10 hours, 60-100 BOB/US$8.50-15), Santa Cruz (10 hours, 65-135 BOB/US$9.30-$19.30), and Tupiza (one afternoon departure which arrives in the morning, 100 BOB/US$15).
Minibuses to Torotoro leave from a different bus station when full between 6am and 6pm, costing 35BOB (US$5) and taking four hours.
Buses to Samaipata along the old highway leave in the mornings, cost 50 BOB (US$7) and take 13 hours.
Flight: Amazonas have direct flights to Santa Cruz starting at 276 BOB (US$39) one way. BoA offer several more destinations including La Paz from 240 BOB (US$36), Sucre from 239 BOB ($US34), Potosi from 302 BOB (US$43) and Tarija from 370 BOB (US$55).
Budget: Backpackers rave about Running Chaski for its central location, friendly staff, high quality bedding and sociable atmosphere. Dorm beds start from 75 BOB (US$11).
Running Chaski Hostel, Calle España, Cochabamba, Bolivia + 591 4 4250559
Mid range: A perfect mid range option for those looking for a bit more space is Apart Hotel Violettas. Just one block from the Prado (main street), it’s got a number of well-equipped apartments that work out to be excellent value for money when traveling in a group.
High end: Cochabamba has a number of swish hotels catering to well-heeled business travelers, but the city’s best luxury option is Hotel Aranjuez. This former colonial hacienda (country house) has been converted into an elegant 4 star boutique with rooms that overlook a lush garden. It gets rave reviews for its excellent amenities, service and charm.
Eating and Drinking
Clementina do the best burgers in the city which come with a variety of creative toppings and are served on delicious freshly baked homemade buns. With a relaxed, low key atmosphere and chic industrial style decor, it’s a great place for a casual yet delicious meal.
Clementina, Juan Capriles, Cochabamba, Bolivia +591 4 4252152
The best seafood in town can be found at Marvinos, a welcome respite in a city obsessed with meat. Although a little pricier than others places in town, Marvinos is still great value for the eclectic menu and sophisticated ambiance it provides.
La Cantonata is the place to go for pasta, although their steak and seafood are pretty good too. With an intimate candle lit atmosphere, white table cloths and waistcoat-wearing waiters, it’s particularly popular with locals looking for a romantic escape.
See and Do
Cristo de la Concordia: The city’s biggest and most famous landmark, this massive monument is the second largest statue of Jesus in the world, even bigger than Christ the Redeemer in Rio. The interior of this giant Jesus has a fully climbable set of stairs which is well worth the effort for the incredible views it affords. Get closer to God by either taking the cable car (10 BOB/US$1.50) or embarking on a thousand step trek up the mountain (just watch out for muggers along the way).
Simón I. Patiño Cultural Center: The city’s finest museum, this converted mansion was built in the 1930s by an obscenely wealthy tin mogul who once controlled more than half of the country’s total output. As you would expect, it is full of ostentatious displays of early 20th century wealth.
mARTadero: A must for art lovers, this performing arts center built in a converted slaughter house is the city’s creative epicenter. It puts on regular artistic performances and exhibitions, primarily with a focus on the Cochabamba’s youth.
Proyecto mARTadero, 27 de Agosto, Cochabamba, Bolivia +591 4 4588778
Quillacollo: Quillacollo is a small city just 20 minutes from downtown Cochabamba. Although it’s got some nice hot springs and hiking trails nearby, it is most interesting during the Fiesta de la Virgen de Urkupiña on August 15, widely considered to be one of Bolivia’s most colorful and lively festivals.
Punata: A small rural town just a short drive east of Cocha. It’s worth a visit on Tuesdays when an authentic weekly market brings it alive with a flurry of activity. Lots of livestock are on sale including llamas and alpacas.
Toro Toro: An epic national park packed full of canyons, dinosaur foot prints, caves and weird rock formations. Torotoro requires at least two days to explore as it is a four hour drive from the city.
Villa Tunari: An excellent off the beaten track alternative to Rurrenabaque, Villa Tunari’s attractions include jungle treks, white water rafting and an awesome nearby animal refuge which accepts volunteers. Again, it’s a few hours out of town so not really worth it for a day trip.