We’d already booked our flights out of Bolivia but we gave ourselves plenty of time to see and do the things we really wanted to before we needed to make our way to Santa Cruz. That meant we had a week to kill so we decided to kill it in Sucre, the White City, because we thought it might be a bit nicer than Santa Cruz which one blog I read described as a “monument to capitalism”. Yeah, sounds a bit shit.
Sucre is fucking lovely though, with a stunner of a central plaza dotted with vendors flogging freshly squeezed orange juice, a huge central market with literally twenty juice stalls staffed by women vying for the attention of everyone who walks in, and a food hall upstairs selling almuerzo for Bs10. Add to that the numerous places selling these deep fried balls of potato filled with meat, egg or cheese which I think are called relleno de papa, and way more fried chicken places than one city needs and yeah, I think I’m going to have to be rolled onto our next flight.
We fell into a routine with food, it kind of became what our days revolved around. The central market had a couple of stalls flogging papas con huevo, potatoes and egg, which also came with pasta and, if you wanted, salad. We discovered it made a really filling breakfast for Bs6. When we moved hostels further out of the centre we found that our local market, Mercado Campesino, also had a stall selling this. Sweet joy of joys! We could carb load then not have to walk up a hill!
The thing was, after a breakfast like that we didn’t need to eat again until much later but good luck getting almuerzo, lunch, after 2.30pm. In fact even 2pm was pushing it so we took to eating the soup at the restaurant then taking the segundo, the second course, away. We’d also grab a relleno de papa each and shovel that into our chops at the square whilst drinking an orange juice whether we were hungry or not because that shit is addictive. I swear they lace them with crack.
We did do a spot of walking. Well, waddling really. The Cementerio General is worth a visit. I’m a fan of funeral rites and graves and general dead shit and this cemetery is pretty special. The perimeter is lined with huge concrete walls which I can only assume are filled with coffins which are then sealed in leaving enough space at the end for a little memorial. It’s quite lovely. Too many sections are dedicated to children though, with photos and little toys and plushies.
Older people have been left miniature versions of everything from bottles of Coca Cola or water to beer or singani. But when I say miniature I don’t mean those little bottles of spirits you grab from the newsagents along with a packet of Quavers to neck just before you get on a train or something, they’re, like, tiny models, as if they were made for a dollhouse. I wonder if there’s a whole market for teeny grave goods? Do you have to buy this shit online or has someone set up shop around the corner from the graveyard?
Packets of cigarettes have been left for some, at one memorial someone had lit a smoke for the deceased and let it burn down in an ashtray. Another had a miniature of every form of booze available. The relatives of one person weren’t taking any chances and had left full sized cans of Paceña, a Bolivian beer. I’m fascinated by how other cultures view death and treat their loved ones after they’ve snuffed it. I love the idea of grave goods, leaving things for friends and family to take with them to the afterlife so they don’t miss out on a whiskey and a fag of an evening. I’d like a bottle of wine, a phone with Deliveroo installed, and a Netflix subscription, please.
We strolled around for a while admiring the memorials and the huge family mausoleums then buggered off to walk up a fuck off great big hill whilst at altitude. Because fuck you, lungs. La Recoleta affords a cracking view over the city from a cute little square. We saw umbrellas for a little café below but the better views seemed to be from the hotel restaurant so that’s where we chilled, drank coffee, and completely ignored the view in favour of playing on our phones.
It’s a striking city though, with the white buildings and red roofs surrounded by the hills stretching off into the distance. I say hills, they’re mountains really aren’t they. Sucre itself is at 2810 m.a.s.l. which is already higher than what constitutes a mountain. It’s beautiful to wrap your eyeballs around but we didn’t feel it was necessary to carry on up to another mirador which was our initial plan because, quite frankly, I was really enjoying being able to more or less breathe again.
The following day we hopped on a local bus for a little adventure just outside of the city. There’s a fuck off great big cement factory that quarry the limestone and one day whilst they were going about their business they found a metric fuck tonne of dinosaur tracks in the rock. They did the right thing and called it in and now it’s a huge paleontological (definitely had to ask Google how the fuck to spell that) site that you can visit very easily from Sucre if you can drag yourself away from the papas rellenos for long enough.
We took the local bus but however you get there you have to zig-zag your way up a hill which, as you get to the top, offers plaques with the timeline of Earth starting with when it was a seething pool of gas and lava where nothing could live. Similar to my socks, minus the lava. We paid our entrance fee and a guide approached us and told us the timings of the tours, we had an hour to kill so we killed it by having a little look around the museum which has a terrifyingly huge plaster cast of a three-toed footprint, and replicas of some of the prints we’d see on the cliff today.
Another room has a replica of a Carnotaurus skeleton and bless it, if you thought the T-Rex had laughable arms wait until you see the little stumps this bugger is waving about. The amazing thing about the original skeleton though, it was found in Argentina almost complete, just missing its feet and a bit of its tail, but there were also fossilised imprints of its actual fucking skin! How incredible is that? So we know for a fact it had little scales and knobbly bits which are represented in the life-sized model they have outside.
They have lots of life-sized models of dinosaurs they found prints of. They’ve got a T-Rex too but they don’t have the footprints to match. They thought they did but it turned out to be an Abelisaurus. Oh bless it, if you thought the Carnotaurus was rocking pointless stumps for arms wait until you see the arms on this. They’re vestigial alright? And anyway, size doesn’t matter. You’d soon stop laughing when it tore your head off.
These footprints then, they found over 12000 individual tracks from I think thirteen different species of dinosaur footprints across four groups; Theropods (carnivorous, footprints are surprisingly small as they walk on their tiptoes), Ankylosaurus (armoured herbivores, they only found one species), Ornithopoda (three-toed herbivores), and Sauropoda (absolutely fucking massive bastards with long necks and tails, and elephant style legs). They’re all from the Cretaceous period.
After a quick quided squiz around the museums and the dino models we were handed an attractive red hard hat and were led down to the quarry wall, Cal Orck’o in the indigenous Quechua language, meaning limestone hill. Obviously it wasn’t always a wall, it used to be flat and by a massive lake which is why so many dinosaurs went there. As the Andes formed some areas were pushed up into A shapes and some were crushed into V shapes. Cal Orck’o is part of Team V Shape.
There are more footprints below the current ground level but the cliff face is so delicate they can’t excavate. It’s already full of cracks. Twice a year they have people abseil down and clear all the plants away and they’ve built an aqueduct along the top to funnel away the rain water but still cracks appear. They’re experimenting with cementing the cracks. Despite their best efforts a huge chunk collapsed. It did reveal more footprints they’ve not been properly excavated and examined.
What’s not helping is the fact the cliff is owned by the corrupt government, and the cement factory want to keep quarrying right up to the footprints. It’s hanging in the balance which is a shame as it’s such an incredible slice of pre-history. Actual dinosaurs left their mark here, guys! Thousands of them! It’d be criminal to let them just disintegrate into nothing, but what else can they do?
Anyway. The next day we stayed a bit more local and popped to San Francisco church which has a café with tables out front, but you can also go up to the terrace for a lovely view over the street below. They’ve done it so well, fair play to them. What an awesome way to make a bit of money for the church. To make a bit of extra dolla they also offer guided tours which take you everywhere from the bell tower to the crypt. It’s all in Spanish but she was lovely, she spoke slowly and if she felt it was important she went over it again and we used Google Translate.
It’s a beautiful, colourful church inside. The wood is, apparently, cedar, covered in gold leaf and painted with natural pigments mixed with water. This is what we understood anyway. We were quite chuffed with ourselves, I probably understood about a quarter of what she said which is a long way from just about order steak and chips and hoping they don’t ask any complicated questions.
She took us up to a balcony with a cracking view over the church, then through a tiny door which led onto the terrace where we’d just had coffee. The plaza it overlooked used to be a cemetery, she told us. Then she asked us if we had vertigo which I don’t but fuck heights quite frankly, then she sent us up the bell tower which has zero (0) safety railings so obviously I froze in terror until Tarrant led me to safety. Vertigo must mean fear of heights in Spanish. So in that case yes, all of the vertigo is in my possession.
Then she took us to the thing I was dying to see, pun absolutely intended (Tarrant will be proud), the crypt. When they decided to open it to the public they had to disinfect it, build the floor, then they stripped all the bones and laid them out. They even made creepy decorations. I loved it! Apparently they wanted to copy the Capuchin crypt in Rome but they didn’t have as many bones. I could have misunderstood her but I think she said it was the burial place for Spanish, but also indigenous heads of villages could be buried here too.
That was pretty much Sucre then. I’m not going to lie, I could quite happily live there I think. I only found out recently that it’s the capital of Bolivia. I definitely thought that was La Paz. As capital cities go it’s probably the best I’ve ever been to. It’s got a really nice vibe to it, even when the streets around the Central Market are packed out in the evening and you can’t fucking get anywhere. I’d even come back here, just to hang out and eat my body weight in carbohydrates.
Jump to “Useful shit to know…”
Sucre, Chuquisaca Department, Bolivia
Stayed at: Hostal Pachamama & Hostal Buen Descanso, Sucre
Useful shit to know…
- The general cemetery is free to enter and is 1.2 kilometres from Plaza 25 de Mayo.
- The entrance is located at -19.053266, -65.267184.
How To Get To Parque Cretácico / Cal Orck’o With Public Transport
- You’ll need to catch the number 4 microbus.
- The most central place to catch it is about a block from Plaza 25 de Mayo. There’s nothing to mark the stop, just hang around at -19.046071, -65.260792, the corner of Junin and Arenales, and flag the number 4 when you see it.
- Some kind soul has already marked it on Maps.ME.
- Pay the driver when you get on. At the time of writing it was Bs1.50 one way.
- Relax. You’re getting off at the last stop.
- The bus will pull over opposite the cement factory. There may be other microbuses already parked, and there are stalls to buy food and drinks.
- Keep walking in the direction of travel and not too far up the road you’ll see a sign saying “Ingreso Al Parque Cretácico”. Then you have to walk up a big hill.
- Traffic in Sucre in the morning is hideous so leave yourself enough time to get there for the tour of the cliff at 12pm or 1pm.
- It took an hour to battle through town but to be fair we took the bus at 9am when it’s at its busiest.
- Other places to pick up the number 4 are Mercado Campesino north of the city, around -19.033101, -65.255043 would be a good place to wait.
- It also goes past the main bus terminal.
- To get back after you’re done at the park just cross the road from where you got off and wait for one on of the microbuses to pull out and turn around.
- Get on and pay your Bs1.50.
- This time you’ll need to tell the driver where you want to get off, it can be anywhere along the route.
- Most people seem to shout, “Voy a bajar!“
- If you can’t be arsed with any of this you can catch the big, red, double decker DinoBus from Plaza 25 De Mayo at 9.30am, 11am, 12pm, 2pm and 3pm.
- I don’t know how much this costs though, I’ve read it’s Bs15 or Bs20 return but I can’t be sure.
- Please note that Parque Cretácico is closed on Mondays.
- It cost Bs30 each to get in but this includes the tours.
- The guide spoke excellent English.
- We met at 11.30am and he took us around the small park to explain the different types of footprints found, plus loads of other information.
- The tour to the cliff started at 12pm at the top by the mirador which is marked on Maps.ME.
- It lasted about 45 minutes.
- The way down is steep and rocky and you have to return this way too. It isn’t suitable if you’re not steady on your feet.
- San Francisco church is free to enter of course, but if you pay Bs20 you can have a guided tour including places you can’t get too without a guide.
- For an extra Bs5 you can take photos everywhere including the church and crypt.
- The guide only speaks Spanish but she spoke very slowly and was very patient with our Google Translating.
A Bit About Santa Cruz
- We took an overnight bus from Sucre to Santa Cruz leaving at 7pm.
- It cost Bs70 each and the seat reclined enough for naps.
- It’s meant to take 11 hours but it broke down a couple of times so it took about three hours longer.
- There was no toilet on the bus.
- There was only one proper toilet stop. We did stop in the middle of nowhere at one point and several of us wandered off into the dark for nature wees.
- This, it seems, is normal in Bolivia.
- We stayed at Residencial Ikandire II because it was US$9 for both of us for the night.
- We weren’t expecting much but we got a hot shower, comfy beds and a good fan.
- It’s also close to places to eat.
- It cost Bs34 in an Uber from the bus terminal.
- It’s walking distance from a bus stop for the 135 to the airport.
- That bus stop is located at -17.774313, -63.182085.
- The bus starts at -17.792085, -63.186565. The whole route is on the Moovit app.
- It cost Bs6.50 each to take the 135 to the airport. It only took about 40 minutes and drops you right outside the terminal.
- If traffic is bad, give yourself longer.
- Viru Viru International Airport isn’t huge but there’s a Subway and other cafés.
- Sleep pods are available but they’re not cheap. See their Facebook page for prices and contact details.
- In the city, in the mall next to Plaza 24 de Septiembre there is an Irish Bar which serves good beer and good food.
- Tourist prices of course, but you can pay by card and the staff are fantastic.