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Heaven and hell in Sucre, Bolivia

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Expectations: Most of the time, when I have high expectations for a place and a certain idea in my head of what it is going to be like, it doesn’t turn out that way at all. Sucre was one of these places for us. We had heard great things about the city – tales of scrumptious vegetarian food, a laid-back vibe, gorgeous architecture and finally: a town that wasn’t at 4,000m (13,100ft) altitude, which would make it much easier to enjoy the city and not being out of breath after just a few meters. Sucre was actually going to be the only city below 4,000m we’d visit in Bolivia. We couldn’t wait to get there.

Sucre BoliviaLike I said, Sucre didn’t turn out the way we expected though. Don’t get me wrong, the city does have all the neat features we were told about. It’s not Sucre’s fault at all that we had a hard time there. Quite the opposite – the city did everything it could to charm us, and our time there started out well – with pleasant strolls down the streets, along the pretty white houses and across the well-kept main plaza. It felt glorious not to be left breathless with every step like we were in Potosí (due to the altitude)– at least for the first few days. Later on, I could barely walk down the street.

Sucre Bolivia Historic CenterWe had both already felt sick in Potosí, and now that we were finally in a place where we could spend a few weeks catching up with work without ruining our laptops, we felt worse with each day we spent here. Did you know that laptops have a maximum operating altitude? We certainly didn’t, but it turned out that Sucre, at 9,220ft / 2,810meters was the only place in Bolivia where we were below the maximum operating altitude of our laptops (which is just under 10,000ft / 3,000meters). But that’s a topic for a whole other post.

In Sucre BoliviaWe loved our first couple of days in town when we were still able to wander the streets of the gorgeous historic center, which gives the city its fitting nickname – the White City, thanks to all the white buildings and churches. Founded by the Spanish in 1538, Sucre is laid out like most Spanish-colonial towns in Latin America, with a large main square and the streets around it organized in a grid.SucreThe whitewashed houses with their meticulously placed red roof tiles, the beautiful bright white churches and the palm trees lining the several town squares reminded me a lot of the little towns in Andalucia in Southern Spain.

Sucre Bolivia The White CityEven though Sucre is the constitutional capital of Bolivia (the government seat is La Paz), it felt more like a small provincial town, especially in the historic center. Beyond that, the newer parts of town are a bit more chaotic, less pretty and less white, and not as well preserved as the a UNESCO World Heritage site declared historic center, but still charming and safe to explore.

sucre tree-lined street boliviaAfter weeks of mediocre food (with few exceptions) and accommodations, we felt like we were in heaven in Sucre: enough vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants to make it hard on us to choose one for each meal, and a hostel that was pretty much perfect (a detailed review of Casarte Takubamba is can be found here), a movie theater with English-speaking movies just down the road from where we were staying, one of the cleanest markets we’d seen in South America thus far, and even good coffee (surprisingly, a rare find in most of Latin America!).

Sucre Bolivia MarketNot soon after arriving though, our sickness took a turn for the worse. We both knew that we had a stomach bug, and went to get some antibiotics in the pharmacy. Still not better after five days, we decided to go ahead and buy some parasite killers, having read too many horror stories about parasites contracted in Bolivia. Instead of feeling better, I still got worse. When I couldn’t drag myself out of bed until 3.30pm one day, I realized that I had to see a doctor. What followed was hell: Four days of twice-a-day treatments with IVs, antibiotics and injections in my butt, after being diagnosed with tonsillitis and a lung infection in my right lung in addition to my stomach bug. The doctor’s bill nearly made me faint, especially considering that we were in Bolivia (one of the cheapest countries in Latin America) – but the doctor, a business-savvy well-traveled elderly man who thought that every gringa had to be rich, took advantage of the miserable state I was in and added a not insignificant amount to his pension fund through our daily sessions.

Doctor SucreSucre could have been great, but being sick for so long dampened our mood and in the end we were both more than ready to leave. We still managed to visit the pleasant cemetery with its ornate mausoleums and grand tombs from the 18th and 19th century, a popular hang-out spot for young couples and students because of its peaceful feel.

Cemetery Sucre BoliviaWe saw a couple of movies at the cinema (on Wednesdays you get 2 tickets for 30BOBs/US$4.34! The cinema is in Calle Perez above the supermarket), and visited Simon Bolivar Park which was teeming with locals and stray dogs alike – we fell for one particular puppy there, and several other dogs we ‘met’ around town, adding to the number of times we were heartbroken because of a dog!

Dogs in SucreWe also walked up to the Recoleta Mirador for the lovely views over the city and enjoyed a couple of exquisite Saturday brunches at the Dutch café Flavour. However, we didn’t make it out to the Parque Cretacico, even though this dinosaur park with several preserved dinosaur footprints was high on the list of things we wanted to do in Sucre, and also skipped the many museums.

sucre view boliviaThe much anticipated excursion to Tarabuco, an indigenous village about 64 kilometers south west of Sucre famous for its Sunday market, was disappointing. We dragged ourselves on the bus out there even though we were still sick, but we didn’t find the market any more special than other markets (and not cheaper, either), and the locals didn’t seem particularly fond of the tourists.

tarabuco marketI think that if we had been both healthy and not fighting a horrible illness, we would have loved Sucre, and spent much longer there. For digital nomads like us, it is easy to rent cheap short-term apartments and for people who’d like to learn Spanish, Sucre is one of the most inexpensive places to do that in Latin America (if not the cheapest!), while offering all the amenities you might possibly need: a good mix of Western and Bolivian restaurants, plenty of coffee shops, and enough to see to keep you entertained for a while. When we traveled through Bolivia, we noticed though that lots of travelers were skipping Sucre, only visiting Lake Titicaca, La Paz and the Uyuni Salt Flats – but even though we had such a hard time in Sucre, we’d definitely recommend adding it to a Bolivia travel itinerary!

Bolivia Sucre

Our favorite foodie places in Sucre

  • El Germen – they have a big vegetarian selection and 20 BOBs (US$2.90) lunch deals
  • El Condor (vegetarian) for their 8 BOBs (US$1.16) tucumanas and sometimes the set lunch menus, depending on what they have (25 BOBs/US$3.62)
  • Flavour Café (very good Wi-Fi, could even Skype there!) – Great banana yogurt shake and Saturdays all-you-can-eat-and-drink brunches for 40 BOBs ($5.80)
  • Abis Patio (well working Wi-Fi, best cappuccino in town). They have a second branch right on the main square (Plaza 25 de Mayo)
  • Joyride Café has good ‘gringo’ food, and movies upstairs every night. The vegetarian filled potatoes were delicious (and the vegetarian salad).
  • El Tapado (good Bolivian food with some excellent vegetarian options, including a yummy quinoa black bean salad)

Sucre food and coffeeHave you been to Sucre? What were your favorite things about the Ciudad Blanca? Share in the comments below!

Tags : bolivia

30 Comments

  1. So sorry to read that you both got so terribly ill! I hope you’re all better now. All the same, from your pictures it looks like a beautiful and interesting place. I definitely won’t skip it when I make it to Bolivia after reading your thoughts on it. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Fanny – definitely don’t skip Sucre when you make it to Bolivia! I am sure you’ll enjoy it.. just stay away from salads to make sure you don’t get sick 😀

  2. Wow I had no clue laptops could get altitude sickness too. Okay I know it’s not called that, but you know what I mean. Can’t wait to read about that when y’all share it.

    As for being sick. I remember texting with y’all while y’all were going through that whole ordeal. I’m sorry y’all had to be sick in such a beautiful place. That happens though when you are sick no matter where you are it will damper the experience because you are not going to want to do anything.

    I am excited to go to Sucre though when I am down there.

    1. You’re warned about the laptop now, Jaime 😉 I think you’ll still love Sucre when you get there but I have a feeling that you’ll like La Paz more – it’s grittier 😀

    1. Oh, you were sick in Bolivia, too?? Also a stomach bug? You have to visit Sucre next time you’re in the area – why not extend your next stay in Argentina and hop over to Bolivia for a quick stint? 😉

    1. Thanks, Rachel! I guess I was lucky most of the time during our travels, at some point I had to get really sick 😉

  3. Such a shame you were so sick. We extended our four-week stay in Sucre to 7 weeks in the end because we liked it there so much. Oh and the papas rellenas at Condor café were just divine, weren’t they? 🙂

    1. Tammy – 7 weeks!! Wow! You must have gotten the city so well in that time 🙂 The papas rellenas were amazing – YES – but the tucumanas were my absolute favorite at Condor Cafe 🙂

  4. Aww no! I’m so sad you guys didn’t get the most out of Sucre – it’s been one of my favourite places in a year of South American travel. But I guess it can’t be for everyone – and being sick definitely takes the fun out of a city. Hope you guys are both better soon!

    1. Thanks, Flora! We had such high expectations for Sucre and were bummed that our time there didn’t turn out the way we hoped. Anyway, it’s still a gorgeous city and we’ve recovered from our sickness and I hope I’ll see the rest of South America in a healthy state 😀

    1. Yeah, the altitude limit for laptop was an interesting thing to learn – wish we would’ve found out about it earlier though!!

  5. I agree, Sucre could be an excellent digital nomad base…if the wifi in Bolivia were better! But yea, that must’ve sucked being so sick: boo! For good food, I would also add Cafe Monterosso at Padilla 70, which is an authentic Italian restaurant run by an Italian expat inside his house: you have to ring the bell and wait to enter, making it feel like a secret club!

    1. Sam – we actually went to Cafe Monterosso TWICE and both times nobody answered when we rang the bell 🙁 We were pretty frustrated about it – the restaurant had been recommended by several people and we were looking forward to some good Italian food 😀

  6. Hey girls, so sorry to hear you were sick in Sucre and that it was so expensive to get medical care! That’s definitely something we need to do research on and put on our site. Your photos are great (especially the ones of all the doggies!) and glad to see you got to try the tucumanas at Condor Cafe…we’ve eaten so many of them! Safe and happy travels 🙂

    1. Thanks, Brigid! Well, we were definitely ripped off by the doc, but that’s our own fault 🙁 Anyway, the fact that we still speak so highly of Sucre just shows what a fabulous city it is 🙂

  7. So lovely to read your story. I’m sorry you had a semi-crummy time. Sucre is one of my favorite cities and I find it sad that people skip it so much. I’ve placed a link to your article on my site. http://www.boliviabella.com – hoping that’s OK with you. Let me know.

  8. Its very sad to hear you guys didn’t enjoy Sucre beauty due to illness. Sucre sounds like a great place and i feel i will be heading there soon.

    1. Thanks, Ryan! Yes, it was a shame that we were ill but we were still able to do a few things in Sucre (and take some photos!), so it could’ve been worse 😀

  9. Really appreciate this newsy and detailed insight into a place I am dying to spend some time in. If I don’t get a job pretty soon I’ve decided to get a place there for 2-3 months to see if it might be a good place to do an early retirement in. That way I could tour around S.A. and still have a stable place to hang my hat. Thanks again for this info….and SO sorry you got sick. That’s SUCH a bummer when traveling….happened to me in Paris which cause me to miss a long awaited dinner reservation at the Jules Verne.

  10. While most of the comments are pretty old here, I just ran across your blog when googling Sucre. Thanks for sharing your experience. From all that I have read thus far, I intend to make it a place for my retirement, unless I find something more exciting and of course affordable.
    On another note, I have always wondered how people afford their trips for extended periods of time. I am always worried about the earnings. If I do not work, I will not get paid and then how or where will I get my food or money for basic utilities.

  11. I’m from Sucre, I’m sorry you got sick. I own a house here were foreign musicians regulary come and make some artistic projects in the city. The problem of tourist getting sick by the food and water is very common and the doctors take adventage with this. It is a shame. Anyway if anyone wants to come to visit the city we offer a place to stay in the center of town with no cost, just some language sessions (english or german) in echange.

  12. Been to Sucre many times going back again next month. Only got sick once – but this gringo carries drugs from his doctor … Which fixed me up. Sucre is a nice Town and I can stand the elevation. — Unlike the salt flats…. the altitude made us all sick.

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