Stepping back into history, the Museo Hacienda Cayara

At the end of the long and verdant Cayara Valley lies the tiny village of the same name. It looks like any ordinary Bolivian village: red tiles in the Spanish fashion sit atop adobe houses nestled into hillsides; braying donkeys occasionally breach the peace as they’re pursued by old ladies wearing colourful clothes; men and women tend their crops in the surrounding fields; and there is an all pervasive sense of timelessness about the whole place.

For me timelessness has a double meaning in Cayara. When you are there it is as if time has been suspended, as if the world of the valley sits on a different plain of reality, isolating you from the madness of the world outside its borders; and then there is the Museo Hacienda Cayara, a hacienda dating back to the earliest phase of the Spanish conquest of the Bolivian part of the Inca empire.

Entrance, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Entrance, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

The hacienda is tucked away at one end of the village, hidden from sight by the surrounding hills and trees, so that when you approach its gates it is as if something ancient and secret is being revealed for the first time. Founded in 1557 in a region the Spanish had renamed New Toledo, the hacienda literally drips with history, and it has been the home to Spanish nobility and refuge to pioneers of Bolivia’s independence.

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Patio, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Patio, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Today it has been completed renovated and transformed by the current owner into a hotel, which is a description that doesn’t do the hacienda justice. It is a living museum, but there is also a museum in the building with items from colonial times through to the present. There are beautiful gardens and grounds, the hacienda has its own farm, including a dairy farm, providing fresh produce for all meals, and I doubt there is a more welcoming place to stay in the whole of Bolivia.

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Patio, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Patio, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Gardens, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Gardens, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

200 year old fresh water supply, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

200 year old fresh water supply, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Inside, the hacienda is decorated with original paintings, furniture, light fittings and pre- and post-hispanic artworks and artefacts. It is a treasure trove of Bolivian history, there are even two libraries containing books dating back to the 17th Century. It is a privilege to be able to wander through the house.

Sitting room, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Sitting room, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Dining room, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Dining room, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Bedroom, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Bedroom, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

As well as providing excellent walking opportunities in the valley or to nearby villages, just a short walk behind the hacienda is a beautiful waterfall that also give an indication of why this valley is so green – water is year-round in the valley, appearing from a underground source above the valley and then plunging down its cliffs to the the valley floor. The power of the water has been harnessed to provide hydroelectric power to the entire valley.

Walking alongside a river to the waterfall, Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Walking alongside a river to the waterfall, Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hairy donkeys en route to the waterfall, Cayara, Bolivia

Hairy donkeys en route to the waterfall, Cayara, Bolivia

Waterfall at the end of the Cayara Valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Waterfall at the end of the Cayara Valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Return to the Secret Valley, Cayara revisited

Finding a road less travelled without heading into the jungles of Borneo, or risking life and limb in the Hindu Kush, is a challenge in these days of mass global travel. Thankfully, in the valley where the Hacienda Cayara lies, just outside the city of Potosi in the Bolivian highlands, you can be assured of getting away from the crowds.

This was our second trip to Cayara. The one day we spent here in December wasn’t enough to satisfy our longing for nature and absolute peace and quiet. We promised ourselves we’d return to absorb more of the unique atmosphere of the valley and of the Hacienda Cayara. Outside of the Amazon the area has to be one of the greenest in Bolivia, there is abundant bird life and there is tremendous walking available, right from the door of the Hacienda

Heading out on a three hour walk down the valley in the early morning was one of the most pleasant walks I’ve done in Bolivia. With the exception of the sound of the river and the ever present chirruping of birds (I must have seen more than twenty different types of bird), the valley was tranquility itself. I hope these photos and videos give some idea of just how special the valley is.

Early morning in the sleepy village of Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Early morning in the sleepy village of Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Donkey, Cayara Village, Potosi, Bolivia

Donkey, Cayara Village, Potosi, Bolivia

View over Cayara Village, Potosi, Bolivia

View over Cayara Village, Potosi, Bolivia

A woman walks down the road, Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

A woman walks down the road, Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cemetery, Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cemetery, Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cemetery, Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cemetery, Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara village, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara village, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara village, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara village, Potosi, Bolivia

Potosi’s secret valley

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.

Hacienda Cayara, Cayara, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Cayara, Bolivia

Courtyard, Hacienda Cayara, Cayara, Bolivia

Courtyard, Hacienda Cayara, Cayara, 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.

View from the grounds, Hacienda Cayara, Cayara, Bolivia

View from the grounds, Hacienda Cayara, Cayara, Bolivia

Flowers in the grounds of Hacienda Cayara, Cayara, Bolivia

Flowers in the grounds of Hacienda Cayara, Cayara, Bolivia

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.

The village of Cayara, Bolivia

The village of Cayara, Bolivia

A woman walks her donkeys to the river, the village of Cayara, Bolivia

A woman walks her donkeys to the river, the village of Cayara, Bolivia

Houses in the village of Cayara, Bolivia

Houses in the village of Cayara, Bolivia

Cows in the village of Cayara, Bolivia

Cows in the village of Cayara, Bolivia

A woman working in the fields in the village of Cayara, Bolivia

A woman working in the fields in the village of Cayara, Bolivia

Ancient bridge leading into the village of Cayara, Bolivia

Ancient bridge leading into the village of Cayara, Bolivia

The three wise donkeys, Cayara, Bolivia

The three wise donkeys, Cayara, Bolivia

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.

Sunset over Hacienda Cayara, Cayara, Bolivia

Sunset over Hacienda Cayara, Cayara, Bolivia

The Hacienda Cayara at night, Cayara, Bolivia

The Hacienda Cayara at night, Cayara, Bolivia

The Hacienda Cayara at night, Cayara, Bolivia

The Hacienda Cayara at night, Cayara, Bolivia

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.