Heading to Tarabuco on a Sunday is the perfect day trip for those wanting to escape Sucre, get a unique taste of high altitude village life and sample the culture of the Yampara people. Distinct indigenous groups converge in Tarabuco to buy, sell and trade goods; all of them donned in traditional dress plus some pretty unusual head gear.
The town itself is filled with dusty streets, monotone adobe dwellings with old wooden doors and terracotta roof tiles. Kids play in the streets, you see the occasional shepherd walk through town with his flock, and you’ll receive many stares and sideways glances because you’re the one that looks different.
The centre of town is Plaza Principal, a block-sized square crossed by paths, dotted with benches and shaded by trees. Locals and out-of-town villagers sit and wander about, socialise, tap on mobile phones and grab a bite from a street vendor.
It’s difficult to miss the gruesome memorial statue of the Battle of Jumbate where, in 1814, the Tarabuceños defeated the Spanish army. The statue depicts an indigenous man standing over a Spanish soldier after having ripped out his heart, with blood dripping from the victor’s hands and mouth. Take that, you bastard Spanish!
Surrounding the plaza are restaurants, a museum with indigenous art and textiles and the imposing, yet simply designed Iglesia de San Pedro.
Tarabuco Market itself is actually split over two different areas. Mercado Campesino can be found at the east end of Calle Avaroa, and the streets leading up to it.
An open space infront of the market building is filled with makeshift lean-to’s and simple tarps on the ground, and it’s here that you’ll find fresh produce, food stations, piles of panela (unrefined sugar) in block form, hand-rolled cigarettes, household goods, spices and farming equipment.
Inside the market building there are more vendors selling fresh produce, butchered meats and a selection of food stations. There’s a lot of push and shove, it’s full of colour, fascinating traditional dress, there are plenty of smiles, stares and occasional giggles.
Foreigners stand out like nothing else and you often get the feeling that you’re a hindrance and don’t belong. As for taking photos of the villagers, they simply don’t want a camera pointed at them. This calls for swift snapping either from a distance or when they’re not looking.
Same applies to much of the goods and produce. One woman was ready to pounce when I pointed my camera at some chicken she was frying.
Geez, lady, you can’t steal a soul from hacked up chicken in hot oil! At least I got a quick shot over her shoulder before she chastised me.
It’s always best to ask before whipping out the camera, although some people don’t mind their photo taken. They’ll probably want some pesos for the privilege, so it’s a good idea to have some small notes on hand.
The streets between Mercado Campesino and the main plaza are filled with countless stalls of household goods, clothing, plasticware, hardware, phone accessories, shoes made of car tires and a heap of other uninteresting stuff. There sure is a lot of junk in there, and it’s easy to just breeze past it all.
Other areas are a lot more colourful with piles of textiles, bags, hats, trinkets and plenty of tourist tat.
You could easily spend 1-1½ hours in Tarabuco and call it a day. There really isn’t a great deal to see, but seeing we had a 1pm return bus to Sucre, there was plenty time to find somewhere for lunch.
We generally seek out local-type eateries, but somehow ended up at a place frequented by tour groups and recommended by Lonely Planet. The setting is actually quite nice; an open central courtyard filled with potted plants, artworks and shady trees.
Almuerzo (set lunch) is 35Bs and consists of cazuela de mani (vegetable soup with ground peanuts), some pretty standard pan-fried chicken with veg, none of the fruit that we were promised and to finish – a thermos, tea bags and small jar of instant coffee.
This is a good place to try the local distilled spirit called singani. On its own it may cause instant heartburn – perhaps even fuel a car – but spritzed with a little fresh lime, it’s actually quite enjoyable. Probably my favourite part of lunch!
Pukari Wasi Restaurant, Olañeta 31
How we got to Tarabuco from Sucre.
There are many tour agencies in Sucre that can get you to Tarabuco for the Sunday market, so it’s easy to shop around. We booked through Real Audencia Travel Agency (location – #5 F.J. Antonio de San Alberto), and paid 40Bs per person. Pick-up is at 8.30 am infront of Cathedral Metropolitana at the bottom left corner of Plaza 25 de Mayo, and it takes around 2 hours to get there. Departure from Tarabuco is 1pm.
Alternatively, you can get a colectivo from the Minibus Terminal at the intersection of Avenida de las Americas and Avenida German Mendoza. Check the map below for location. To get to the terminal from the centre of town, you can either cab it, or get the #14 bus outside Mercado Central on Capitán Agustín Ravelo.