It feels like you’ve entered a forgotten world, something from a science fiction movie when intrepid adventurers stumble upon a hidden valley where dinosaurs still rule and humans are running around in animal furs shaking spears in mute fury.
In truth it may not be this dramatic, but as you turn off the main Potosi – Oruro road you suddenly leave the earthy browns of this high altitude region behind and head into a lush agricultural valley stretching 25km eastwards. More of a surprise is what awaits at the end of the valley in the tiny village of Cayara: a beautiful hacienda sitting in the peaceful valley floor that has been continuously inhabited since 1557 and which has been lovingly restored and opened as a guest house.
The Hacienda Cayara (www.hotelmuseocayara.com/english/museum.html) is one of the most beautiful and tranquil places I’ve ever been privileged to stay. But it is much more than that, it literally drips with history – and the history of the hacienda is also the history of Bolivia from the Spanish conquest onwards.
There are libraries containing original Sixteenth Century calf skin bound books; a natural spring that has been running into one of the courtyards for over 200 years and is so pure you can drink it without concern; a magnificent chapel that has been an integral part of the hacienda’s life for centuries; extensive grounds full of crops and flowers; and an inspirational museum that boasts the original armour of one of the first Conquistadors to arrive in Bolivia.
The hacienda is owned by the most charming and helpful man imaginable. How many hotels come with an enthusiastic and illuminating guided tour by the owner? If that wasn’t enough it produces its own milk, cheese, ice cream and fruit and vegetables – all of which you’ll get to sample over dinner and breakfast. The ice cream is absolutely delicious.
The surrounding village and valley are beautiful places to stroll in the early morning, soaking up the atmosphere as the village springs back to life and people start their day. A short walk from the village is a lovely waterfall, en route you can see dozens of birds of many different species, as well as people working the fields.
As night fell over the valley we were treated to a dramatic and beautiful sunset that set the sky and surrounding hills on fire, and with darkness the hacienda was illuminated and looked even more fabulous.
Even though I’m a fan of Potosi, my advice would be to skip spending the night in the city and make directly for Cayara, it’s only 30 minutes by car. I know we’ll be going back.