Once a backwater, the picturesque city of Tarija is primed to take center stage in Bolivia. Located in the south of the country, not far from the borders of Paraguay and Argentina, Tarija is Bolivia’s second fastest growing city and quickly becoming a must stop on the Bolivian tourist trail.
The addictive energy of Tarija is apparent from the moment you step foot in the small city. Young people crowd the streets and fill the city’s plazas. Hip restaurants serving international and local cuisine dot the tree-lined thoroughfares and sleek bars keep the Tarija’s youth busy through the night.
Though Tarija has a enthusiastic and lively atmosphere, it is at its heart a laid back city, a world away from the bustle and chaos of La Paz. But it’s not only the ambiance of the city that differentiates it from Bolivia’s colorful capital. The food, traditions and commerce of the southern district are all unique.
If you’re excited about trying the unique dishes of a country, Tarija is a culinary wonderland.
Situated close to Argentina, the tradition of perfectly grilled bife de chorizo and other paradilla, or grilled meat, specialties is a welcome and delicious treat. The markets in the center of the city and a little further out at Campesino, feature local streets eats unavailable in the rest of the country.
If you make it here be sure to try the Tarija specialties of dulce de lacayote, or caramelized squash, and aniseed and clove pancakes known locally as tojori along with any number of deliciously sweet street side pastries and savory freshly cooked bites.
It’s easy to spend the day strolling the pleasant streets of Tarija popping into contemporary local art galleries or trolling the markets for sensational street food fare. But if that were all you did in Tarija, you’d miss out on the city’s main attraction: its vineyards.
Wine production is a staple of Tarija life. Whereas in the rest of the country there are ubiquitous Paceña and Huari signs promoting beer on every corner, in Tarija the sponsors are of a vinicultural variety.
Nestled in the same wine producing region as the renowned vineyards of Chile and Argentina, Bolivian wine is surprisingly delicate, balanced, and honestly pretty good.
Touring the vineyards and sampling various local vintages ranging from light roses to floral whites and fruity reds is a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend the day or two. Of course where there is wine, there tend to be cheese and charcuterie. A tour of the vineyards usually includes all three.
With wine fueling the city, no surprise that Tarija is one of the most festive in Bolivia. Each year the city and the adjacent El Valle de la Concepcion host the Fiesta de la Uva in March, celebrating the region’s cherished grapes and coinciding with the annual harvest.
The colorful Carnaval celebration is one of the country’s finest as well, as is September’s Fiesta de la San Roque. An interesting if not offbeat Serrano Ham and Cheese celebration rounds out Tarija’s unique festival calendar.
Whether you visit Tarija for the laid back atmosphere, fresh eats, quaint vineyards or colorful festivals, it’s a trip you won’t regret. Though it’s thoroughly Bolivian, Tarija is also wholly different from the rest of the country’s more popular tourist destinations. Book a bed and breakfast, pick out a good book, come hungry and plan to stay awhile. Tarija will delight and surprise you in a way you don’t expect.