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Got a thing for wine? Then look no further than Tarija, Bolivia‘s premier grape growing region. As well as delightfully boozy vineyard tours, this characterful spot offers wonderful weather, sophisticated culture and a charmingly laid-back vibe, making it the perfect stopover for those traveling through southern Bolivia. Here’s everything you need to know.
Bus: Several daily buses leave to and from La Paz (18 hours, 100 BOB / US$15), Sucre (10 hours, 140 BOB/US$20) and Santa Cruz (14 hours, 90 BOB/US$13). Connections to Tupiza tend to travel overnight (7 hours,50BOB/US$20). Prices vary depending on the company and quality of service so it pays to shop around.
Those looking to travel to Argentina can take a colectivo (shared taxi) to the nearby border town of Bermejo, although there are some direct international connections too.
Plane: BoA offer direct daily flights to La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. Prices vary from US$75 to US$150 one-way, depending on destination and availability.
A trip to Tarija wouldn’t be complete without a tour of the region’s excellent wineries. Recommended even for those without a passion for vino, the wine growing valleys of nearby La Concepción are Tarija’s top attraction.
Most travelers opt for a 100 BOB (US$15) minivan tour which visits two industrial vineyards and the smaller boutique Casa Vieja over a period of four hours. Those on a budget or looking for a bit of adventure can visit the wineries by public transport or bicycle. While this option provides more independence, many of the vineyards open and close sporadically which can be problematic. Viva Tours are the best bet for organized winery tours.
Viva Tours, Calle Bolivar, Tarija, Bolivia, +591 65826498
Many travelers use Tarija as a place to relax, unwind, and enjoy some top-notch though reasonably priced food and drink. Its restaurant-lined plazas are perfect for chilling out and recharging the batteries after some long hard days on the road. That said, for travelers with itchy feet, there’s plenty to see and do in the region.
Casa Dorada: A restored mansion of a wealthy 19th century merchant, Casa Dorada is now a museum showcasing an extravagant collection of antique furniture. The exhibition provides a fascinating insight into the extreme opulence of Bolivia’s bourgeois of yesteryear.
Casa Dorada, Ingavi 0370, Tarija, Bolivia, +591 4 663420
El Castillo Azul: El Castillo Azul is a rather eccentric blue mansion in the middle of town that has played an important role in the city’s history. The building is currently inhabited by a wealthy local family and, if you believe the stories, some rather unwelcoming ghosts. Guided tours only happen every once in a while, so check with the tourist office on the main plaza if you want to take a look inside.
The San Jacinto Dam: Just south of town, this picturesque lake is best visited in the late afternoon as the sun starts to set. A number of basic lakeside restaurants serve descent Bolivian food including the local specialty, cangrejos, tiny little crabs that are eaten whole. Local fishermen row tourists around the lake for just a few dollars, but other than that, there’s not much too do but sit back with a bottle of wine and take in the views. Buses leave Tarija when full from Plaza Belgrano.
Tomaititas and Coimata Waterfalls: A pleasant respite from those hot sunny days, expect these waterfalls and swimming holes to be packed on weekends but empty during the week. Some 5 km (3.1 miles) northwest of town, they can be visited by jumping on a micro from the western part of Avenida Domingo Paz.
San Lorenzo: Some 15km (9.3 miles) north of Tarija lies the quaint, colonial era town of San Lorenzo. Once home to Eustaquio Mendez, a famous Bolivian war hero whose house is now a museum, the village of some 3,000 residents is a living example of small town Bolivian life. If possible, visit on Easter Sunday when the entire town is decorated in flowers and puts on a procession said to be the best Easter parade in the country. Buses to San Lorenzo leave from Domingo La Paz and JM Saracho when full.
Budget: Most backpackers make a beeline for Casa Blanca, a flashy yet affordable hostel complete with colorful pop-art paintings, a leafy central patio and regular BBQ and wine social nights. It’s even got an on-site pastry shop that is popular with both locals and guests alike. Dorms start at 70 BOB (US$10).
Hostel Casa Blanca, Ingavi, Tarija, Bolivia, +591 70213818
Mid-range: Hostal Carmen is an excellent mid-range option thanks to its clean, well decorated rooms, central location and great facilities including free buffet breakfast and WiFi. Doubles start at 350 BOB (US$50).
Hostal Carmen, Ingavi 784, Tarija, Bolivia, +591 4 6644341
High end: Those after a bit of resort style luxury need look no further than Los Parrales Resort Hotel. With a huge swimming pool, spa, gym and business facilities, it’s a great option for families and business travelers who’d like a little comfort.
Los Parrales Resort Hotel, Tarija, Bolivia, +591 4 6648444
With close proximity in both distance and culture to Argentina, it’s no surprise Tarija serves up some of the best grilled meat in Bolivia. Nowhere does it better than El Fogón del Gringo, whose juicy steaks are on par with those of their southern neighbor.
El Fogón del Gringo, Calle La Madrid, Tarija, Bolivia, +591 4 664 3399
For some of the best al fresco dining in Bolivia, pull up a chair at one of the restaurants on Tarija’s main plaza. Restaurante El Marques is always popular for it’s elegant 1920s-inspired decor and excellent selection of afternoon tea pastries.
Restaurante El Marques, La Madrid 330, Tarija, Bolivia, +591 4 6676080
Gattopardo Taberna is another great option on the plaza, serving up an exquisite selection of international dishes and snacks. It’s particularly popular with well-heeled local families who appreciate the excellent food, location and service.
Gattopardo Taberna, La Madrid, Tarija, Bolivia, +591 4 6630656
If you’re after somewhere to enjoy a drink on the weekend, then Pizza Pazza is the obvious choice. This intimate family run joint puts on boisterous live folkloric music shows on Friday and Saturday nights, with energetic bands whipping the locals into a frenzy well into the early hours. The pizza is pretty good too.
Macondo Pizza Pazza, Sucre, Tarija, Bolivia, +591 4 6663566