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Cochabamba

Cochabamba, Bolivia

 

Where the Andes meet the Amazon

Travel to the crook of the “Andes Elbow” in central Bolivia and you’ll find the inter-Andean valleys of Cochabamba, a place of generous nature and vibrant Quechua culture.

Located right in the heart of Bolivia, halfway between the high Andes and the Amazonian plains, the city of Cochabamba enjoys a wonderfully warm, dry and sunny climate similar to that found in Mediterranean lands and it physically resembles parts of Spain or Southern California. It long held the status of being Bolivia’s second largest city but due to the recent push for economic development of the lowlands, those honors have been passed to Santa Cruz. The Cochabamba valley is also an important agricultural production center.

Cochabamba’s strategic geographic location puts it at the crossroads of all of Bolivia’s industrial transport routes. As a consequence, most highways leading in and out of Cochabamba make for excellent links with neighboring departments.

In spite of its 55,600 square kilometers, roughly the size of Belgium, the Department of Cochabamba has less than two million inhabitants.

 
Bougainvillea and Chicha

Cochabamba’s eternal spring climate invites us to relax in any number of plazas and parks after a stroll or bike ride through the city. From any of these vantage points, we can observe the mellow movement of the people over timeless streets or through historic markets like the Cancha.

The aromas of bougainvillea, jasmines, magnolias and jacarandas merge with the colors of typical markets, lush city parks and valley landscapes for a sensorial banquet.

Let’s not leave out the sense of taste. Cochabamba cuisine is esteemed throughout Bolivia, for its rustic style, its hearty soups, with its typical dishes served in exotic restaurants and accompanied by the omnipresent chicha.

Chicha is the authentic expression of the culture of corn that dates back to the Inca period. This drink of fermented corn is found throughout the region and has its parallel in the pulque of the central valley of Mexico. For both farm and urban workers, no social event can be celebrated without chicha. Together with locoto hot pepper, the national condiment, chicha is inseparable from the traditions and folklore of Cochabamba.

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The name ‘Cochabamba’ is derived by joining the Quechua words cocha and pampa, the lake on the plain. The city occupies a fertile green bowl, 25 km long by 10 km wide, set at a comfortable altitude (2,570 m / 8,472 ft) amid a landscape of low hills. To the north-west rises 5,035-metre Cerro Tunari, the highest peak in Bolivia east of the Altiplano region.

Due to its strategic location, Cochabamba is accessible from virtually anywhere in Bolivia.

click here to openCochabamba – Background Information

The rich soil of the area yields abundant crops of corn, oats and wheat, flowers, orchard and citrus fruit, and a milk industry that supplies a large part of the country. Whatever industrial activity does exist is also centered around textiles, vehicle assembly and mechanics, and construction materials such as heat-proof bricks and ceramics. A small European population inhabits Cochabamba and environs but a large percentage of the people are of pure Indian extraction.

The region was absorbed by the Kollasuyu Inca Empire during the 15th century (Inca Pachacutec) before being colonized by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century.

The city was founded in 1574 by Sebastian de Padilla, named Villa de Oropeza in honor of the Counts of Oropeza, related to Viceroy Francisco Toledo, who had promoted the founding of a city at this site.

During the heydays of Potosí’s silver boom, the Cochabamba Valley developed into the primary source of food for the miners in that agriculturally unproductive area. Cochabamba came to be known as the ‘breadbasket’ of Bolivia thanks to its abundant production of fruit, vegetables, and especially cereals.

Today Cochabamba remains an important agricultural region but the sustainability of such massive agriculture is in doubt, given the lengthy droughts that have been partially caused by ungoverned clearing of forests. Now as even more productive areas are found in the lowlands, Cochabamba’s economical importance is declining. Yet the region today offers a host of historical, archaeological and natural attractions.

Cochabamba deserves its unofficial title of “Garden City”. Set in a bowl of rolling hills, its inhabitants enjoy an average temperature of 18ºC. Its parks and plazas are a riot of color – from the striking purple of the bougainvillea to the subtler tones of jasmine, magnolia and jacaranda.

Though much new building is taking place throughout the city, especially in the shape of shiny new high-rise blocks of offices and apartments in the north, the center retains much of its colonial character. There are many fine churches and streets lined with old colonial houses with overhanging eaves, balconies, wrought-iron windows and cool patios behind huge carved wooden doors. To the south of the main plaza are a wide range of colorful markets, which only add to the feeling that Cochabamba is more of an overgrown village than a modern urban center.

Cochabamba’s 2,570 meters above sea level are neither high enough for extremes of cold nor low enough for extremes of heat. This ideal location plus its more than 200 days of sun per year earn Cochabamba the nickname “Valley of Eternal Spring”. Thus Cochabamba’s climate is its best “raw material” for the development of tourism in the region. But Cochabamba has much more to offer than its Mediterranean climate. Both city and the region contain many attractions virtually ignored by the conventional tourist industry, the secret domain of a minority of hip travelers.

The region’s economic activity has caused the city to expand both in size and vitality. Cochabamba’s progress is evident in its numerous cafes and stylish restaurants along Paseo del Prado, a beautiful avenue lined with palm trees which after sundown transforms into the city’s prime spot for night life. Modern residential and commercial neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city are replete with luxurious homes whose architecture blends with profuse floral designs reflecting the great variety of local flowers.

 

Cochabamba has modernized notably in the past decade but without losing a significant portion of its original rural and colonial flavor. With this modernization one gets the comforts and facilities expected in a large city, including quality hotels for all different budgets and restaurants with a wide variety of foods.

As a contrast, the city center maintains its colonial residential style. The main square itself, Plaza 14 de Septiembre, proudly preserves its archways, whose secular colonial atmosphere remains unperturbed by the 19th and 20th century structures in the immediate vicinity.

A few blocks from the main plaza, the typical Cancha market, perhaps the largest of its type in Bolivia, is the soul of Cochabamba’s people. Here one finds an abundance and variety of the region’s produce, a remarkable feast for the eyes, ears, and sense of smell. Among the multitude of articles for sale are the ubiquitous indigenous crafts, including musical instruments, pottery and high quality textiles often not available in La Paz’s tourist stores.

Cochabamba empanadas

The city of Cochabamba is attractive enough on its own, but things get even more picturesque as we visit colonial and indigenous villages outside the city, such as Tarata, Arani and Totora. Ask us for guidance.

click here to openNearby Attractions – the Cochabamba Valley

This whole region was inhabited by various ethnic indigenous groups beginning a thousand years before Christ, and from later periods one finds Inca and pre-Inca archaeological sites at various points scattered throughout the department. The ruins of Incallajta, east of the city, are among the most noteworthy. (See “Pre-Colombian Ruins” in the following section.)

The word winthu, from the Quechua language, is the given name for the foothill region where the Cochabamba valley begins. In the small village of Vinto, 16 kilometers from the city, peasants from the region arrive each Monday to sell their products at agricultural and crafts fairs. South of Vinto and 30 kilometers from Cochabamba is the area of Suticollo and Sipe-Sipe, famous above all for its orchards and vineyards. Through fermentation of grapes, a typical beverage called guarapo is produced. The guarapo flows freely during the Sunday peasant fair.

A half hour from the city in the foothills of the Tunari mountain range is the Taquiña beer factory. Both the beer and the panoramic view of the valley from a nearby restaurant make this a worthy trip. This site is at the foot of the Tunari Regional Park, whose pine forest and native vegetation is protected in order to prevent erosion and improve the climate and scenery of the valley.

Continuing towards the peak of Tunari, one encounters the villages of El Paso and Tiquipaya, where flower production is the main source of income.

In the same direction is the small city of Quillacollo, famous for its Fiesta de la Virgen de Urkupiña (August 14-15), the region’s most important religious celebration. Dance groups, musicians and yatiris (Aymara priests) arrive from other parts of the country to participate.

The Virgin of Urkupiña, just as her counterpart in Copacabana near Lake Titicaca, is a synthesis of the Virgin Mary and the Pachamama. More than 200,000 pilgrims arrive on this occasion to pick up stones (yes, stones!) for, according to their popular belief, fragments of the mountain will bring them happiness and prosperity during the year.

A few kilometers from Quillacollo into the mountains is a small paved highway leading to Pairumani. Along the way is Villa Albina. At the turn of the twentieth century, this mansion was the summer residence of the tin magnate Simon Patiño. Today it serves as a center for agricultural and botanical research, sponsored by the Patiño Foundation. Little by little, the dead Patiño gives back to Bolivia what he mercilessly extracted when he was alive.

Then there are Cliza and Punata, two ancient sites that still produce chicha, “the elixir of the Incas”. Cliza holds a Sunday peasant fair with typical foods. Punata’s fair is held on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Tarata has managed to conserve much of its colonial architecture. Its main church, the San Pedro temple on the plaza, is well worth a visit for its beautiful antique organ. Within the old church of the Franciscan convent are relics of the martyr San Severino, the “Rain Saint”, whose festival is celebrated on the last Sunday in November. A few kilometers from here, unique pottery is found in the village of Huayculli.

Arani is the provincial capital and the site of the celebration of one of the Cochabamba valley’s most important religious festivals, the veneration of the Virgin La Bella. The village church is a stunning example of colonial architecture. The village fair and crafts market is held every Thursday.

In the surrounding region of Condor Huachacana are magnificent clusters of Puya Raimondi, a giant bromeliad whose growth and flowering endures for more than a hundred years. Its amazing growth cycle, its imposing proportions and its special living conditions on volcanic slopes make the puya one the most fascinating examples of Bolivian flora.

These villages are characterized by their typical imagery: colonial roof tiles, adobe walls built into the mountains, and the transparent sky of the Cochabamba valley, the inspiration for many landscape painters.

All these sites are available on our tours for people who don't like tours.

 

 

click here to openPre-Columbian Sites around Cochabamba

The visit to Cochabamba’s Archaeological Museum is the point of departure for exploring some of the pre-Columbian ruins of the region.

Among these easily accessible sites are the ruins of Inkaracay (“Ruins of the Inca” in Quechua), only 25 kilometers from the city. Although the structures are not monumental in size, they’ve survived the onslaught of time and allow for an appreciation of construction techniques, with their wide walls of finely carved stones perfectly adjusted each one to the other. More than twenty different structures of distinct sizes, from two to 120 square meters, were situated on levels above a hectare surface on the top of a hill. The vestiges of a great stone wall suggest that this was a defensive fortress.

A little more than 120 kilometers from Cochabamba are the ruins of Inkallajta (“Land of the Inca” in Quechua), never discovered by the Spaniards. Buildings in the “rural Inca” style were built by the Inca Tupac Yupanki between 1460 and 1470, as a defensive fortress and granary.

The main palace is 80 meters in length by 27 meters in width, the largest single Inca structure discovered to date. In spite of its enormous dimensions, it is very likely that this building had a roof. Not far from this point, another palace might have served as a center for weaving, pottery and food storage. Surrounding the main buildings are several dwellings and granaries, as well as a small astronomy observatory.

Inkallajta was a well-protected site, as evidenced by several structures in the form of military quarters. In spite of its forts, though, this city suffered significant deterioration as a consequence of the attacks from Guarani tribes in 1525.

Paracti, only 82 kilometers from Cochabamba on the way to the deep tropical gorges of Carrasco National Park (see below), is an interesting trout hatching center, but its most imposing attraction is  Inkachaca or “Inca Bridge”, a beautiful natural gorge and waterfall zone at 1,065 metres above sea level, once occupied by the Incas.

Set amid the Yungas vegetation, the crystal clear waters of the Alisu Mayu River slide sideway, thus eroding the rocky bed and creating gorges, tunnels, underground falls and rock formations. The waterfalls springing from rocky crags and high hills lead to impressive semi-subterranean cascades which form natural pools of crystal clear waters such as Baño de la Ñusta.

There are several other ancient remains that are easily accessible from Cochabamba. These include archaeological sites at Cotapachi and Colcapirhua to name just a few, just south of Quillacollo, some 20 km away from the city.

Here you will visit stunning Inca dig sites and restored qollqas – Incan maize silos used to store the harvests and provide food for the population and the imperial army. This was the site of at least 2,400 corn storage silos once and may have been one of the largest granary of the Inca Empire. Their stone bases still remain, and 23 replicas have been built on the original Incan stone foundations.

Ask us for a visit to the pre-Columbian sites around Cochabamba here.

 

 

Protected Areas around Cochabamba


Toro-Toro National Park


Toro-Toro is a valley suspended at 2,700 meters above sea level. It is surrounded by mountains towering above 3,500 meters and slashed through by deep gorges that make it look like a huge fortress. Geological evolution has sculpted a terrain of great undulations and eroded folds in the shape of an inverted heart. No one can remain indifferent before such an unusual sight. Toro-Toro is located 140 km to the south of Cochabamba, and is accessible by a 5-hour bumpy ride, or by a 25-minute charter flight.

The Toro-Toro region was declared a National Park in 1989 and covers 16,570 hectares. Although it is relatively small, it constitutes a distinct and homogeneous geographic and ethnic unit.

click here to openMore about Toro-Toro National Park

Toro-Toro is a privileged site for scientific research

Dinosaur footprints along with fossils of turtles, sea shells and algae have been discovered here. If that’s not enough to get you on a 5-hour road trip, consider Toro-Toro’s numerous cave paintings and archaeological remains. Some of its fossil sites have yet to be studied and surprises are still to be found. Paleontologists estimate that these sites may be even more important than their counterparts in Sucre. (See Sucre in this website.)

The arid terrain of the region becomes enchanting with its magical caves and canyons. A sundry array of hobbyists and professionals will be attracted by the region, including geologists, paleontologists, archaeologists, botanists, spelunkers, canyoning aficionados, hikers, sports trekkers, architectural historians and ethnomusicologists. Tourism related to science, wilderness adventures, and cultural discoveries can be organized within the requirements for minimum impact upon the environment and local cultures, and including the participation of local peoples in support of the Park’s mission.

Working in coordination with the Park administrators, rural communities and scientists, we have developed several tourist projects that should interest a diverse array of visitors. Our operations department will help you plan alternative ways to visit the region.

Selected travel alternatives

• Homestays with the local population, with day-long excursions to the nearby caves, canyons and fossil beds.

• Hiking across the park and camping along the way.

• Encounters with peasants, sharing experiences and ideas, cultural encounters, housing in native dwellings, craft demonstrations.

• Religious festivals, in particular July 25 in Toro-Toro.

• Nature and science tours, including botany, ornithology, geology, paleontology, and archaeology.

• Sporting adventure, including spelunking, canyoning, trekking.

• Study trips relating to inter-Andean valleys, prevention of deforestation and erosion, and rural development.

This whole region is scattered with dinosaur tracks, turtle, marine and algae fossils, and unusual geological formations. Caverns, canyons and springs from subterranean rivers make the region even more imposing. But any excursion through this region requires the traveler to be in good physical condition. Also required are scientific guides and a Park permit for visiting geological and fossil sites. Our offices can complete the paperwork for these permits.

Consider that all sites within the Toro-Toro region are particularly fragile and have not been completely explored. We ask that groups visiting the Park share all data compiled, which can serve to complement existing scientific and topographic research and nature inventories.

Our Toro-Toro adventure trips are available on demand and all trips are fully customizable.

 

 


Amboró-Carrasco Conservation Unit


This “natural island” of more than 12,000 square km is sandwiched between 800,000 citizens of the city of Cochabamba to the west and more than a million citizens of Santa Cruz to the east.

Amboró and Carrasco, adjacent national parks measuring more than 1.5 million acres (6,000 sq km) apiece, make up this protected area. It is at the far eastern end of some 7 million acres (30,000 sq km) of Bolivian yungas with steep slopes to the north and low hills to the south.

Ancient volcanoes and prominent sandstone formations have eroded to form deep canyons. Dominant features of the continent converge here: the Andes to the south and west, the Amazon to the north, the Chaco flatlands to the east and the Brazilian Shield/Chiquitania to the northeast.

click here to openMore about Amboró-Carrasco National Park

For many the idea of exploring an untouched junglescape is but a distant dream; however, a three hour drive east from Cochabamba will take the adventurous tourist into one of the most pristine and, as of yet, unspoiled tropical habitats in the world.

The Amboró-Carrasco Conservation Unit is made up of two legally established parks – Amboró National Park and Carrasco National Park. Together they cover an area of over 1.2 million hectares (3.1 million acres), ranging from 300 to 4,700 meters above sea level.

This protected area is located in the tropical zone known as the “Elbow of the Andes”, where the Eastern Cordillera ends its temporary westward course to regain a north-south axis.

The area is characterized by its endless “edges,” a result of the abrupt topography, such as where the Andes meet the Amazon. The varied altitudinal range also creates an orographic effect that helps form many diverse micro-climates that harbor a stunning diversity of flora and fauna.

Easily accessible from Cochabamba is the Carrasco portion of the reserve (i.e. Carrasco National Park), while Santa Cruz is the gateway to the Amboró portion (i.e. Amboró National Park).

Overall, the park’s climate is warm and humid, but it includes high-altitude mountains and semi-arid highlands towards its southern border. The park’s most important river basins are those of the Chimoré, Ichilo, San Mateo and Ivirizú rivers in the Chapare province.

Amboró-Carrasco Conservation Unit is subjected to severe direct and indirect pressures and threats, jeopardizing its medium- to long-term viability, including illegal settlements and land invasions, agriculture, timber extraction, hunting and fishing, oil drilling.

However the reserve hosts an incredible variety of flora and fauna. Because of its unique geographical locations, both highland and lowland species are frequent visitors. The spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus) and jaguars, hundreds of orchid varieties, the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), many of South America’s bird species, and timber species such as mahogany all find a home in Amboró-Carrasco.

Because the park straddles so many different ecosystems, the animal population is extremely diverse. Perhaps most impressive is the huge number of birds that inhabit the area including such rarities as horned curassows, quetzals, cock-of-the-rocks (found almost exclusively in Bolivia), and the more frequent chestnut-fronted macaws and Cuvier toucans. Recent studies place the number of bird species at 448 in Carrasco alone, though many species have, as of yet, not been clearly identified.

The plant species count has already passed the 3,000 mark, including 600 fern species and at least 300 orchid species apiece, many of them endemic to the area. (Scientists estimate some 2,000 types of orchids grow throughout Bolivia.) One can find many trees valued for their fine wood such as the Mara (Swielenia), palms like the Chonta (Astrocaryum), and limited forests of giant fern and bamboo.

Most mammals native to Amazonia are also represented. They include capybaras, peccaries, tapirs, several species of monkey such as howlers and capuchins, jungle cats like the jaguar, ocelot and margay, and the increasingly rare, spectacled bear, the only species of bear found in South America.

Scientists are still researching Carrasco, where 382 animal species have been catalogued thus far.

Since ancient times, several different cultures have inhabited the area. The ruins at Inkachaca and other sites scattered across the park attest of the presence of a number of Inca settlements. The area also features a network of prehispanic roads, in particular in the parts of the park known as the Yungas de Vandiola and Yungas de Arepucho.

Today, the park’s human population, which is mainly of Quechua and Aymara origin from the country’s high plains (Altiplano), is essentially distributed along the two main roads following the northern and southern borders, and which connect the cities of Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.

Perfect for nature lovers, Carrasco National Park offers beautiful sceneries of lush vegetation, waterfalls and mountains. It also features Inca Ruins, caves and a wealth of natural resources of course. In particular the park is a haven for bird enthusiasts.

The mountainous landscape of the Carrasco National Park is comprised of deep canyons, gentle valleys, waterfalls and rivers. One of the main objectives of the park is to conserve its biological diversity, specifically the humid cloud forests and highland ecosystems. It also aims to regulate the use of natural resources by the protected area’s residents while improving their living conditions.

Carrasco National Park is featured in our short and customizable Essential Cochabamba trip (see option #2).

 

 

Cochabamba is located in the central part of Bolivia.

Altiplano

Through our intimate, small-group tours and private expeditions in this area you will be able to visit sites most tourists, even seasoned travelers, never find.

Join us on a discovery of a lifetime in Cochabamba.

Check our selected excursions in this area:

ESSENTIAL COCHABAMBA — 4 days

Cochabamba & Inter-Andean Valleys
{ short bolivia excursion - fully customizable }

The following packages also include this area
among other destinations.

ARTS & CRAFTS OF BOLIVIA — 13 days

Santa Cruz / Cochabamba / Sucre / La Paz
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

BOLIVIA ANDES & AMAZONIA — 15 days

La Paz / Cochabamba / Trinidad / Santa Cruz
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

Feel free to customize any travel package according to your own personal interests and the specific activities you expect...

Join us on one of our Natural History Tours or a Cultural Exploration into the heart of South America. Our programs are offered throughout the year, on a (very) small group basis and mostly in private.

You may also want to make an enquiry or design your own program of activities in this area.

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You may also check other Special Interest Travel and unusual tours or expeditions around Bolivia, including:

• La Paz, Tiwanaku, Lake Titicaca
• Uyuni Salt Flats & Sud Lípez Red & Green Lagoons
• Colonial Cities of Sucre and Potosí
• Central, Inter-Andean Valleys of Cochabamba
• Santa Cruz - the Lowlands & Jesuit Missions
• Bolivian Rainforests & Amazon Basin
• Cuzco & Machu Picchu Extensions

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