Voices from Our Travels: Sucre, Bolivia

October 9, 2011Look Travel

Sucre ViewSucre isn’t what you were expecting when you decided to come to Bolivia. You came for blindingly white salt flats, and here you found brilliantly whitewashed walls. You came for surreal red rock formations, and here you found faded terracotta roofs. You came for soaring snow-topped peaks, and here you found a perimeter of dry, rugged mountains enclosing a grid of sloping streets. You came for one of the world’s most superlative, forbidding landscapes. Here you found a cityscape as romantic as Hemingway’s Spain.

Still, there is no mistaking this stunning city for anything but the historic heart of Bolivia. Sucre saw the region’s meteoric ascent in the Spanish colonial hierarchy thanks to the silver mines of nearby Potosí, birthed the first national independence movement in 1809, and bore witness to the final expulsion of Spain in 1825. These bell towers, archways, and plazas record a complex, turbulent political and social history that continues into the present.

But unlike many historic cities in Europe and elsewhere in Latin America, Sucre is no museum. Traffic and pedestrians fight for dominance in the picturesque lanes of the city center, and electrical wires slither up elegantly peeling (though by no means decaying) colonial facades. In the central market, old women saw away at cow and pig carcasses, or sit among piles of fruits and vegetables stacked as high as the surrounding hills. Sucre may not be pristine, but that’s what makes it perfect.

Most visitors think of Bolivia as an adventure destination, but Sucre has established itself as a luxurious reprieve from the country’s marvelous, but often challenging, geography. Sucre is blessed with friendly people, a laid back pace, traditional loveliness, and a relatively forgiving altitude (it sits a mere 9,000 ft. above sea level, compared to La Paz’s 12,000 ft. and Potosí’s staggering 16,000). The brand new Mi Pueblo Samary (or “My Town Samary”) Hotel, which opened just one month ago, embraces this spirit of respite wholeheartedly.

More than a hotel, Samary – which translates from the Quechua language of the high Andes as “a place to rest” – was designed to resemble an intimate, imagined village. The courtyard garden, surrounded by a colonnade recovered from the original 1876 structure, serves, like Sucre’s own lush plazas, as the hotel’s focal point. The 18 individually decorated rooms are designed around unique Bolivian textiles. Many of the ornately carved wooden headboards are restored antiques from Sucre’s colonial heyday. The third floor restaurant offers marvelous views over the city’s rooftops, and breakfast includes breads baked daily in the terrace’s clay oven. Rather than an ordinary hotel bar, the first floor houses a tiny chicheria where guests can enjoy traditional homemade liquors.

Located in one of the cheapest countries in the Americas, Sucre makes a great bargain destination. A room with a king-sized bed at the Samary – including all expected amenities – runs only US$75 per night. The easiest way to arrive in Sucre is through the modest airport, with daily connections to international airports in La Paz and Santa Cruz, though most travelers arrive by bus from Potosí (3 hours) or La Paz (about 12-15 hours).

By creating it’s own unique mythology, the Samary Hotel also offers guests a glimpse of Sucre’s storied past. In this city enamored of history, but never trapped by it, this may be the greatest luxury of all.

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