We were excited about going to Sucre, the “constitutional” capital of Bolivia. To be clear, the seat of government – Congress, the Presidential Palace, the various departments – is in La Paz, but the constitution declares Sucre the national capital, with the judiciary still headquartered here. Sucre has a great reputation as a place to go, great climate, colonial architecture, the heart and soul of the Bolivian independence movement, the country’s most beautiful city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sounds pretty great.Quick history. Known in colonial times as La Plata, the city was the capital of a region that includes much of today’s Bolivia and Paraguay along with parts of Chile, Peru, and Argentina; proximity to the mines of Potosí but at a lower altitude with access to the broader region was its forté. It was and remains the headquarters of the Catholic Church in Bolivia and it’s university, founded in 1624, is older than Harvard. It was here in a former Jesuit chapel that Bolivia’s declaration of independence was signed in 1825 and in 1839 the city was renamed for the revolutionary general Antonio José de Sucre. This was the heart and soul of early Bolivia. Only when Potosí’s silver mining start to flag and economic stagnation set into the region was the seat of government (though not the official designation of national capital) moved to La Paz in 1898.
So there’s a lot to take in here. Unfortunately our experience wasn’t so great. I’m sure part of it is that we were here over Easter weekend which just meant that a lot of the city was closed up. We were both amazed when we walked out of the hotel after breakfast Monday morning at how lively things were: people on the streets, markets open, everything abuzz. That’s not what we saw in our first three days in Sucre. In fact, as I review the pictures we took I find myself thinking, “Hey, that was a really pretty city.” It’s just that at the time it seemed so lifeless and dull.The one memory for me that’s most vivid was climbing up a steep hill toward an old convent on Easter morning that was supposed to have great views of the city. While climbing, the stench of urine was unmistakable and overwhelming. As I got to the old convent at the top of the street I saw that there was a huge market/party going on, with lots of heavy drinking. Heavy. And countless men were relieving themselves on the wall along the street, creating quite literally a stream of piss going down the hill. Not exactly the Easter Sunday memory I was anticipating – or wanting.
And then there’s the food situation. As we traveled across Peru we were routinely surprised by how great the food was. We haven’t had that experience in Bolivia and in Sucre in particular we were quickly bored with the options. There was one good place for lunch, but after four days that was really old. Otherwise it was just a question of least objectionable options.
There were some highlights. Our hotel, the Hotel de Su Merced, was one of great values we’ve had in our travels. Beautiful interior courtyard with tiles and flowers, nice views, good service, lovely breakfast, all at under $70 a night. The central square was big and leafy and a pleasant place to while away the hours. I like hiking outside a city, and there were two big hills overlooking Sucre, both of which I managed to scale for some remote reading time.
We’d scheduled five nights in Sucre but after three we were pretty much ready to leave. So we rebooked some hotel and flight reservations (all at no cost; gotta love traveling in places where you can change your flight with no penalty!) to leave a day early. We flew back to La Paz for just one night – where we had dinner at an amazingly good French restaurant – and then it’s off to northern Chile for a little time in the Atacama Desert. We’re coming back into Bolivia briefly en route to Paraguay, but for now we’re off on a little side trip into Chile.