Whitewashed buildings, charming church steeples and sleepy plazas — no, you’re not in Santorini. Sucre, Bolivia, is one of South America’s most beautiful hidden gems. Surrounded by majestic mountains and populated with a slew of colonial architecture, this peaceful city offers a welcome respite for travelers. While there are numerous attractions to entertain, you’ll be tempted to stay for its relaxed atmosphere — a rarity among South American cities.
WHEN TO GO
May — October
With heavy rains dominating the early part of the year, most travelers should visit Sucre in the dry season: May through October. While the dry season is also the high season, it’s worth braving the crowds so you won’t have to worry about weather interfering with your travel plans.
But this time of year does see some temperature drops at night, so remember to pack in layers.
Sweet as Sugar
Sucre’s historic center is one of the most recognizable in South America, namely for its iconic whitewashed buildings. A designated UNESCO site, the city center is filled with beautiful plazas, peaceful gardens and a church every 100 yards. Find your way to the main square, Plaza 25 de Mayo, and explore from there. Climb the stairs to the top of nearby Convento de San Felipe Neri for a beautiful view before slipping over to Casa de la Libertad for a history lesson. In this building Bolivia’s Act of Independence was signed. There are also plenty of museums, from the Cathedral Museum to the ASUR Indigenous Art and Textiles Museum.
Think About It
Sucre makes the perfect stop between South American adventures, so take advantage of the laid-back atmosphere to do some quality contemplation. A key spot for this is the Cementerio General, where rows of stacked graves are marked with a message: “Hodie Mihi Cras Tibi: Today Me, Tomorrow You.” Beautiful and serene, this area may not be a typical tourist point but it’s worth a visit. If you’d rather stick to the beaten path, hike up to La Recoleta, a cobblestoned plaza overlooking the city. Grab a bite at the restaurant and watch the sun go down over the orange-roofed buildings.
Ready for Impact
Bolivia is home to some diverse landscape, from vegetation-covered mountains to barren salt plains. You can’t miss the Maragua Crater, a stunning rock formation outside Sucre. The colorful surrounding scenery epitomizes Bolivia’s diversity, and features some pretty cool historical features from cave paintings to dinosaur footprints. Whether you hike to the top or join a quad tour, experiencing this natural landscape is otherworldly.
Life Finds a Way
Want to walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs? You don’t need a fictional Jurassic Park to do so. Just visit Parque Cretácico, an archeological park with a huge collection of preserved dinosaur footprints (over 5,000) set into the Cal Orck’o cliff. The footprints might be real, but there are also some fake life-size dinosaur replicas nearby that are fun to tour.
Get up close and personal with these ancient creatures, without the danger.
WHAT TO EAT
Snacking in Sucre
Visiting Sucre’s central market should be on your list just for the sensory experience, but while you’re there try the classic Bolivian dishes to accompany the colorful fruit you picked up at the market. From mondongo (a dish with pork and peppers), to pique macho (beef and french fries) there are plenty of classic dishes to try. Outside the market, El Patio is a favorite for salteñas (baked empanadas) with plenty of filling options. International cuisine also makes its mark with Italian at Papavero and French at La Taverne. Finally, Sucre is the chocolate capital of Bolivia, so you can’t leave without trying the sweet treats at Para Ti.
Sun Down in Sucre
Sucre is relatively small, and despite being on the tourist circuit, has yet to attract any large hotel chains. But there is an abundance of hostels and boutique hotels that await travelers.
The Villa Oropeza hostel and The Beehive Sucre are two favorites for budget hostels. For a step above, check in to El Hostal Su Merced, housed in an elegant colonial building with a rooftop terrace just steps away from the main square. For a more relaxing retreat, try Mi Pueblo Samary Boutique Hotel, which is located in an old colonial mansion and features private balconies and quiet courtyards tucked away.