Wandering in Tarija
Date of Entry: November 21st-24th
Place of Writing: Peter Pan Hostel, Puerto Iguazu, Argentina December 2nd 2015
Tarija is my last real stop in Bolivia, for now and possibly for a very long time. I didn’t actually do any big ticket or single event, instead spending the time to get to know the city, and to get a haircut and shave for the border crossing. In actuality I think I knocked about 10 years off my face and certainly scared the amazing staff at the fantastic Kultur Berlin Guesthouse which served as my home away from home during my three nights in Tarija.
At any rate first here’s deal with getting to Tarija. There are direct buses from Tupiza the tiny tourist stop, and less crowded starting point for Uyuni tours high in the desert of South western Bolivia, and, contrary to popular belief they are not exclusively night buses. Everyday around 8 am a bus leaves Tupiza for Tarija, making the 7 hour, perilous trip.
I’m not easily scared on buses but there is about a half hour stretch just over an hour from Tupiza that had me holding my breath more often than not. On single lane gravel road with traffic going both ways the old bus winds down into a massive canyon at a surprisingly quick speed considering the drops of hundreds if not thousands of meters from the edge of the road. The rusted and ruining carcasses of a bus below do nothing to help matters and I’m suddenly very glad to have done this trip during the day, sure I see more, but so does the driver and that thought is vaguely comfortable.
Most of the seven hour trip is nothing like this though, perhaps it is a bit bumpy for those not used to travel in South America, but they are working on paving what they can of this route and it’s a great route for those heading through southern Bolivia en route to Paraguay. Oh and Tarija is an incredibly pleasant little city which along with La Paz will soon feature in my Where I’d choose to live series, coming soon to the blog.
Tarija is famous for wine amongst Bolivians, and is also one of the highest locations in the world to produce so much of the stuff. Going during the annul grape harvest in early to mid march is supposed to be a fantastic experience, but winery tours are available year round, though as a non drinker does not appeal to me. Instead in Tarija, I relax, I write I explore and I eat. My favourite spot in the city is El Marques an absurdly fancily decorated restaurant in an old mansion opposite the main square. There pasta is to die for as is there lemonade and keeps me coming back more often than I should.
There’s plenty of other things to do in Tarija depending on when you are there, including quite a few waterfalls and an impressive damn if there’s water around, sadly november is the end of the dry season and so the attractions that brought me here are a no go and instead I jsut wander around the charming little city for three days, through palm fringed plaza’s, past old colonial mansions of the city’s rich (and the cardboard boxes of the city’s poor) finding lots of pretty places and some very interesting birds as well.
Tarija is hot but not scorching and everyone in town seems to be smiling and eager to help those few tourists who make it here. The proximity to Argentina and general affluence of the city’s upper class mean the food is good and you couldn’t ask for a better hostel than Kultur Berlin. all in all I really enjoy my three days of doing nothing much in Tarija, before I embark on my long journey to Asuncion Paraguay.
How to get From Tarija to Paraguay
The only buses from Bolivia to Paraguay leave from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, but if you’re already so far south in Tarija there’s no point going all that way back north, instead you need to head to Villamontes Bolivia, where the buses from Santa Cruz make a stop on their way to Paraguay usually between 2-3 am every day. (I also heard whispers that on Sundays (Monday morning) there is a cama bus with air conditioning making the trip for more or less the same price (455 Bolivianos from Villamontes), a better bus would make a huge difference because the journey is long and not very fun).
To get to Villamontes you have two options from Tarija. There are buses which leave between 6 and 830 pm or so every night which cost about 50 BS and take between 7 and 8 hours, or there are collectivos (shared cars) leaving all day (If the roads not closed during the day for construction) which take between 5 and 6 hours to get there and cost 100 BS. Since none of the buses got me to Villamontes in time to catch the bus I took a car, though even with the front seat it was far from comfortable as the road is a narrow winding mess and not much fun overall, even though my driver was nice and very talkative, though I suspect that was mainly to keep himself awake.
Either way I left at 8pm, arrived late at 2:30 am at the Villamontes Terminal, but still beat the bus to Asuncion by 20 minutes and so climbed aboard for a gruelling 21 hour (24-28 from Santa Cruz) into Paraguay putting my expensive visa to good use. But more on that in the next entry!