According to our Frommers guidebook, Cochabamba is a relaxed place…. I don’t know how many coca leaves they’d chewed when they came up with that description. The place is huge and sprawling and the traffic is insane. The roads are packed, mainly with the various types of public transport, who drive aggressively and use their horns like a bat uses its squeak. The sidewalks are also really narrow and crowded.

So despite the initial shock, we managed to find ourselves a room and immediately had a quick nap to recover from the overnight bus trip. One of our main reasons for visiting, besides the promised “relaxed atmosphere” was the promise of numerous large and authentic local markets, so after recovering we ventured out to find “La Cancha” the local Cochbamba markets. We found them and they certainly are large. They are the most insane markets I have seen so far. Seeming to go on forever they are just packed with absolutely everything: fruit, veggies, clothes, meat, shoes, belts, illegal cds and much more. Large sections inside were devoted to food as well, with hundreds of people sitting and eating meals, and of course everywhere were small stalls selling delicious snacks, juices and bread. It was an assault on the senses. We saw everything you could possibly want except the local crafts we were looking for. We wondered for hours through the crazy stalls and roads packed with hooting buses before we found the single row of craft stalls. In the end it didn’t really have anything we hadn’t seen in Uyuni, and at that stage we were so marketed-out that we didn’t stay too long anyway.

The next day we continued our quest to find unique local hand crafts. Around Cochabamba are numerous little towns and villages, also promising authentic local markets. So for the ridiculously small price of 5Bs (less than a dollar) we hopped into a taxi with four others and did the hour or so trip to the first one. We spent the day hopping from one village to the next, but alas, although the markets we found were authentic, local and very interesting, they did not have a single piece of handicraft. It was a great day though. The tiny towns were amazing.

The first one, Tarata, consisted of seemingly ancient buildings, built of mud with huge old wooden doors and decrepid undulating shingle rooves. Judging by the looks we got from the locals, not too many tourists make it out to this part of Bolivia. At one stage we found ourselves, as the result of a hot tip from on the the locals that we may or may not have understood properly, in the tiny town of Huankuli. There was nothing there, not even one of the ubiquitous kiosks. So we had a peaceful hour or so sitting in the square, watching daily life pass by. A small boy helps his dad bring the cows home with limited success. The boy chases the escaping cows. Locals congregrate for church in their black church garb. I can’t image what they would have made of us sitting their for an hour or so before being shuttled off again.

The other towns we visited were Cliza, an ugly town in which almost every building seemed half constructed, and Punata, a bigger town with a really nice fresh produce market but again, not handicrafts.

So despite failing our mission, a very interesting day exploring some of the rural towns of Bolivia.

The next day, we started with a an annoying search for a shop mentioned in the guide, which failed to mention that there are two instances of the street where the shop is supposedly to be found, and that the numbers on those particular streets are in a completely random order. So we failed to find that too, despite enlisting the help of a keen taxi driver.

In the end we found the crafts area of the town, lo and behold, right in the middle of the city, a few blocks from our hostel. So we spent the rest of the day shopping, had another super cheap chicken and chips for dinner, before once again heading to the bus station to catch our bus to the capital La Paz.

New favouite things:

  • Super cheap trufi taxis
  • Fried donut type things sprinkled with icing sugar
  • Saltenas! A pastry shell, filled with a delicious combination of sweet sauce, raisins, egg and chicken or meat. Apparently the breakfast of champions in Bolivia