The constitutional capital of Bolivia, Sucre, may have long since lost its claim as the centre of power to La Paz, but this city has a sense of self and understated historical charm that seems only proper for a colonial outpost which birthed the first movement towards independence across South America.
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Walking along the narrow streets of La Ciudad Blanca, the White City of the Americas, it’s hard not to be taken in by the charm of the whitewashed churches, theatres and courthouses of the city which was bestowed UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1991.
Founded in 1538, Sucre became a refuge for traders who profited from the rich reserves of the Potosi silver mines, as it offered a centre of commerce and sophistication at a much more forgiving altitude.
It is no surprise that the riches of this mineral wealth is reflected in the ornate churches of Iglesia de San Miguel and the Cathedral which stands alongside the leafy palms of the central square of Plaza 25 de Mayo, where visitors and locals alike linger and congregate to celebrate daily life in Sucre.
Once known as the Villa de la Plata, the city of silver, Sucre boasts a sophisticated culinary scene and a lively social scene that has made this city an ex-pat favourite.
Where to Stay in Sucre
Much of the tourist accommodation in Sucre is located in the old city centre radiating from the central square of Plaza 25 De Mayo. A range of accommodation from guesthouses and basic hotels to hostels is available with many hostels offering longer-term rates for students and travellers who take advantage of the classes offered by the many Spanish language schools located here.
- Hostal Wasi Masi, Calle Urcullo. Located near the central market, this hostel offers basic accommodation at reasonable rates and a sociable atmosphere to practice your Spanish vocabulary.
- KulturBerlin, on Avaroa 326 is reasonably priced and offers a range of options from singles to 10-bed dorms including breakfast. Rooms are set around a courtyard which at night is a beer garden for the authentically German-esque bar. Dorm beds start at 50 bolivianos.
- Bella Vista El Tronco, Topater 57 Situated at the top of a hill, near the Mirador lookout, Casa El Tronco is a guesthouse which offers panoramic views of the city along with a friendly welcome. There is a minimum of a two night stay and a single room for two nights will cost around 190 bolivianos.
Things to do in Sucre
With a reputation as one of the cheapest places to learn Spanish in South America, Sucre is still one of the most popular places to pick up those language skills vital for any travel across the continent.
Companies such as Open Spanish and Me Gusta offer classes as well fun approaches to learning the language such as guided tours, cooking classes and concerts. Check around locally for recommendations for private teachers.
Check out Bolivar Park
Whilst most commonly the hangout of smitten teenagers, Bolivar Park is a great spot to relax and people watch on a sunny day. The park is green and scenic, complete with a mini replica of the Eiffel Tower that is even possible to climb!
Visit the Central Market and Tarabuco Market
A visit to Sucre’s buzzing Central Market is a must… Sample traditional food, try exotic fruits and hang out with locals and travellers. Food stop Siete Lunares is a must-try while you are in the city. It boasts juicy chorizo rolls along with thick artisanal ham. Yum yum!
However, if you are visiting Sucre on a weekend, then you should not miss the chance to visit the Sunday market in Tarabuco, a rural town about an hour’s drive away.
The market here features an array of indigenous products and tapestries and provides a real insight into the lives of the communities in the chaco surrounding Sucre. Local buses depart from Avenida de las Americas while tourist buses can be booked at offices around the Plaza 25 de la Mayo.
Many travellers visiting Sucre are under the false understanding that the cities name owes its origins in some way to the word sugar.
They are wrong and the city is in fact named after the revolutionary Antonio José de Sucre. However they are right about one thing, the city does have a fascination with chocolate and crowds swell in the chocolate shops around the Plaza 25 de Mayo prior to every feast day as locals clamber to buy slabs of the stuff.
Spot some real dinosaur footprints at Parque Cretácico
A local open-air dino-bus brings amateur palaeontologists from central Sucré to the world’s largest collection of dinosaur footprints on the outskirts of town.
Although you will need binoculars to get a decent view of the footprints from the site, make sure to time your visit with a complimentary footprints tour. These take place at 12 pm and 1 pm daily and are included in the cost of your entrance fee.
These tours will take you right up to the 5,000 or so prints which were found by workers at the cement quarry in 1994. Advance tickets to the park including dino bus transport can be bought from Joy Ride Cafe in Sucre and cost 45 bolivianos per person.
Do a cooking class
Sucre is a great place to try the traditional dishes of Bolivia. Saltenas, Mondongo and Sopa de Maní are all firm favourites with the locals and promise to be popular with backpackers too. Head to La Boca del Sapo for the opportunity to recreate one of your favourite local dishes and even have a go at making the Chuflay cocktail that Bolivia is most famous for!
Check out Sucre Cemetery
It is an odd attraction but one that draws in the tourists nonetheless. Head to Sucre’s cemetery to relax in the gardens and see the way this culture deals with death. Graves are arranged in a block system and continue upwards, making the most of the space. In Bolivian cemeteries, it is common to see people bringing gifts to their deceased loved ones, most commonly alcohol and food.
Hike up to Recoleta Mirador
A trip to the Mirador viewpoint in the heart of the old city is the best way to get a sense of Sucre and the surrounding mountains. This spot presents the best view of the capital, overlooking a vista of bell-towers and red tiled roofs. Don’t forget to take your camera and capture the White City in all of its glory!
While the city has an airport, the sporadic nature of flights, frequent cancellations and lack of carriers mean that the bus is a better option for most. Long-distance buses leave from the bus around 3 kilometres outside of the town. Taxis from the bus depot to central Sucre cost 5 bolivianos per person.
As is the case across South America, most long-distance buses depart in the evening, travelling overnight and the roads around Sucre can be fairly rough.
Regular buses go to Cochabamba, La Paz, Potosi, Tarabuco and Tarija. Operators such as El Dorado who offer services to La Paz offer comfortable new buses with full cama (fully reclining) options.
However be warned that on other routes, operators may purport to offer full cama options which in fact are semi-cama seats, so it is worth checking with other travellers on the ground about individual bus companies.
Where to go next?
Sucre is well-placed as a stop-over on an alternative route from Northern Argentina to La Paz or the Salt Flats in Uyuni.
The city that leaves you breathless, La Paz is a twelve-hour journey from Sucre. Here you can find sartorially minded chollita’s (Local Aymara women) with layers of petticoats selling herbs and potions at the Witches market, uncover the history of Bolivia’s political past on a walking tour of national institutions or visit the Buenos Aires local market for coca leaves to relieve yourself of altitude sickness.
The highest city in the world is home to a mining industry in the nearby Cerro Rico mountain which hides the secrets of the brutal existence for many locals who struggle in difficult conditions to eke out a living in one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. Trips to the mines can be arranged here.
Uyuni (the salt flats)
A bleak outpost on a dirt road twelve hours away from La Paz, Uyuni has little to offer travellers other than a quick pit-stop along the way to visiting the magnificent Salar de Uyuni salt flats, the largest salt lake in the world. While it’s not a trip for the faint hearted, a three-day tour of the national park here is rewarding for its astonishing landscape and barren wilderness.
The Bordeaux of Bolivia, Tarija is a temperate oasis in comparison to its northerly neighbours and offers an escape for those who prefer sipping a Bolivian Malbec al fresco to chewing on coca leaves at altitude.
Destination Guide by Niamh Ní Shúilleabháin. Updated by Sheree Hooker.