Sarah Gilbert travels to Bolivia to uncover the most exciting openings and developments, from craft beer breweries and local coffee spots to record-breaking dinosaur footprints and biodiversity hotspots.
Bolivia has no shortage of raw ingredients and now many gourmet restaurants in La Paz are adopting all-native produce. Kamilla Seidler of Gustu – Noma co-founder Claus Meyer’s restaurant-cum-philanthropic project and number 14 on this year’s Latin America’s best restaurants list – has just been hailed as Latin America’s best female chef for her innovative tasting menus. Ali Pacha, headed up by young chef Sebastián Quiroga, is this meat-loving city’s first vegan restaurant, with a new bar showcasing Bolivian spirits, wine and beer.
Unico Tannat from Campos de Solana picked up a platinum medal in the 2016 Decanter World Wine Awards, beating better-known rivals in Argentina and Chile. The Spanish planted the first Bolivian vines in the 16th century, and the one-of-a-kind national spirit singani, distilled from aromatic Muscat of Alexandria grapes, was produced soon after. Now, high-altitude vineyards are flourishing in the spring-like climate of Tarija, close to the Argentine border, where you can take the Ruta del Vino around bodegas large and small.
2017 marks the 50th anniversary of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s death and you can follow his revolutionary footsteps through the mountains of eastern Bolivia, passing through a dramatic landscape of purple mountains and cactus-studded canyons, stopping off at the remote village of La Higuera where he was shot. The colonial town Vallegrande, where his body was laid out in the austere hospital laundry, is the site of a new state-of-the-art museum and mausoleum dedicated to the comandante and his fellow guerillas.
Bolivia has a burgeoning craft beer scene and an increasing number of breweries, such as Kushaav, Corsa and Steir, are using homegrown ingredients in their products, like Inca superfood quinoa and huacatay, a minty herb. La Artesana in La Paz was set up by four, beer-loving amigos and uses the purest water from nearby peaks in its individually fermented bottles. Taste the three brew styles – golden, cobriza and toast – followed by a tour of the city’s best bars.
One of Bolivia’s best-kept secrets is its top-notch coffee and a new wave of cafés is opening up in La Paz to cater for the growing demand for high-quality, all-Bolivian beans, including Typica, Roaster Boutique and Bronze, who all roast on the premises. On the new ‘Coffee, Sense and Emotions’ tour, you can visit a small coffee producer in the subtropical region of Coroico, to the north of La Paz, to see how the beans are planted, picked and dried.
One of country’s most famous artists, Gastón Ugalde, aka the Andy Warhol of the Andes, is opening a new foundation on the site of his Salar Gallery in La Paz. His art – including his images of Uyuni’s dazzling salt flats – is decorating Atix, the city’s new five-star design hotel. Renowned indigenous artist Roberto Mamani Mamani, has covered seven tower blocks in El Alto with his colourful Andean cosmic vision, and the Espacio Simón I. Patiño, a multi-purpose cultural space, is in the process of expansion.
Street food is an integral part of La Paz’s culture – it is said that 90 per cent of Paceñas eat it every day. Suma Phayata, or ‘well cooked’ in Aymara, is the city’s first official street food tour from the Melting Pot Bolivia Foundation. Just download a map and work your way around the city, trying out everything from tucumanas, deep-fried pastries stuffed with meat or vegetables, to anticuchos, tender morsels of beef heart grilled over an open flame.
A record-setting dinosaur footprint has just been discovered in the Maragua Crater, about 65 kilometres from the capital Sucre. A tour guide came across the fossilised footprint, which is more than one metre wide and is thought to have belonged to an Abelisaurus. Sucre’s Parque Cretácico was already home to one of the largest collections of dinosaur footprints in the world, over 5,000 of them set into the Cal Orcko cliff, just five kilometres from the city centre.
Jungle, a film based on the bestselling book about an Israeli tourist lost in Madidi National Park, is due for release next year. Covering a vast expanse of land, from steamy forest to snow-topped peaks, the park is one of world’s biodiversity hotspots, home to more than 1,000 species of bird, 5,000 species of plants and nearly half of all the mammals found in the Americas, including jaguars, spectacled bears, maned wolves and giant otters, with new species being discovered every week.
Forget Rio – Bolivia is home to the second largest carnival in Latin America. Once a year, the sleepy highland town of Oruro transforms into the country’s party capital for a week of non-stop celebrations. Thousands of dancers and musicians clad in fantastic costumes take to the streets, in a mix of pre-Colombian tradition and Spanish Catholic influence. One of its highlights is the dramatic La Diablada, or Dance of the Devils, and it ends with an enormous water-bomb fight.