Tarija is quickly becoming a popular stop on the Bolivian tourist itinerary. Located in the same wine-producing belt as the famed vineyards of Chile and Argentina, the city and the adjacent El Valle de la Concepcion are home to the highest wine producing vineyards in the world and are at the epicenter of Bolivian wine production. With a mild Mediterranean climate, a relaxed youthful atmosphere and great food and drink it's easy to see why tourists and Bolivian's are flocking to the southern city like never before.
Founded in 1574 as an outpost of the Spanish Empire, Tarija remained in European control until 1810 when the region proclaimed its independence from colonial powers. An agriculturally prosperous area, Argentina long tried to lay claim to the city and surrounding land but Tarija opted instead to become part of the Bolivian Republic in 1825. The reasons behind city Tarija's popularity in the early 19th century are still true of the city today. The favorable geographic and climatic conditions of the region still attract both visitors and locals to the area who are searching for a change from the otherwise harsh Bolivian landscape. Once regarded as a backwater Chaco town, Tarija is now the second fastest growing city in the country after Santa Cruz and the boom is showing no signs of slowing down.
Characterized by palm tree lined streets and picturesque main squares, Tarija is home to a youthful and friendly local population, adding to the city's charm. At any hour of the day, Tarija's streets are filled with jovial locals out enjoying their day. A number of great restaurants, boutique shops and a vibrant nightlife only add to Tarija's appeal. Wine and wine tasting tours of the vineyards in the region are the most popular attractions and the reason most visitors chose to visit Tarija. However, aside from the wine, which is surprisingly smooth and of a high quality, there are a number of other activities in the city to enjoy.
In Tarija visitors can opt to visit the city's ornate and unusual churches and buildings including the gilded Casa Dorada House, the Iglesia de San Roque, the Iglesia de San Juan and the Basilica de San Francisco. Additionally, the Museo de Arqueologia y Paleontologia is both an educational and fascinating museum focused on the prehistoric history of the region. Exhibits include the well preserved remains of several primitive animals that lived in the region as well as displays of early geology and prehistoric human activity.
Aside from visiting museums and churches, walking around the city center is an enjoyable way to spend a day. The Mercado Central and Campesino market are authentic glimpses into local life. At the markets it is possible to taste the area's unique culinary tradition and many of the food products found at the local markets in Tarija are not available in the rest of the country. Contemporary art galleries and traditional shops also provide an eclectic shopping experience. Additionally, for those who don't have the time to visit the wineries themselves, a number of well-stocked wine stores are located throughout the city, especially around Plaza Sucre. The owners of these stores are remarkably knowledgeable and helpful and are more than happy to guide you through the various available vintages, helping visitors pick out the right bottles and usually some locally produced cheese and meat products to go along with them.
For a city fueled on wine it is no surprise that Tarija is one of the most festive in Bolivia. Each March the city and the adjacent El Valle de la Concepcion host the Fiesta de la Uva, celebrating the region's cherished grapes and coinciding with the annual harvest. Not to be outdone, the colorful Carnaval celebration is one of the country's finest as well, as is September's Fiesta de la San Roque. An interesting if not offbeat Serrano Ham and Cheese celebration rounds out Tarija's unique festival calendar.
Top Picks for Tarija
1. Sip your way through the many vineyards found in Tarija and El Valle de la Conception
2. Try local delicacies like caramelized squash and aniseed pancakes in the Mercado Central
3. Dig into perfectly grilled and seasoned paradilla at El Fogon del Gringo restaurant
4. Visit the Museo de Arqueologia y Paleontologia for a fascinating glimpse into the region's prehistoric history
5. Participate in one of Tarija's many renowned festivals and celebrations