Southern Highlands

Shutterstock/46909009/Pablo H CaridadSucre and Potosí are the finest examples of Bolivia's colonial heritage and two of its main tourist attractions. They lie only three hours apart but couldn't be more different.

Sucre exudes the assured confidence and charm befitting the country's official capital, legal centre and major university city. Isolation has helped the city to preserve its courtly charm - and just a hint of snobbery. Surrounding this sparkling white colonial masterpiece is a hinterland of traditional weaving villages, which burst into life during their frequent market days and festivals. Dinosaur-hunters are also making tracks for Sucre, with the discovery of many prehistoric footprints. Ask Bolivians where in their country you should go and they will mostly answer 'Sucre'.

Potosí is not only the highest city in the world, at over 4000 m, but was once the largest, wealthiest city in the Americas. It now has the air of a dignified, but destitute old man showing the signs of a decadent past. All around are reminders of its silver-mining heyday, from the many colonial buildings, to the massive mint, where the silver was smelted into coins for the Spanish Crown. Towering over the city is the giant pink hulk of Cerro Rico - Rich Mountain - from which the silver was extracted, at an unimaginable human cost. Visitors can join miners and burrow down into its bowels through a series of tunnels and shafts, meet the devil face to face, and experience what life was like many centuries ago for those who were forced to enter the 'Mouth of Hell'.

Further south is Tarija, a pleasant city with a delightful climate, known for its fruit and wines and its traditions that set it apart from the rest of the country. The region's potential as a tourist destination has yet to be fully developed but the independent traveller will find much to discover here.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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