Sometimes referred to as the Tibet of the Americas, Bolivia is the highest, most isolated and most rugged nation of the continent. It is also the most indigenous country in the Americas, with 60% of its population being of pure Native American ancestry. Native religions, dialects, clothes and music all form part of the daily life in Bolivia while the Spanish influence is strong in the colonial architecture of cities like Sucre and Potosi.Because is surrounded by the top destinations in South America, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile and Bolivia can often be forgotten in this the small country which has been landlocked since Chile took its coast away from it. Boliva enjoys the Andes Mountains, jungles of the Amazon, and the endless salt flats. From a wine perspective it is all centered around Tarija and it is easy to access if you are also enjoying the North west of Argentina. While we have only run a handful of tours to this region over the years, for those of you looking for something completely different, Bolivia could be it.
Santa Cruz. Home to Bolivia’s best nightlife and international cuisine, it’s the most prosperous city of Bolivia
Potosí Silver Mines. Mountain of unimaginable riches that bankrolled the Spanish Empire, complete with its own underworld god.
La Paz, the highest capital in World. at roughly 11,975 feet.
Uyuni, Great Train Graveyard On the outskirts of a desert trading village high on the Andean plain, steel giants have been destroyed by salt winds.
Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) A valley of unique erosion patterns lends to a view like nothing on Earth, just 6 miles from La Paz in Mallasa.
Laguna Colorada Red lake 4,000 meters above sea level is home to rare flamingos.
Sucre, a delightful colonial town also the site of the dinosaur footprints the largest ever found.
Horca del Inca Astronomical observatory above Lake Titicaca.
Sur Lipez sometimes reffered to as the Salvador Dalí Desert
Palacio de Sal, This hotel is made completely out of Salt
Museo de la Cocain La Paz Museum dedicated to the sacred leaf of the Andes.
Sajama Lines, A mysterious ancient network of straight lines stretching across miles of Bolivian desert
How long do I need?
If we are looking at Wine and just enjoying the Tariqua Zone, 3 nights would do it, after that it really depends on what you want to see and how long you have, transport links are not the best.
When to come and visit?
May through to October is the best time to visit Bolivia, dry weather and clear skies. June and July are to be Avoided due to the cold temperatures and snow can make travel complicated.
Wines of Bolivia
Bolivia, a wine destination? Why not when you realize how close Bolivia’s major wine region Tarija is to Salta in Argentina? Just 230 miles: things start to make a little sense
The department of Tarija has the second most important gas reserves in South America; as such there is a huge amount of changes happening in this region of Bolivia. Political differences between the current Government in La Paz and the region department of Tarija are extremely polarized, Although there is very obvious new wealth in Tarija Poverty still abounds a outside the centre of the picturesque town. Having spoken to all the major wine producers there is certainly a huge potential for new plantings with up to 8,000 hectares of viable land which is projected to triple the current area under plantings, whether this is realized and by who remains to be seen. But the land is there. In the mid sixteenth century Catholic Missionaries introduced Vines into Bolivia, In fact some planting in the province of Potosi the priests started distilling the fermented grape juice and taking its name from the town they lived in sinkani has evolved into the now Famous national spirit Singani. It was also at this time, that Wine being exported from Spain was being spoiled and becoming expensive, so it was a natural progression that the outlying colonies had to start making their own wines. It is not until the 1960s that there really became a commercialization of wine, whereby producers were making wine, and distributing to other areas of Bolivia. Tarija represents over 80% of all grape production in Bolivia.
The Bolivian Vineyards are at an altitude of between 1,700 and 3,000 above sea level making them among the highest plantings in the world. As with most High Altitude plantings the wines tend to have a much higher concentration of Aromas and flavours and colours and this was evident in the wines we tasted, climatic temperature changes can be greater than 20 degree in Celsius between day and night. From what we tasted in Bolivia the white wines tended to be the Moscatel Alejandria, which is very close to the Torrontes grape in its DNA. Perhaps it is because the Moscatel has a stronger skin it tends to develop better than the Torrontes, or perhaps it is because the history of this grape to make Singani make this the most planted White variety, even for White wine production.
There is Torrontes planted but we found none of them to have the complexity or the aromas we are used to seeing in Argentine Torrontes. This probably has more to do with the lack of investment in equipment and winemaking techniques than a different adaptation of the grape in Bolivia. There is some Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay and a small amount of Sauvignon Blanc. None of the white wines we tried were of particular note, aromatically the wines seems dead with the exception of the Moscatel Alexandria which was excellent but would never last more than 6 months after bottling and certainly unable to export.
The three Red Varieties that shine in these conditions are Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah and Malbec. Most of the rootstock comes from Chile. Today in Bolivia most of the guiding systems tend to be Trellis and Californian T cross trees and the more traditional ‘Espalda’ or ‘parrales’ system. There are an estimated 2,500 hectares of productive vines in the Tarija valley. 85% of these are considered small producers and own .5 to 1 hectare. With the remaining holding an average of 10, there appears to be some consolidation of this in the last 5 years with the major producers buying up land and production. Harvest much like Salta region takes place in March. Rain tends to come in February and they have an average of 400 milliliters in this short period, perhaps this is a major flaw in the Bolivian wines, they loose a lot of their concentration very close to the maturity of the grape. The other major problem in Tarija is the salts in the ground, there are two types White that can be dealt with and Black salt which basically cannot be washed away.
Hail is also a problem and tends to arrive in October. Hail nets are used by some Wineries in this critical period. At 2,000 US$ a hectare you can imagine not much is covered.
Table grapes represent 50% of the production with the remaining pretty much split between Wine and Singani. The domestic market is accounting for 90% of the Wines markets with some exportation to in Quantity with Peru first, then Canada, USA and Finland and Spain. In 2017 this was valued at 1,2 million US$ and shows how small and new Bolivia is in terms of its Wine industry.
Papas Rellenas is a dish of Peruvian origin, but it has been adopted and adapted throughout the Bolivian Andes. Literally meaning “stuffed potatoes”, papas rellenas are balls of mashed potato which are stuffed with a boiled egg or cheese, coated with a (sometimes spicy) flour batter and deep-fried.
A popular snack found all over the Andean half of Bolivia, salteñas are baked and usually filled with meat, vegetables, egg, olives and a slightly spicy sauce.
A beast of a meal, pique a lo macho consists of bite-sized pieces of beef, sausage, onions, locotos (spicy peppers), boiled egg and thickly cut fries. This mountain of food is traditionally made spicy and topped with mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup. If you can finish a plate of pique on your own, you are truly ‘macho’!
Tucumanas can be best described as a tasty sort of pasty, which come filled with a variety of fillings including meat, diced veggies, boiled egg and a spicy sauce. Vegetable tucumanas are a great choice for vegetarians and are often served with spicy and colorful condiments to compliment your dish.
Buñuelos are a popular snack throughout Bolivia. They come in both sweet or savory flavors and are often stuffed with cheese. While Buñelos can be eaten at anytime, Bolivian tradition sees them eaten on Christmas morning with syrup and hot chocolates.
A staple ingredient in many Bolivian households, quinoa is pleasing to the palate and very versatile. The grain crop is high in protein, contains essential amino acids and lacks gluten making it a highly sort after super-food in the western world. Some examples of well-know dishes containing quinoa include salads, stews, soups and burgers.
Mondongo is crispy fried pork accompanied by corn, potatoes and a a rich red aji chili sauce, a typical dish of Sucre
Picante de Pollo, “Spicy ChickenFried chicken covered in a thick spicy sauce, accompanied by boiled potatoes, rice, salad and a garnish of parsley.
Plato paceño is a unique combination of corn, large lima beans, potato and fried cheese.
Majadito is typically made from rice, dried meat, eggs and fried bananas.
Pacay is a legume where you eat the sweet white centre often likened to ice-cream.