Cochabamba, Bolivia’s Garden City

Cochabamba is only 380 km from La Paz, but it feels worlds away. Seeing the lush vegetation in the city’s parks was our first indication that we were no longer on the Altiplano. At 2,558 m (8,390 ft), the temperature is much warmer, the air is thicker, and the ground is more fertile than it was on the high plateau.

While walking around Cochabamba we realized how many green spaces there are in this city. It seemed as if every block has a square filled with palm trees, flowering trees and flower gardens. As well, many boulevards are lined with mature trees providing shade. It is quite impressive that the city has committed so much space to parks and gardens.

Plaza 14 de Septiembre (14th of September Square)

Founded by the Spanish in 1571, Cochabamba’s many fabulous old Spanish colonial buildings have prominent places in the city today. The Incas had a settlement in this area before the Spanish, but unfortunately none of their buildings remain. Plaza 14 de Septiembre is a lovely square bordered by bright yellow colonial buildings. At their base are long, covered sidewalks with arched ceilings. The inside of the square is filled with flower gardens and park benches under tall palm trees. It’s a lively plaza; always filled with local families.

Along the side of the plaza are two churches. The large Metropolitan Basilica de San Sebastian takes up most of the space. On the corner, is the smaller, but more elaborate, Iglesia de Compañía de Jesus. At night, even more people come to the square to see it glow under the soft evening lights.

There is a strong police presence in the park. At first we were unsure if it was safe to be there, but then we noticed that one of the buildings on the plaza is home to the Cochabamba Police.

Plaza Colon

Not as spectacular as Plaza 14 de Septiembre, Plaza Colon is located just a few blocks away. It has a few fountains, gardens and flowering trees but is next to busy streets making it less relaxing. On nearby Avenida José Ballivian you can find several popular restaurants.

Cristo de la Concordia (Christ of Peace)

From many places in town you can see this large statue of Christ standing on San Pedro Hill above town. A teleférico takes you up to the top of the hill, 265 m above. Although the city seems quite tropical, the hill is more desert-like. From the gondola we looked down on a hill covered by scrub bushes and cacti.

Cristo de la Concordia is the tallest statue of Christ in South America. At 34.2 m tall it is 44 cm taller than the more famous Cristo Redentor in Rio, Brazil . You used to be able to go inside and climb to the top of the statue, but it is currently closed due to Covid restrictions.

The cost of the teleférico is 6.50 Bolivianos up and another 6.50 down. There are only 6 cars on the line, in bunches of 3. You can walk up or down, but it is strongly discouraged. There are many rumors of robberies occurring on the walk. We did see police patrolling the stairs that lead to the top which made us believe that the rumours may be true.

Santa Theresa Convent Museum

From the outside you wouldn’t look twice at this unassuming building. Walk inside however, and your opinion changes. Two stories of long, white corridors with arched entry ways look out to a garden courtyard. From the arched doorways we could see the clay tiled roof on the chapel’s dome.

The building has recently been restored so we could see how it would have looked years ago. The design was originally supposed to have one large dome, but the plans ended up not being feasible. Instead a smaller one was built.

The convent was established in the 18th century with only 4 nuns. Similar to other convents at the time the nuns came from wealthy families and lived cloistered lives entirely within the confines of the convent. They were entirely self-sufficient. We saw very basic bedrooms, the infirmary, a small chapel, a candle making workshop and a funeral room. Our guide joked that the nuns couldn’t even get out after death. Their lives were far different from the nuns living in luxury in Arequipa at the time.

The best part of the tour was going on the roof. We walked over the uneven clay tiles around the dome. From there we had a great view of the small cupolas and bell tower. We walked around the perimeter of the building on stone tiles that cover the 3 meter wide walls. It was a unique way to appreciate the interesting roof as well as have awesome views of the city.

The fee is 25 Bolivianos and an additional 25 B to use a camera. It includes a one-hour tour in Spanish. Our guide was very good, typing the important details into Google Translate on her phone.

Palacio de Portales

This mansion of a former Bolivian millionaire is now a museum. Due to Covid restrictions we were only able to walk through the immaculate gardens that surround this beautiful palace.

The entry fee is small, but we felt that it’s not really worth a visit, especially if the building is closed. Not far from the palace we found a charming church. Built in 1654, Iglesia de la Recoleta is in very good condition today.

Torotoro National Park

When you visit Cochabamba make sure you include a few days in Torotoro National Park. For more information visit our post from Torotoro.

Where to stay and eat

Cochabamba is touted as the gastronomic capital of Bolivia. To be honest, we had some good meals, but not nearly as good as expected, especially for the price. Many restaurants charge North American prices, which in Bolivia is very expensive. We did find two places that we loved. It’s not traditional Bolivian food, but for dinner we went twice to Da Vinci Pizzeria Bar. And we found excellent coffee at Cafe d’Fakus.

Most restaurants are near Plaza Colon and most coffee shops are on or near Plaza 14 de Septiembre. Try to stay in a hotel that is walking distance to one of these plazas as they are also closest to most tourist sites. If you’re looking for a late night spot head to the other side of the river from Plaza Colon. Boulevard Recoleta is a funky street with a lot of pubs and bars.

To read about our other adventures in Bolivia click here.

Coming Next – Walking in Dinosaur Footprints, Torotoro

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To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.

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