Sweet as Sucre, Bolivia
Dubbed the White City because property in the central area must by law be painted white, Sucre dazzles on first sight. Leafy plazas, pristine colonial giants and more churches and cathedrals than you can shake a stick at go almost unnoticed by well-heeled business people and indigenous women in colourful shawls as they bustle about chatting on phones, scolding children or confiding in friends. In every open space benches creak under the weight of old men who doff their sombreroes at each other and carefree university students, a frantic tangle of limbs and giggles.
Only two blocks from the main plaza is the beating heart of the city, or any Bolivian city for that matter – the Central Market. It was here that we first fell in love with Sucre, among what seemed to be Bolivia’s entire supply of fresh fruit and veg (because we certainly hadn’t seen any of it anywhere else.) Our two day, then three day, then five day trip to Sucre was occupied mostly by the market. Dropping in to pick up a mountain of fruit salad and some freshly-squeezed for breakfast (for only €0.60), climbing the stairs to the food court at lunchtime where we were accosted by chefs in aprons and later in the evening, chatting with a smiling old lady in broken spanish as she bagged up our home-made dounuts.
Our whole trip to Sucre was in fact defined by food. After only a week in Bolivia we had already tired of the local cuisine – greasy deep fried chicken and chips, dried out steak, chips and rice and mountains of chopped hotdogs on, yes you guessed it, more chips. Devouring at least (healthy) three meals a day, we hopped between market stalls and restaurants, breaking up our routine with the occasional pub meal. While the food in Sucre was all fantastic, our best find was La Taverne, a super-posh french restaurant where we ate the best steak that we had ever eaten, scrumptious fresh-water trout in four cheese sauce and the world’s greatest mojitos (the secret, it seems, is to use Sprite instead of soda water.) And when the bill came for all our mojitos and steaks and baked fish, we were more than happy to pay the €8 a head. Of course it didn’t hurt that Sucre was warm too. After all that time in chilly Chile, cloudy Argentina and subzero Uyuni we were badly in need of a proper thawing out.
Of course there was some time between meals to be filled too. The best thing that we did was a bit of late afternoon church-hopping. It has to be said that the opening hours of Sucre’s churches move from sporadic to down-right ridiculous so it can be difficult to get in in the first place. Luckily we persevered with Covento de San Felipe Neri, returning on three different days at different times until we found a small woman with a big voice sitting at a rickety table by the door. After we coughed up the €1.00 entrance fee, the wee woman produced a massive key and opened up the creaky wooden door to the church. We had barely made it through before she slammed it shut behind us, leaving us alone in the dark, pleasantly dishelved chapel. After snooping around the gold alter, admiring the few paintings and picking our way under the scaffolding, we climbed the narrow stone steps up three storeys to the roof where we found the most incredible view of the city’s whitewashed walls and terracotta roofs. Blissfully alone we spent an hour or two sprawled out on the baking tiles, listening to the sounds of Sucre – a horribly off-key brass band rehearsing in a nearby school, taxis beeping and women squalking.
The other thing we did in Sucre was a trip out to the city’s famous dinosaur footprints which was a little less impressive than Covento de San Felipe Neri. In truth the prints, which are on a steep wall in a quarry, really resemble tracks left by a cow in wet concrete more than signs of prehistoric life and the big plastic statues of dinosaurs do little to add to their authenticity. It was worth going out though, if only because the public bus took us through the humungous Farmer’s Market. There are more things to do in Sucre too – adventure sports and waterfalls in the countryside nearby for example – but after spending a few days there, our take on the White City is that it is really just the perfect place to hang out with good friends, eat great food and get a feel for Bolivian life.
There are more photos from Sucre available in the gallery