Sucre, situated in the heart of Bolivia, is regularly described as the finest colonial-era city in Latin America. For anyone who has visited Cusco or Buenos Aires that may seem like hyperbole, but it is undeniable that Sucre has an easy and seductive charm that is lacking in most cities across the continent.
Without fear of contradiction, Sucre, with beautiful whitewashed colonial buildings including numerous churches with elaborate gold decoration and housing a wealth of artwork, is Bolivia’s most attractive city. It is home to numerous universities (including the oldest in Bolivia, one of the oldest in the Americas) and remains a lively and youthful city, and much of that life is centred around the buzzing Plaza 25 de Mayo.
Founded in 1538 as the Spanish administrative capital of Bolivia, Paraguay, northern Argentina and Chile, and largely built with money from the silver mines in Potosi, it was in Sucre that the first calls for independence occurred in 1809 and where Bolivian independence was declared in 1825.
All of this combined was the reason Sucre became an Unesco World Heritage site in 1991. The best view of the city is gained by a steep walk up hill to the Recoleta, where it is possible to sit in the lovely Cafe Mirador and sip a drink while drinking in the views. Also at the Recoleta is Sucre’s finest museum, the Museo Textil Etnografico, well worth an hour of anyone’s time to discover the fascinating cultural history of the region.
In truth, Sucre’s political and economic importance has gracefully declined over the centuries leaving it something of a backwater…although it remains the constitutional capital of Bolivia, real political power resides in La Paz, and the nation’s economic powerhouse is Santa Cruz. Walking Sucre’s streets, however, is to be daily reminded of its extraordinary history, and also of just how liveable a city it is.
Like so many towns in Spain and North Africa, Sucre’s life often seems split into two distinct personalities: a very public street life and the personal interior life of the home. Frequently when strolling around town you get glimpses of both and it is endlessly fascinating.
Sucre is rightly famous for its beautiful colonial-era churches, their whitewashed facades glisten in the sun and are one of the stand-out features of the cityscape. Sometimes getting inside them is difficult as they have very peculiar opening hours, but if you happen to be walking past and the doors are open, it is always worth popping in to have a look around. Quite often you can access the roof for panoramic views of the city.