Our first stop in Bolivia was the city of Cochabamba and we didn’t completely know what to expect there. It was a short taxi ride from the airport to our hotel, but our room wasn’t ready yet, so we wanted to ask if there was anything that we could visit while we were waiting. We knew that we were going to have some challenges with the language barrier as the staff spoke very little English and our Spanish was somewhat limited. Despite the fact that we were exhausted from spending the night in the La Paz airport, we were determined to make the most of our first day in the city. After a lot of hand gestures and broken phrases, we were able to figure out a good place for us to start our journey in Bolivia.
The hotel staff got us a taxi and negotiated with the driver to have him drive us to Cristo de la Concordia and wait for us while we took the cable car up to the statue. It is an amazing statue of Christ located high above the city, very much like the statue in Brazil. Taking the cable car to the top of San Pedro Hill where the statue is located also provided us tremendous views of the city. It was a good start to what would be an incredible experience overall. After visiting the statue and scanning the skyline of Cochabamba, we headed back to the hotel to get ourselves checked in.
We were a little concerned about what our hotel room might look like based on the condition of some of the common areas, but in the end our room turned out to be fine. We both had the same impression of the hotel and the only way we can describe it is that it was very much like staying at the hotel in the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. One of our favorite things about the hotel were the parrots who visited the trees around the hotel every morning and would wake us up with their chattering to one another.
After returning from our adventure in the jungle, we took the next day to fully acquaint ourselves with Cochabamba. We went to the center of town for lunch and then walked through the beautiful park nearby. There were toy cars in the park for the children to drive and women sold fruit and ice cream in stands around the park. We walked through the market and took photos of the churches that were truly beautiful. One of the things that we had to get used to in Bolivia was that museums could only be seen on a tour, you couldn’t just wander through them at your own pace as you would in most places.
On our last day in Cochabamba we visited two of the most iconic sites, the Palacio Portales and the Iglesia and Convento de San Francisco. Of the two, the Palacio Portales was probably the more interesting and beautiful, but it was also a sad story as the owner, one of the richest men in the world from his mining interests, never actually lived in the home as he had a heart condition and couldn’t live at that altitude. The grounds and building, named after the large doors that are the entrance for guests, are truly wonderful. The convent was also very interesting, but due to the fact that it was under reconstruction as well as the Spanish only tour made it more difficult to truly understand the significance of the historic site.
We talked about it after we returned home and we were happy that we did Cochabamba first instead of La Paz. Although it challenged us, it really allowed us to immerse ourselves into the Bolivian culture much more that we would have had we gone to a more tourist friendly (slightly) than going to Cochabamba. Although we spent several days outside of the city, those days that we spent exploring the city were definitely rewarding. Cochabamba is definitely worth not only visiting, but spending at least a couple of days in order to truly absorb the culture and to take time to enjoy all of the sites that the city has to offer.