I’ve spent the last six weeks in Cochabamba, and though it’s not a lot of time, I feel confident saying that this is a truly liveable city. I would be happy to return and live here for a while longer, because there’s a lot on offer and it just feels downright comfortable.
I’ve picked my top nine reasons, but if I’m being honest, there are more. And the biggest one, the hardest to quantify or detail, really, is just that it’s a super comfortable and welcoming place to land for a time.
It’s not called the City of Eternal Spring for nothing. In truth, though the climate does change between seasons, it doesn’t have the swings that you would expect from other cities in Bolivia. Although it does get downright hot for stretches of a few days at a time, most days the temperature hovers between the perfectly acceptable range of 24-30 degrees Celsius.
It rains occasionally in the late afternoons and evenings (though more so in rainy season, which I have not experienced), and then it clears up and gets warm again. You could feasibly go to the pool almost any and every day, or comfortably go for a run or walk up to the Cristo (though most people avoid doing so in the hottest part of the afternoon). In a word, if you’re a fair-weather person (as I am) then this is a great city for you.
Salsa and bachata
Bolivia is not, errr, widely known around the world for being some great proponent of salsa and bachata dancing. However classes and even salsatecos abound in Cochabamba. There are quite literally any number of classes every single day of the week, as well as bars most nights where you can go practice out in the real world. Bolivians really enjoy dancing in general, and if salsa’s not your thing, you can easily find whatever form is.
The Cristo de la Concordia
Whether you’re religious or not doesn’t matter when it comes to enjoying the Cristo. It’s the biggest Christ in the world and it’s kinda awesome…it serves as a beacon no matter where in the city you find yourself, to help you orientate. Also, the hike up is incredibly good exercise and makes for a fun competition between friends – who can summit the fastest despite the altitude!?
At the top you also get incredible 360 views of the entire city. I haven’t gotten sick of doing it yet, and in fact think it’s one of the things I’ll miss the most.
Everything in Bolivia is generally really cheap. You want an affordable, liveable city with lots on offer? Cochabamba is the place. I can find all sorts of food at extremely reasonable prices. I’ve eaten Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Indian, and know of Pakistani and Turkish foods on offer – generally for less than $5 a meal, and though not always entirely true to their authentic homes, a darned good effort.
Plus taxis are incredibly cheap – I can get from one end of the city to another for less than $3 and eat my fill of home cooked meals for a very comfortable grocery allowance. I go into all the prices in more depth here, but suffice to say that you can live very comfortably on a few hundred dollars a month.
Both of the grocery type and the restaurant type. Cochabamba is often lauded as the “foodie heaven of Bolivia” and while this might be stretching the point juuuuuust a touch, it certainly does offer a better variety than many South American cities, so I’m gonna go ahead and give them this one. You’re welcome, Cocha 🙂
But seriously, as mentioned directly above, lots of variety in terms of restaurants – some vegetarian restaurants have even sprouted up. Plus, in terms of grocery shopping, the markets are stuffed with almost every kind of fruit, vegetable, and grain that you can conceive of. Impressive amounts of variety at bargain basement prices – all without having to haggle at all.
Cochabamba is a bit of a volunteer haven, so for this reason (and the fact that it’s mostly lacking any real tourist draws aside from the Cristo) the people who tend to visit Cocha are pretty socially minded and not always your typical traveler – whatever that means.
I guess I just found the other travelers here cooler than I find some travelers. There was a genuine interest among them in learning Spanish, spending time with locals, eating the street food, and generally just trying to fit in (at least sometimes, and in so much as a bunch of gringos really can!). I like the vibe. I love the people.
Maybe less thrilling to some of you than the above suggestions, but when you are travelling and re-settling in new places on a regular basis, few things are as thrilling as cheap and easy-to-navigate public transit. Just go with me on this one!
Plus the micros in all their craziness made me smile daily, especially at night when they seemed to transition to party buses. They weren’t, but don’t tell them that while Bailando is blaring from the speakers. Enrique forever!
I love me a market in general, but I debated leaving this one out of my list. Partially because La Cancha, one of the oldest and largest open air markets in the Americas, is completely and totally overwhelming. But then, my last time there just before I left, I finally got a sense of the place, knew where I was going, figured out how to get around – and suddenly it was a way better place.
To say you can find anything there is an understatement. I mean, REALLY, there is NOTHING IN THE WORLD you cannot find there. When I was coming to Bolivia I asked someone if there was anything I could bring for other volunteers, something that could not be found, and was assured that at La Cancha you can find anything you could need. And man, she was right. You really can.
Even more awesome are the smaller, tucked away food markets and (rarer still in Cochabamba) the artisan shops which abound in La Paz and more touristy parts of the country, but are generally missing from Cocha. Unless you know where to look 😉
And last but absolutely best of all:
AKA the Bolivians of Cochabamba. They are some of the most patient people I’ve ever met. They never give up on you when you’re trying to explain something in horrible Spanish, they will make friends with you regardless of the fact that you are painful to listen to, and generally are even willing to let you take photos of daily Bolivian life if you ask nicely.
Everyone always greets you with a “buen dia, que tal?” and it’s so rare to be discriminated against for being foreign. We often got thanked for doing our volunteer work, whether at our respective organizations or just when we would pick garbage up at the top of the Cristo. It only took coming to my salsa class a second time to be greeted like everyone knew me, and shop owners almost always had a kind word to say.
So accommodating, very polite, and really very sweet people in general. It’s because of them that I felt so quickly at home in such a different culture.
Oh, Cochabamba, you will be missed!