Being on the road for six months and spending a few days in one place, before moving on to the next, can become a little tiring. Pangs of some kind of normality were getting stronger and stronger.
Good thing for us, arriving in Sucre meant that normality was about to become reality, as there was a three level house up on La Recoleta waiting for us. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen, laundry, living room, satellite television, fast wifi and a fab little roof terrace overlooking the city. It so happened that we were here for New Years, so having our own private terrace to watch the fireworks over the city was a bonus.
Two weeks of living like locals, Dean learning Spanish and me heading to the markets almost every day to pick up ingredients, exploring and playing catch-ups with the blog.
The White City of Sucre, named for obvious reasons, was founded by the Spanish in 1538 as Ciudad de la Plata de la Nueva Toledo (Silver Town of New Toledo). They laid it out like most gridded Spanish-colonial towns in Latin America, with a main plaza at its centre and many well-preserved 16th-century religious buildings peppered throughout.
White stucco, adobe walls, terracotta tiles, potted flowers and cobbled streets. It’s seriously photogenic stuff. Let’s not forget those steep streets that, despite its lower altitude of 2,810 m / 9,220 ft compared to lofty Potosí, can still take the breath out of you.
Step outside the UNESCO listed Centro Històrico and things begin looking, and feeling, more like your typical Latin American city. Off comes the pristinely white outfit to reveal a gritty, grotty and frantic mountain city.
So what is there to do in Sucre?
Let’s start with Plaza 25 de Mayo in Centro Històrico. This beautifully manicured, leafy space attracts just about everyone. You can sit, enjoy the fresh air, grab a bite or drink from one of the vendors, or simply marvel at the utterly beautiful buildings that surround it.
Catedral Metropolitana de Sucre (third pic), Palacio de la Perfectura de Chuquisaca (second pic), Casa de la Libertad (fifth pic) – just to name a few. Even the smaller, less significant buildings around the square are beautiful.
Facing the plaza is this airy little heladería named Sucre. If it’s ice cream you want, it’s ice cream you’ll get, and if you’re after something a tad unusual, you can probably find it here too.
How about black beer ice cream topped with sugared peanuts or maybe rice pudding ice cream topped with meringue?
Grab an espresso, if that doesn’t float your boat, or an affogato, like I did.
Sucre, 41 Plaza 25 de Mayo
While we’re on the coffees, you can always drop into Metro Cafe on the east corner of the plaza. Tuck into a Cubano, some Hungarian goulash, delicious sushi or Oreo cheesecake and take advantage of the free wifi.
Oddly, the centre of the cafe becomes a smoking area during a designated time of the day. Not sure where management thinks the smoke vanishes to, but the non-smoking diners right next to it are probably scratching their heads, trying to understand the logic and why their food suddenly tastes like an ashtray.
Metro Cafe, Daniel Calvo 2
For somewhere that is smoke-free, head one block up the road and choose from their breakfast menu, sandwiches, papas rellenas, soup or even pan au chocolat. The menu is entirely vegetarian, their coffee beans come from Coroico in the Nor Yungas Province, and if you book with their tour company, 100% of the profits go to local and regional social projects.
Oh, and try their cheese empanada. Despite being filled with air, it’s enormous, tasty and the perfect thing to tear into whilst sipping on something hot.
Cafe Condor, Daniel Calvo 102
The busiest part of Centro Històrico would have to be the area around Mercado Central. Colectivos speed down Ravelo and fill the street with choking black fumes, cars tear around corners with no concern of hitting pedestrians and people dart all over the place getting from one place to another.
The market itself is a hotpot of fresh produce, meat, seafood, drygoods, eateries, juice bars and fresh flowers. More on that via this link.
Mercado Central, Junín & Ravelo
On the streets around the market you can find a bunch of daytime street vendors selling a variety of street food. Salteñas, fruit salads, juices, pork buns, fried pastries and plenty of sweet treats.
How about these tocinollos? It’s basically a vanilla or coconut ice cream sprinkled with coconut. Highly sweet, cold and very refreshing in that hot Sucre sun.
Things to see and do in Sucre.
Spending a longer period of time in Sucre gave us a chance to get out and see different parts of the city. As much as I like Centro Històrico, it’s often overrun with too many people and too much traffic.
For a slightly different scene, there’s Avenida de las Americas (above pic) just outside the main centre. During the day, this leafy seven-block avenue is a little on the sleepy side, although there are some local lunchtime restaurants that may be worth looking into.
The strip comes alive at night with more eateries opening their doors, plus bars and many clubs. I’m not sure what the story is with the dinosaur phone booths – maybe a nod to the dinosaur park outside town – but let’s just say it gives the avenue some character.
For some of the best views in town, there’s none other than Plaza Pedro de Anzúrez up at La Recoleta. Originally part of the Convent of La Recoleta, the plaza features a stone fountain at its centre and a beautiful cloister on its western perimeter.
Here you’ll find a few people selling vintage maps, art and jewellery, and even more tourist tat down towards the street. The real attraction, though, is that stunning outlook the cloister provides.
Many choose to sit beneath the arches, but a few steps down take you onto a lower terrace strewn with shaded tables and chairs with that same view over the city’s terracotta roofs and white buildings. They do breakfast, coffee, pizza, pasta and a few sandwiches and platters.
Cafe Gourmet Mirador, top of Pantaleón Dalence, Polanco & Iturricha
The house we lived in on Polanco was merely metres from La Recoleta, which was very convenient for my mid-morning espressos. At the other end of the street is Mercado Santa Ana, a neighbourhood market that saved me walking downtown when I needed some ingredients.
The small hexagonal building houses a few fruit and veg vendors, a couple of butchers and some groceries on the ground floor. The top floor is an eatery that opens mid-morning until mid-afternoon, with six tiny kitchens cooking up one or two different dishes.
A menu board at the entrance displays the days offerings, so it’s a matter of deciding what you want, finding which kitchen makes it, then placing your order.
There’s a drinks lady ladling mystery juices into glass mugs, if you need some refreshments, but I was fine with my negada de pollo y carne (11). It’s basically a hearty chicken, beef and potato stew with rice, and at $2, you can’t complain about it breaking the budget!
Mercado Santa Ana ‘Recoleta’, corner Polanco & Iturricha
A cemetery generally isn’t a place people visit to relax, get away from things and enjoy the surroundings. Not the case with Sucre’s main cemetery, which was first built in 1777 and then modified in the 19th century.
It’s grand neoclassical entrance on Linares leads you into some of the most beautiful gardens you’ll see in Sucre, with mature trees, box hedges and huge topiaries that give the feeling you’re in some kind of classic English garden.
People meander and socialise on the shaded paths, sit on benches reading books and kids run around and play. It’s probably the most serene place I found in Sucre.
There are, of course, multiple blocks of niches that hold caskets; many of which even have awnings to protect the fresh flowers inside from wilting in the intense sun. Many freestanding mausoleums cover the site, and if you take the time to read some of the tombstones and plaques, you learn that ex-presidents and historic figures rest here.
Cementerio General, José Manuel Linares
Between 2-2.30 and 6pm Mon-Sat, the convent of San Felipe de Neri opens its doors to visitors wishing to see its stunning interiors and courtyard.
Here you can wander the glossy arched corridors in the two-level cloisters, stop to enjoy the beautiful 18th and 19th century paintings, and visit the tombs of archbishops and other notables in the crypt.
The main draw here, though, is the view from the roof terrace and bell towers. It’s from up here that you really get a sense of why Sucre is known as the White City.
Entry is via the door marked “Maria Auxiliadora”, and the cost is 10Bs.
Convento San Felipe de Neri, Nicolás Ortiz 165
Diagonally opposite the old convent is La Merced, which recently underwent some extensive restoration work. What a fine job they’ve done, as its interior is truly jaw dropping.
It’s three intricate naves are bound to make you stop and gawk in wonder, and if you walk up the stairs, you can see it from a higher perspective at the same level as those gorgeous chandeliers.
Take some more stairs upwards and you end up on the roof, with views that rival those from the top of the convent.
Entry is 10Bs from 10am-noon & 3-5pm Mon-Fri.
Templo de La Merced, corner Ortiz & Azurduy
After all the strenuous sightseeing, you’re bound to need some kind of refreshments. Well, the good thing is that those are merely minutes from San Felipe de Neri and La Merced.
Conveniently located on the same street is Plaza Restaurante where, if you’re lucky enough to nab one of the balcony tables, you can enjoy views over Plaza 25 de Mayo across the street.
There’s a full menu of local and international edibles, but if it’s only drinks you’re after, that’s fine, as well.
Plaza Restaurante, Plaza 25 de Mayo 34
It may be a tad over-priced and touristy, but Joy Ride seems to rake them in. This bar and restaurant wants to be a little bit of everything. Thai, French, American, Swedish, Japanese, Chinese and more.
They do breakfast, espresso, tea and what we were here for – beer. There are plenty of seating options, so take your pick, settle in and enjoy the multinational menu.
Joy Ride Restaurant, Nicolas Ortiz 14
There isn’t a great deal going, food-wise, up at La Recoleta other than the cafe at the mirador, a hotel restaurant and this relatively new restaurant.
Sit in the cosy front room or out the back in the leafy terrace, take advantage of the 40Bs set lunch or choose from the menu. It’s a bit of a mixed bag of options like grilled chicken with passionfruit, spaghetti carbonara, nachos, pique macho, teriyaki, ceviche and much more.
La Recoleta, Calle Polanco 102
If chicken and chips is the go – something that’s really popular in these parts – then head downtown and try to score a table at this smoky little eatery. And I mean smoky in a good way.
No extensive menu here, just grilled chicken and hand cut chips. It’s delicious, generous and those pickled onions and peppers and spicy llajua sauce are perfect accompaniments.
Curiosity got the better of me when I spotted the cooler box and glasses at the entrance. This is mocochinchi, a chilled, mulled drink made from dried whole peaches, sweetened and spiced with cinnamon. Very refreshing stuff.
Dinner for two, including a mocochinchi costs just shy of 60Bs. Bargain.
Pollos a la Brasa “El Oriental”, España 147
La Taverne comes up as being one of Sucre’s top restaurants, and we’re kind of not surprised. Excellent steaks, seafood, really good wine and top notch service you don’t see much of in Bolivia.
It’s candle lit, very cosy, a touch on the romantic side and takes residence in a beautiful old building just metres from the plaza. A perfect location to celebrate our 23rd anniversary.
The filet de bœuf à la plancha (65) is juicy, perfectly grilled and has some pretty damn special fries on the side. Our other dish – truite avec crevettes, sauce rouge (88), trout with prawns – is rich and absolutely delicous.
La Taverne, Aniceto Arce 35
For something more local, El Pica Picante is the place to come to sample dishes from Chuquisaca, a region which spreads mostly to the city’s southeast, and of which Sucre is capital. The cuisine is simple, hearty and no-thanks to the restaurant’s tardy and erratic South American opening times, I only got to sample it once.
There are eight dishes on offer, so choosing is a breeze. For me, a rather delicious mondongo (30), a hearty stew of beef and potato that’s very close to the flavours of goulash. With it is a generous serving of choclo (hominy/white corn) coloured-up with turmeric.
El Pica Picante, Calle Loa 468
After giving up on the previous restaurant, waiting outside at noon, 12.30pm and beyond with a grumbling tummy, my closest option was one of a handful of Chinese eateries you can find in Sucre.
I was hanging out to sample some Chinese food in Bolivia, so this was my chance to see how it fares. Wanton soup, stir fry’s, sweet & sour, fried rice, noodles, even fried bananas and pineapple for dessert.
An enormous pile of wanton frito (15) got me crunching at the start. These fried, golden pastry parcels contained a tiny amount of some kind of dry chicken paste, with an odd, watered-down sauce that tasted remotely of plum.
The HK five spice spare rib (45) is a simple stir-fry of fatty pork nubs with the faintest hint of the promised spices. Something tells me they’ve succumbed to the plain eating habits of the average local.
La Gran Muralla China, Calle Loa 545
The name “Bei Jing” above a restaurant door got my attention real quick, when walking past it one day near Mercado Central. Just to clear things up a bit, this food hall-style eatery is more Sucre than Beijing, so any pangs of authentic Chinese food ought to be left at the door.
Chicken plays a big role on the menu, where it’s served fried or roasted with a variety of sides. And let me tell you, the pollo al broaster (13) was some of the finest, crunchiest fried chicken I’d eaten for a very long time.
Some ‘fried rice’ comes on the side (carrot and spring onion were the only additions) and the ‘noodles’ were overcooked spaghetti with some carrot, spring onion and the faintest whiff of five spice. Some fried potato made it on there, too.
Who cares about the faux Chinese accompaniments, it’s the chicken that you come here for.
Bei Jing, Avenida H. Siles 653
The market precinct abounds in cheap eats, and Montana Grill is no exception. The name screams ‘Americana’, but you won’t be finding any wings, bleu cheese burgers or ranch dressing in this locale.
Churrasco is the drawcard for many of the locals that drop in for lunch, but it was the 14Bs set lunch were wanting.
Chicken & veg soup, the choice of milanesa de pollo (crumbed chicken), koko de pollo (stewed chicken) or rebuelto de carne (sautéed beef mince with & potatoes). Dessert was a chocolate custard.
Montana Grill, Avenida Hernando Siles 774
Anyone staying in Centro Històrico is unlikely to consider hitting up the main bus station for lunch or dinner, but if you so happen to be arriving or departing and need some sustenance, there are many options awn its peripheries.
The Fried Chicken Lady – we called her that because there’s no visible name for this eatery – got my attention as soon as we arrived at the terminal. I mean, is there anything better than seeing chicken bubbling away in hot oil? Ok, I know, there probably is.
She’s a cinch to find – just look for the girl at the driveway entrance, standing beneath an umbrella frying and dishing up plates covered in a plastic bag. The bag serves two purposes. Saves on washing up, or if you can’t finish your deliciously juicy spiced chicken, sliced potatoes and boiled choclo, simply remove the plate and your leftovers are already bagged.
There’s seating on a terrace behind her cooking station, where you can sit and people watch overlooking the busy street.
Fried Chicken Lady, Terminal de Buses, Ostria Gutierrez
On the opposite side of the road that faces the bus terminal you can find a few more restaurants that also specialise in fried chicken or very cheap, local food.
Pension Continental is a beaten-up and dated establishment that oozes character. Here you’ll find the likes of lomito – steak with rice & egg (12), milanesa (10), asado, silpancho (milanesa with tomato salsa) and pailita (steak, potato, onion & egg), and none of it will break the budget. Not the greatest of culinary adventures, but it will sort out the appetite.
Pension Continental, Ostria Gutierrez 1805
How to get from Potosí to Sucre.
Head to Nueva Terminal de Buses in Potosí and take you pick from the companies. We chose Transtin Dil Rey which has departures at 7.00, 13.00, 17.00 & 18.00.
Cost is 30Bs per person and takes about 3½ hours. There’s a 2Bs fee when you leave the terminal to board the bus.