Tag Archives: Cochabamba

Bolivian Souvenirs that aren’t an Alpaca Hat or Peruvian/Argentinian Souvenirs

23 Oct

If you’re passing through Cochabamba on the way to the Toro Toro dinosaur park or the Chapare rainforest/coca factory, you may have noticed that Cocha isn’t much of a tourist city. Though there is relief in not seeing another multi-colored hippie pant or alpaca sweater that you have already bought in other South American countries (if you actually want to see more of these, go to la Cancha), you may feel a void for shopping. Fear not, there are many authentic Bolivian products to bring home:

  1. Custom-made leather products: Because Cocha’s economy is cows, high-quality leather is incredibly cheap and common here. You can order any kind of custom-made leather product (laptop bags, purses, belts, etc.) from many stores, including Roger’s located at Ayacucho y Heroinas. Or if you have time on your hands, there’s a mom&pop shop that custom-makes anything from leather called Marroquineria Fernandez. They offer “factory prices.” Telf: 4239551 / 77415380, 76480210
  2. A Cacho Set: Best gift for boys, hands-down.  Who doesn’t like dice games?  You can find these at la Cancha, but if you buy the cheap ones (Bs.7), look inside the velvet interior for glue drippings.  Dice come included for Bs.5 extra.
  3. Valentino Arte & Papel: An artisanal paper-making shop from Santa Cruz. All of their products are from recycled materials. They have incredibly fine craftmanship. You can buy these products and other non-recycled items at Full-Mat (Ayacucho No. 380, esq. Jordán, 4250523)

    Notepad of thick recycled paper

    Inside notepad of rough recycled paper.

    Long notepad...so awesome!

    Inside of long notepad: the paper is incredibly smooth.

  4. Notepad of rough recycled paper.

    Superman notepad with same recycled paper as the Bird.

  5. Tote Le Monde: The production of this celebrity-love brand is actually in Cochabamba and they take their inspiration from Bolivian designs. For example, the $58 Jackson Tote is remarkably similar to the $2 market bag sold at la Cancha.

    $58 Jackson Tote

    $2 Bolivian Market Bag

    You can also custom-order gorgeous leather wallets and purses here. Address: Calle juan de la cruz torrez #1642 (near muyurina), tel: 4232769/4232682.

  6. Uyuni Salt Rock Lamps: Nevermind the claim that they absorb away the evil magnetic forces from computers, these are extremely cool and at Bs.90 ($12) are a bargain. I wish I had a picture. Sold at Skemas, Plaza 14 de Septiembre #381.
  7. Quien Mató a la llamita blanca? (DVD): A hilarious classic with spot-on political commentary on Bolivia, its racial tensions, the cocaine wars, and its turbulent & confusing regimes.
  8. Comic books in Spanish: After months of searching, I finally found a comics store. They carry everything from local artists to classics (V for Vendetta, Sandman, Batman, Superman) to political comics. Dirección: El Pasaje del correo (Ayacucho y Heroinas) second floor, #89, (594) 4511696, pseudogente@gmail.com
  9. Guayaba jam, Bolivian olive oil, and other food products: Guayaba jam is a treat. Guayaba anything is a treat. You can buy these at a small window near Santa Clara church on 25 de Mayo and Columbia or the market fair every Saturday at Americas and Villaroel.
  10. Change Purses crocheted from recycled plastic bags: Not to promote a cause, but I am working with recyclers (people who make a living scavenging through trash for recyclable materials) in Cochabamba to hand-crochet artisanal products from recycled plastic bags.  The material is amazing–doesn’t even look or feel like plastic bags.  Below are some pictures of change purses (Bs.8 or $1), but they also make purses and other products.  You can find products at Casablanca or Skemas.
  11. Sombrero de Chola (typical hat in Cochabamba)

  12. Ayni Fair-trade Handicrafts: The most beautiful, unique & creative hand-made artisan products I’ve seen in Bolivia.  They have the usual alpaca bags and cards, but their most special products would be the hand-knit flower earrings from alpaca with silver backs (at $3, it’s a steal) and the cute, freshly-painted miniature animals.  Ayni is located in La Paz, but Tote Le Monde sells their products in Cochabamba.

    Cute llamas w/wiphala, perfectly represents Bolivia without having "BOLIVIA" etched into it.

  13. Beautiful Bolivian-Themed Cards: Santa Clara teaches women who come to their food kitchen to make hand-made cards from recycled paper, decorated with dried flowers placed strategically (a dried rose petals represents a cholita’s body, how ingenius!), and then painstakingly painted with pastels.  It’s quite touching to see the amount of care and pride bestowed on each card.  The women consult each other on each’s card design.  From a purely objective POV (for the record, I have not bought the cards made by the non-profit which I work for, but have bought loads of these), these are the most beautiful cards in Cochabamba and they are reasonably priced at Bs.10 each.  Includes recycled paper envelope.  You can find these at Santa Clara church at the corner of Colombia & 25 de Mayo or if you need further directions, please contact me (agnes.p.chu@gmail.com).

How to recycle in Cochabamba / Locabamba

16 Aug

*Para español, mire abajo.

As there isn’t a municipal system for recycling in Cochabamba yet, most recycling done here is underground, with scavengers who pick through trash to find plastic bottles, paper, or glass bottles to resell to “centros de acopios” or tiny little storage centers who sort the stuff and sell it to a recycling plant.  The centros de acopios, being the middle man, take a large cut, and the recycling centers take an even larger cut, with scavengers left with a low income.  In fact, 85% of scavengers in Cochabamba, who dedicate their lives solely to recycling,  live below the line of poverty, 647 Bs./month (~$92 USD).

If you’re looking to recycle in Cochabamba, you can take your goods to any centro de acopio (just look for a little shack the size of an internet center stuffed to the brim with recycled goods) or you can take it to the centro de acopio of Ciudades Focales, which doesn’t make a cut at all–all the money goes directly to the scavengers– located next to Burger King.

Address: Av.Ayacucho, esq. Teniente Arévalo  (Burger King on the Prado, go down one block to Ayacucho and you will see a place with an adobe wall and a small wooden door.  It looks like a house from the campo. There is no sign.  It’s exactly at the corner, on the same side of the street as Burger King and about a half-block away from the Cine Arte café, opposite site.)

Ciudades Focales' Centro de Acopio from the inside. / El Centro de Acopio de Ciudades Focales

Hours: M-Sa., 10:30 a.m.- 12:30 p.m., 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Prices: Usually, 18 plastic bottles (1 kilo), smashed = 1.30 – 1.50 Bs.   10 plastic bottles, whole = 1 Bs.  Paper (1 kilo) = 1.50 Bs.  Glass bottles (1 kilo) = 0.10 – 0.30 Bs.

Ciudades Focales is thinking about rolling out an “Adopt a Recycler” program, where a scavenger will come by to pick up your goods every so often.  The relationship is solely between you and the recycler, with Ciudades Focales only providing the initial contact link (think: dating service) so you guys will be able to decide the details.  If you are interested, you can contact me at agnes.p.chu@gmail.com or (591) 73748819.


Como no hay una Sistema de Gestión Integral de Residuos Sólidos para Cochabamba, la mayoría del reciclaje se realiza underground, con los segregadores quien recogen la basura para encontrar botellas de plástico, papel, o botellas de vidrio para luego venderlas a los centros de acopio, los pequeños centros de almacenamientos que sortan los residuos sólidos y los venden a los plantas del reciclaje.  Los centros de acopios, estando los intermediarios, recibien una gran tajada/parte del dinero y las plantas del reciclaje reciben una más grande tajada.  Al final, los segregadores se quedan con un ingreso bajo.  De hecho, 85% de los segregadores en Cbba, quien se dedican sus vidas exclusivamente a reciclar, tienen ingresos bajo el sueldo básico, 647 Bs. cada mes.

Si quieres reciclar en Cochabamba, puedes llevar sus residuos reciclados a cualquier centro de acopio (busca una tienda el mismo tamaño que un internet café y que tiene los residuos reciclados se derrame fuera de él) o puedes llevar a el centro de acopio de Ciudades Focales, que no toma una tajada–todo el dinero va a los segregadores.

Dirección: Av.Ayacucho, esq. Teniente Arévalo  (Burger King en el Prado, baja una cuadra hasta Ayacucha y verás un lugar de adobe y una puerta de madera.  Lo parece como un casa del campo.  No hay un señalo.  Se ubica precisamente en la esquina, en el mismo lado de la calle como Burger King y media cuadra del Cine de Arte café, pero el lado opuesto.)

Horarios: M-Sa., 10:30 – 12:30, 17:00 – 19:00

Precios: Usualmente, 18 botellas de plástico (1 kilo), aplastadas = 1.30 – 1.50 Bs.   10 botellas de plástico, enteros = 1 Bs.  Papel, blanco (1 kilo) = 1.50 Bs.  Botellas de Vidrio (1 kilo) = 0.10 – 0.30 Bs.  Cobre (1 kilo) = 30 Bs.

Ciudades Focales está planeado presentar un programa se llama “Adoptar un Segregador,” donde los segregadores irán a tu hogar para recoger de vez en cuando tus residuos reciclados.  La relación es exclusivamente entre tu y el segregador–Ciudades Focales sólo proporcionar el enlace de contacto inicial (piensa: servicio de citas).  Si estás interesada, ponte en contacto conmigo en  agnes.p.chu@gmail.com o (591) 73748819.

Of children of poverty in Cochabamba: shoe-shining and glue-sniffing

14 Jul

I frequent restaurants and cafés in Cochabamba daily, out of city boredom.  During each stop, a stream of people hawking goods approaches–more so than any other city I’ve to in S.America so far–usually it’s children looking like they came from the factories of Oliver Twist who sell flowers or candy or shoe-shining services and sometimes it’s Argentinian hippies selling beads.  I’m good at saying no, because I know it’ll only do temporary good, but it’s hard when children are involved.  There is one kid who I encounter everyday–he’s quite hard-working, doing a loop of all the tourist areas and insisting on shining a gringo’s tennis shoes, containing 0% leather, or the strap of a sandal.  I tell him that I’m wearing flip-flops and he asks me to buy him dinner.  I tell him, perhaps another day, and he asks exactly when.  I tell him about my policy but offer to help with homework instead.  He tells me sure but he never did bring his homework.  I see him again and he listens to my mp3 player for a while.  Another girl, perhaps 8, approaches, jealous of his relationship with me, and demands to know how I know him.  “Are you guys friends?” she asks.  “I help him with his homework.  I can help you too” I offer but she wanders away.  He asks me for my mp3 player as a gift and I explain my policy again.  I’m not sure if he really does understand and sometimes I feel as if I should buy him dinner to encourage him, maybe he really is hungry.  His mother works during the day and I wonder if she is feeding him.  I hear from other Cochabambinos that the kids’ families are really not at bottom-of-the-barrel poverty, their parents make the children work and use the money sometimes to drink or for other purposes.

Also existent in Cochabamba but not in La Paz are children addicted to glue.  Glue is cheap.  They live under the bridge and beg people in the streets for money.  I got approached today by one, who had the giddy insanity of Gollum.  I wish there was perhaps a rehab clinic available in Cocha or maybe a law prohibiting sale of glue to minors or even an informal movement of socially-conscious vendors who refuse to sell glue to kids who look supernaturally happy.

A guide to Cochabamba

10 Jul

*Please note that this guide has been edited to include additional tips learned from living 3 months and counting here.

I came to Cochabamba on the heels of a terribly cold winter in La Paz and after reading The Frugal Traveler’s “All Advice Leads to Cochabamba, Bolivia” article.  The Frugal Traveler, Seth Pugel, mostly talks about food in Cochabamba and though that is reason enough to come to a place, there’s really nothing much else to do here.   It’s a city, the 3rd largest in Bolivia with around pop. 600,000 and 1,000,000 greater area.  My first day in Bolivia was spent in wonder, loving the weather (LA, California-like with year-round avg is 70 F and the temp. stays consistent) and thinking that Cocha looked almost like Texas.  It’s the first city in Bolivia that I’ve seen with good street-signage at every corner and it has modernly wide-streets for cars, very tranquilo compared to the cluster-fuck of minis and micros in La Paz, and just like a town in Texas.  The city is modern, filled with many students from Brazil, because of the med-school here which is top-quality and cheap, and NGOs.  My consequent week here was spent slighty sick, from the pollution trapped by the mountains here.  My laptop gets a little layer of dust from just a few minutes outside in the street.  Daily-living in Cochabamba is also expensive, contrary to what Lonely Planet tells you.  Everything is higher-priced than both La Paz and Sucre and especially as it’s tourist season now, the prices have risen again.  Cochabambinos travel outside more so than people from any other department of Bolivia (also a fair portion of Cochabamba is poor…farming is life here).  I’ve been approached here by kids selling jewelry or shoe-shining more so than any other place in Bolivia.

But the food here is fresh and piled high.  There are many restaurants to try out and it is impossible to order anything that is not enough for 2 or 3 people.  Perfect place for couples to share dishes.  The men here have little stomach pooches and it’s not considered an appearance defect.  Though it is considered one for women, of course, and they watch their weight.

The Lonely Planet (2010 edition) doesn’t have a terribly great or comprehensive list of hotels or restaurants, but you can find a pretty good listing here–it has descriptions from Lonely Planet or other travel guides, but offers a much better list.

The best recommendation I can make is to go to Casablanca (next to Plaza Colon on 25 de Mayo)–it’s a cafe with wifi and very happening amongst Bolivians and gringos.  They also have a fantastic, reasonably-priced menu, where you can find fresh ceviche (raw trout from the river) for 25B or $3.50, lattes (7Bs), irish coffee (20Bs), sandwiches (16Bs), pasta (26Bs), beers (10Bs), etc.

The tourist office on Plaza Cólon (east side, paseo independecia) offers great info and maps.  For cultural offerings, you can pick up a monthly calendar from the cultural office at CBA (Centro Boliviano Americano, 25 de Mayo off Plaza Cólon.)

Trip Details

Taking the Bus from La Paz: Boliviar is the best company, with plush cama seats.  They leave almost every 1 1/2, beginning at 6:30 a.m. and ending at 11 p.m.  The journey is approx 8 hrs, if you take the morning bus, and 7 hrs if you take the night bus.  Cost of a ticket for cama for the 6:30 a.m. bus is 50Bs, and I believe the cost for a cama for the night bus is 90 Bs, semi-cama 70Bs, and normal (not worth it!) 50Bs.  Ask if there are any road-blocks, because when I went, there was a road-block an hr away from Cocha due to cocoa-farmer protests and I had to take another mini  for 20Bs.  The best way to find this out might be to see if other companies are leaving at the same time too.

Pricing Guide:

  1. Taxi:  5B anywhere in the center, anytime of day.  Drivers will try to charge 8-10, but let them drive away.
  2. Minibuses or Buses:  1.50B.  Most of them go toward the center.
  3. Average Hotel:  No European-style hostels here, so the cheapest individual room with shared bath will be 35-45Bs and with private bath is 50Bs.  Try to negotiate “sin factura” (without tax receipt)
  4. Internet:  2-4Bs per hour; places around Plaza Cólon are 3B, around Avenida de las Heroinas is 2.50B.
  5. Average non-street food meal:  30Bs for a shit-ton of food.

Lodging: I’ve only stayed at 2 places:  Residencial Familiar & Hostel Jardin.  Of the two, I prefer Hostel Jardin, b/c it is cleaner with sturdier doors, but though I’ve never stayed at Nawpa, it seems amazing.  I’ve heard that you can negotiate “sin factura.”

  1. Residencial Familiar:  central location, near the main plaza.  35B for a single with shared bathroom and 55 for a single with a private bathroom.  I stayed here a night, though it was slightly creepy, because the doors are only padlocked with a 99cents store lock and the room is tiny, barely wide enough to fit a twin-size bed.   The bathroom was a bit dirty–don’t get me wrong, it was newly-tiled and all, but not cleaned very often.   No internet.
  2. Hostel Jardin: disad would be its location, but still near the center and about 10-min walk to Plaza Colon.  30B for a single with a shared bathroom with breakfast (bread and tea) and 50 for a single with a private bathroom.  The single room comes with two twin beds and smells a bit like cleaning-fluid.  Bathrooms are really clean, but the hot water comes and goes b/c of the electric shower.  No internet.  If you stay more than 10 days, you get a discount to 25B/day.
  3. Hostel Buenos Aires: I didn’t stay here, but it has a great central location, though I’ve heard that it’s a bit busy and noisy.  40B for a single with a shared bathroom and the room looked fairly large with 2 twin-beds.  No internet.  Electric showers.
  4. Nawpa Hostel: Located right in central Cochabamba, with a relaxing colonial courtyard and a vegetarian restaurant.  I heard that because it recently opened, the beds are new.  40 Bs. a night.  No internet.
  5. Homestays: Very worthwhile is the option to stay with a Bolivian family, meals are typically included.  You can inquire at Volunteer Bolivia ($90 for a week, which is the minimum) and at Serve Abroad’s Language School (4525992, Avenida Ayacucho Nº 835 between Teniente Arévalo y Costanera, serveabroad@gmail.com) where it’s $10 a day.

Restaurants: Top-pick for fancy restaurant goes to Caso de Campo—really great and reasonably-priced steak/chicken/fish plates stuffed with food; it’s like your favourite local hole you go to with tons of friends on your birthday; for almuerzo completo goes to Sabor Como Una Piedra; and for night out goes to Vinnopoli’s.  Addresses are listed here.

  1. Yerba Buena: Right across the street from Casablanca, it has a sizable almuerzo completo serving unique, non-Bolivian food for 16B.  When I went, I had a beet soup (tasty, actually), radish-salad, large serving of pasta with a creamy egg and herb sauce, and jello.  Pretty good bar/night-spot as well and good taste in music.
  2. Jacaranda: Not near the city center at all, but it has the reputation of best charque joint in town.   I was told that I couldn’t leave Cochabamba without trying the charque, though it does really just taste like fried beef jerky.  Charque is beef jerky which is dried, then baked in the oven, then fried for the ultimate crispiness.  I got the half-plate at Jacaranda, which comes with at least a pound of dried beef jerky, 2 boiled eggs, and the tastiest choclo that I’ve had so far (oooh the cheese slab was so thick and crumbly).  The half-plate was about a 5-inch high pile, ran 50B and fed me for lunch and dinner and probably another meal if I didn’t have to chuck it out due to a lack of a refridgerator.
  3. La Estancia:  Upscale and pleasant Argentinian steak place.  Portions aren’t of the legendary Cochabamba size, but rather of the normal steak-portion size.  I’ve heard that the salad bar is amazing.  I had a cut of chicken breast fillet (still recovering from poisoning myself with chicken soup) for about 35Bs or so.  You can get those skinny skinny chip-like potato fry crisps here.
  4. Zhou: This place was recommended to me by a couple who’d lived here for 4 years, so I walked out of my way to find this place (fairly far away), and was a tad disappointed.   The food here isn’t the most authentic Asian either and not even a good P.F. Chang imitation.  Needless to say, the couple wasn’t Asian either.  It’s slightly pricey, with sushi (mostly trucha-salmon imported from La Paz.  Part of my disappointment was that I couldn’t find good cuts of fresh surubi, trout or other river-fish sashimi here in Cochabamba.) running 50Bs.  I had a classic soba (30B) but the noodles looked suspiciously like they came out of a Maruchen ramen noodle package.  And I felt slightly sick after the meal.  My conclusion:  La Paz has better sushi.  Go to Ken-Chan, run by the Japanese society, and you will find excellent, more authentic Japanese food.
  5. Wistpiku (sic): A chain of empañadas, but these are the most delicious! Stuffed with chicken or charque and beats a salteña any day.  Get the one al horno, from the oven, for 5.50B.
  6. Casa de Campo: For once, Lonely Planet was right.  This is a large, cheerful, sunny, outdoor and indoor watering hole serving big piles of food.  I ordered the half-platter of pork ribs which came with at least a pound and a half of ribs, fries, broccoli, and salad (pretty good salad) for 37B and still had leftovers.
  7. Buenos Aires: Great airy location right on the Prado, next to Brazilian Coffee, and serves a decent almuerzo complete for 18B (25B on Sunday).  Although the food is presented prettily, the quality is más o menos (quantity is certainly menos), but has the advantage of not being greasy and comes with an open salad bar.  Latté 7B, salads 26B, steak (large portions) 30-40B.  Accepts VISA.
  8. Sole Mio: An Italian joint, whose specialty is pizzas from the oven, and supposedly the best pizza in town.  Gael Garcia Bernal was seen here eating last year when he was filming a movie on location about Cochabamba’s water wars.  Pizza comes out remarkably fast but the service isn’t.  It’s a decent quality, not as good as in the U.S. but better than Eli’s.  Pizzas run about 50B for a medium and 40B for a personal, though watch out for overcharging.
  9. Cristal:  Decent chain of Bolivian restaurants (maybe like the Applebee’s of Cochabamba).  Almuerzo completo for 19B, not including drink which costs 5B.  Very stuffing and very good soups.  The restrooms are also impressively clean considering the amount of traffic that runs through Cristal.
  10. Sabor Como Una Piedra: Excellent upscale but casual restaurant in the Recoleta that offers refined dining at affordable prices (almuerzo complete: 20 Bs).  Their lunch offers 4 well-dressed entree options which always include surubi, chicken, beef or pork and the wait staff is the most professional and attentive I have ever seen in Cochabamba.  Some of the staff are students from the culinary institute.
  11. Miraflores: Local favourite and perhaps a more authentic version of Casa de Campo.  Here is where, supposedly, the Pique Machu was invented.
  12. Vinoppoli’s: Comforting wine bar with broad international palate.  An amazing Spanish omelet with chorizo.
  13. Lai Lai: If it’s the first one you see while entering the Recoleta, never go here.  I hear the second one, further along the Recoleta, is much better.

Wifi Spots: Though there’s plenty of internet cafés here and plenty of cafés, there’s not many cafés with wifi.  The best place to go to is Casa Blanca, off of Plaza Colon.

  1. Casablanca, C. 25 de Mayo N-344, also has sangria for 12B, Latte for 7B.  If you’re sensitive to smoking, there’s a non-smoking section in the back.
  2. Tunari, El Prado, a restaurant with faster connection than Casablanca but very few power outlets.  On the upside, there’s less smoke than Casablanca, but more dust if you sit outside.  My computer got blanketed in a manner of minutes.
  3. Brazilian Coffee, right off the Prado next to Hotel Diplomat, but v.expensive.  Latte for 11B (small teacup).  An alternative if you need to use the wifi is to sit close by at Dumbos or at Wis’upku (sic) and connect long-range. Password currently is a1 b2 c3 d4 e5 (without the spaces)
  4. Burger King, other end of the Prado
  5. Espresso Cafe Bar, Esteban Arce 340 esq Pasaje Catedral, next to Plaza 14 de Septiembre.  Old-fashioned, cute coffee bar where there’s always many old men sitting and reading.
  6. Havanna (CineCenter), Latte for 11Bs, and very good chocolate.