Travel South America

Should you go to La Paz or Sucre?

October 8, 2016

 

La Paz or Sucre? The vacation is planned and the tickets are bought, but you can only realistically visit one of these two Bolivian cities. The nagging question is just that- which one? 

Reading guidebooks and blogs you learn that La Paz is uniquely located and a hive of activity and adventure. But Sucre…so many people who go there seem to stay and never want to leave. To make a comfortable choice you need to take a hard look at your needs. 

Market in La Paz and San Felipe Neri in Sucre

La Paz or Sucre? Which one is for you?

La Paz or Sucre? 

Practicalities

Your route is the first thing you need to think about when making your decision. How are you going to get there? 

By Air:

If flying, La Paz will obviously have far superior connections. However,  you will have no time at all to acclimatise to its mountainous location, meaning that altitude sickness is all but guaranteed. Sucre, being a much smaller city with a basic airport, does not offer direct international connections.  Despite this, it is possible to find flights via either La Paz or Santa Cruz.

By Land:

Coming overland from Peru (from Cusco or Lake Titicaca) or Chile (from Arica) will give you time to acclimatise to La Paz. On the other hand, buses from Uyuni will take you to Potosi. From there it is only a 2-3 hour shared taxi ride on to Sucre.

 

Where are going to?

View of Machu Picchu, Peru

Are you planning to head to Peru?

La Paz is a better base in that it will combine well with trips to the Bolivian Amazon and Lake Titicaca. Peru (Cusco and/ or Arequipa), as well as Arica via Lauca National Park in northern Chile, are also itinerary possibilities. Sucre is not a transport hub, but it makes a more logical stopping off point if you are on your way to Brazil via eastern Bolivia.

Travel Tip

The bus trip from Sucre to Santa Cruz has a reputation for being hard going, even by Bolivian standards. It may not be as cheap, but a flight should result in less body bruising and exhaustion. 

What are you looking for?

The selling points of La Paz are its markets, its genuine Andean feel and the uniqueness of its location.  Calle Sagarnaga and Calle Linares are overflowing with markets selling all forms of alpaca clothing and textiles. Vendors in traditional Andean dress will compete to sell you fabric tablecloths, table runners, fleeces, t-shirts etc. Add into the equation the fact that it has more of a city feel and this may be the destination for you if you want to add some urban buzz to your vacation. Recently declared a Wonder of the World, its steep streets and cable car ascents will leave you breathless. Literally!

 

Sucre is more subtle. Visit the room where Bolivian independence was declared. View the white rooftops of the city centre from the top of the elegant San Felipe Neri Convent. Then climb the main street to Recoleta to enjoy sunset views over a cup of coffee or a beer. La Cordillera de los Frailes provides great trekking opportunities. Numerous agencies in town sell tours to the well-known markets of Candelaria and Tarabuco. More than anything else, this is the perfect place to relax, particularly if you want to stop for a few weeks to learn Spanish.

La Paz or Sucre- view of Recoleta, Sucre

Recoleta in Sucre, Bolivia

Eating or entertainment

What are you looking for on your South American trip? If you want to party with other travellers, then it is a no-brainer, La Paz has to be the choice for you.

Loki’s and The Wild Rover in La Paz are (in)famous for being party central and the nightlife in the city is  buzzing. On the other hand, if laid-back living and getting to know the locals is more your style, then places such as Bibliocafe Clasico (don’t confuse it with the reportedly unpleasant Bibliocafe de Conciertos) in Sucre will hold a definite appeal. The choice is clear on this score- but what type of traveller are you?

Relax in Bibliocafe Classic in Sucre

Bibliocafe Clasico in Sucre, Bolivia

Budget

Which one is easier on the pocket? Neither city is a budget breaker and Bolivia offers excellent value to travellers. However, La Paz, with gastronomic jewels such as Gustu (sister restaurant of the Salt in Copenhagen) offers more opportunities to splurge than Sucre. Bear in mind that Chuquisaca, the province in which Sucre is situated, is now one of the poorest in the country.

If price and cost is the top consideration, the former capital is the winner in this category.

Activities

La Paz or Sucre? Death Road

Travel in Bolivia is not always luxurious (Death Road)

Often synonymous on the South American backpacker trail with the Death Road bike ride, La Paz attracts travellers who want some adrenaline rush. Want a city where you can abseil down a skyscraper (Urban Rush)? Cycle that famous Death Road? Climb high Andean peaks or just go paragliding? Sucre also offers the latter, but travellers here are more likely to want to meet traditional country folk on a guided tour of Cordillera de los Frailes. Alternatively, you might view dinosaur footprints on a quiet afternoon.  After all, this is the destination where people stop to learn Spanish and get to know the locals more than other backpackers.

La Paz or Sucre- The verdict

Ultimately, the answer to the question depends on YOU! Are you in South America to backpack, party and meet other travellers? Or, do you want a quieter vacation to really get to know the history, culture and people of each country you pass through? If you would describe yourself more as the former, then the answer has to be La Paz. On the other hand, if you see yourself more as the latter, Sucre is the place for you. 

Finally, there is your route and the typical Bolivian fly in the ointment. Given the frequency of strikes and blockades in the country, you may plan to visit one city and end up visiting both or neither as a consequence of unforeseen circumstances. However, should you make it to Bolivia, you will understand why it is the favoured destination of so many South American travellers.  

Please feel free to leave a comment below if you want to share an opinion or an experience. You can also mail me at unlatinoverde@gmail.com. I would love hear here your feedback, both positive feedback and constructive criticism. 

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  • Tami June 1, 2017 at 02:46

    Don’t you hate it when you have to choose between two places you want to see? There’s never enough time, is there? But I guess according to your criteria, I’d have to opt for Sucre!

    • Unlatinoverde June 1, 2017 at 18:01

      Unfortunately, we can’t always see everything, so we have to make choices. I would love to hear your feedback on your trip.

  • Melody Pittman (@melodytravels) June 1, 2017 at 03:55

    Thanks for sharing such great info about both locations. I hope to add Bolivia to my travel list in 2018. I’m going for La Paz first. 😉

    • Unlatinoverde June 1, 2017 at 18:00

      Gustu is the place for you, Melody. From the founder of Noma in Copenhagen, it is the place to go to for foodies. Therefore, it has to be La Paz!

  • Mindi Hirsch June 1, 2017 at 14:28

    It would be a shame to travel to Bolivia and not get to experience both cities. I’d try my best to visit both. When I do, I’ll let you know which one that I prefer.

    • Unlatinoverde June 1, 2017 at 17:57

      I agree with you that they are sufficiently distinct to both deserve a visit. I’ll be interested to hear which one is more you, Mindi!

  • erinklema June 1, 2017 at 18:14

    This was a really helpful post, and I imagine if I had to choose between the two cities, I’d opt for Sucre based on your analysis. But, I really loved being in the Andes in Peru, so maybe I’d want to be in La Paz. I better just plan enough time for both whenever I visit Bolivia!

    • Unlatinoverde June 1, 2017 at 20:55

      Glad you enjoyed it! La Paz has a truly Andean feel, but Sucre is special!

  • Buddy The Traveling Monkey June 6, 2017 at 02:27

    Posts like these are so helpful! It can be really hard to decide between two places when you’re limited on time. I personally would probably choose Sucre, but obviously I’d try to go to both if I did have the time.

    • Unlatinoverde June 6, 2017 at 18:41

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

      Unfortunately, we often have to make these types of choices. Time limits and money constraints mean that we can visit every place that we would like to see. To see both, the best plan might be to travel back to Sucre (from Potosi) on the way back from Uyuni and then travel onto La Paz. However, the city does not always lend itself easily to many travel itineraries and it is often overlooked. This is a pity because it has some real charm. Those who make it there often find it difficult to leave.

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