These two cities are both gateways to the Uyuni Salt Flats, but are also well worth visiting as destinations in themselves. Both have important historical and cultural heritages. Reasons to visit Sucre and Potosi include:
Sucre, known as the white city due to the preponderance of whitewashed buildings, was the country’s first capital and is widely regarded as Bolivia’s most beautiful city. In the Spanish era the city was called La Plata, and was a leading religious, educational and economic centre. It was re-named in 1839 to commemorate the revolutionary leader and first president, Antonio Jose de Sucre. Today it is the constitutional capital of Bolivia.
The historic city centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a grid of narrow streets, lined by well-preserved churches, convents and colonial mansions. The main square, Plaza 25 de Mayo, named for the day Bolivian independence was declared in 1809, is flanked by the town hall, metropolitan cathedral and the Casa de la Libertad, where the Bolivian declaration of independence was signed in 1825, now one of the city’s major museums. With its many shops, cafes and restaurants, the square is a good place to spend time sightseeing and relaxing.
Other attractions include several historic churches and museums, as well as lively markets where you can mingle with locals. A 15-minute walk from the city centre takes you to La Recoleta, a former monastery which now houses a museum and offers impressive views over the city. Sucre has another claim to fame with one the world’s largest collections of dinosaur footprints, over 5,000 in all, just 5kms from the centre. A visit to The Parque Cretacico, where there are life-size dinosaur statues, a museum, and views of the footprints, adds an interesting dimension to your stay in Sucre.
Potosi lies at the foot of Cerro Rico (”˜rich mountain’) and has long been defined by its mineral wealth, especially silver. Before the Spanish conquest local people had developed silver mines which were later taken over by the conquistadors. At one point in colonial times Potosi was the wealthiest city in the Americas and its fame reached legendary proportions with tales of streets paved with silver. Though there is no evidence of these today, a stroll around the UNESCO-listed city reveals plenty of fine colonial architecture including imposing residences adorned with family crests and ornately carved wooden balconies, and grand churches. Many of the church towers can be climbed for panoramic views of the city and Cerro Ricco, and others such as San Francisco Convent, have catacombs you can explore.
Although the vast bulk of the mineral wealth has gone, the mines are still worked today and it is possible to take a guided tour. This isn’t for everyone as the conditions in which the miners work are shocking. The mines are quite claustrophobic and the tour may seem rather voyeuristic to some visitors, but it does provide an insight into the past of the city. Less controversial is the Casa Nacional de al Moneda, a museum dedicated to the history of the silver mines.
The city’s high altitude can make sightseeing tiring, but there are plenty of cafes where you can indulge in some people watching as you rest and enjoy well-deserved refreshments.
Sucre and Potosi can be visited year-round. The dry season (winter) is April to September when days are usually sunny and clear, and this is generally considered the be the best time to visit. The rainy season (summer) is from October to March, with rainfall peaking in January. Weather conditions vary from day to day during this season, with sunny days interspersed with cloudy and foggy days, plus spells of rain.
A 16th hacienda full of original objects and artworks offering comfy accommodation and bags of character just 30 minutes from Potosi.
Hotel Coloso is centrally located in Potosi, provides comfy, en-suite accommodation, an indoor pool, gym and restaurant.
Small, family-run hotel offering a range of accommodation, a pretty courtyard and rooftop terrace.
An atmospheric 18th mansion in the heart of the old city, with charming rooms and suites, a vaulted restaurant and attractive roof terrace.
Time: Bolivia GMT -4 hours
approximately 21.5 hours (no direct flights from the UK)
Language: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara
Visas – not required for British nationals for stays of up to 90 days
Yellow Fever vaccine should be given to travellers 9 months of age and upwards if travelling to areas below 2,300m east of the Andes Mountains. These areas include the whole departments of Beni, Pando and Santa Cruz, and parts of the Chuquisaca, Cochabamba, La Paz and Tarija departments. No other vaccinations are compulsory.