Along the Way See Bolivia’s World Heritage

After experiencing the wonders of the diverse World Heritage sites of Brazil , we made sure to check out those on offer when we travelled on from Brazil to Bolivia.

Bolivia has 7 UNESCO World Heritage listed sites: 6 of them are cultural sites, 1 a natural site. We managed to visit 4 of the cultural sites.

El Fuerte de Samaipata is a well organised World Heritage site in Bolivia. The wooden walkways help to protect the site.

El Fuerte de Samaipata is a well organised World Heritage site in Bolivia. The wooden walkways help to protect the site.

Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos

When planning our trip into Bolivia, we pulled out our Reise Know-How map (affiliate link to Amazon) and noticed that these missions were marked clearly on it as World Heritage sites. They were on, or near, the route we would take from Brazil towards Santa Cruz, in the eastern lowlands of the country.

Although we had visited Jesuit sites in Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil, we weren’t prepared for how impressed we would be by the Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos in Bolivia. Maybe because we thought of Bolivia as one of the least developed countries in South America, our expectations were lower. Whatever the misconceptions we held, we were totally impressed by what we saw.

The missions actually survived the expulsion of the Jesuits from South America. This fact, and the restoration work carried out by Hans Roth from the 1970s through to the 1990s, mean that their present condition is authentic, making them well worth a visit. We definitely found them ‘Worth a Detour’ (our post with many more photos).

San Miguel de Velasco: one of the beautifully restored churches of Bolivia’s World Heritage Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos

San Miguel de Velasco: one of the beautifully restored churches of Bolivia’s World Heritage Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos

The Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1990

The interior of San Rafael de Velasco, showing decoration using gold leaf and mica, as well as the detail of the carved wooden columns

The interior of San Rafael de Velasco, showing decoration using gold leaf and mica, as well as the detail of the carved wooden columns

El Fuerte de Samaipata

Our preconceptions were knocked over again when we followed our map to find the pre-Hispanic archaeological site of El Fuerte de Samaipata. It is also in the Department of Santa Cruz, but to the west of the city of Santa Cruz, in the Andean foothills .

Here you will discover a site that has been used by various inter-related cultures since 300AD, culminating in the Incas from 1450-1555 who made it a provincial capital. According to the information brochure provided at the site, the word Samaipata signifies a place to “descanso en las alturas” (rest in the heights).

Finally it was used from 1550-1650 by the Spanish colonists to secure the trade route from Asuncion, Paraguay to Lima, Peru; thus the name ‘El Fuerte’ (the fort).

It is an important archaeological site for the Mojocoyas, Chané, Chiriguanos and Inca cultures.

We were impressed by the way it is cared for and presented, making it easy to follow the dedicated pathways and walkways, without disturbing the integrity of the site.

The Carved Rock at the World Heritage site of Fuerte de Samaipata, in the foothills of the Bolivian Andes

The Carved Rock at the World Heritage site of Fuerte de Samaipata, in the foothills of the Bolivian Andes

El Fuerte de Samaipata was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1998

Details of the carved rock which is the centrepiece ‘El Fuerte’, one of Bolivia’s World Heritage listed sites.

Details of the carved rock which is the centrepiece ‘El Fuerte’, one of Bolivia’s World Heritage listed sites.

Historic City of Sucre

Sucre was the first capital of Bolivia (some claim it should be the current capital, rather than the shared arrangement that exists with La Paz). The historic centre held the promise of being something we would be impressed by; after all it’s on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

It has some very impressive buildings from the colonial days but we felt a bit critical of the number of modern buildings that were interspersed with the heritage.
It’s a pity, but pretty Sucre didn’t wow us (our post with more photos) as we had hoped it would.

Bolivia’s World Heritage includes this impressive colonial building found in the Historic Centre of Sucre

Bolivia’s World Heritage includes this impressive colonial building found in the Historic Centre of Sucre

The Historic City of Sucre was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991

Wooden balconies adorn buildings in the World Heritage listed Historic Centre of Sucre, Bolivia

Wooden balconies adorn buildings in the World Heritage listed Historic Centre of Sucre, Bolivia

City of Potosí

I must admit that we were not really interested in this city. It’s at 4000m, so out of our comfort zone as far as altitude is concerned; it lies in a barren landscape; other than the city centre it seems to be a city that is not really cared for by its population; and it’s a mining town.

Most tourists visit Potosi because of the mines – we had no fascination with going into a mine.

The silver mines in Cerro Rico are an important part of the World Heritage listing, but the continued mining is very controversial and is also the reason that Potosi is now on the World Heritage in Danger list.

But the San Lorenzo church, which is specifically mentioned in the UNESCO listing, did make us stop and look. It is an incredibly impressive building. We would have liked to visit the Casa de la Moneda but hadn’t calculated on it being closed on a Sunday.

Casa de la Moneda is also a part of Bolivia’s World Heritage in Potosi

Casa de la Moneda is also a part of Bolivia’s World Heritage in Potosi

An impressive part of Bolivia’s World Heritage listed City of Potosi: The church of San Lorenzo, constructed with beautiful stone work walls

An impressive part of Bolivia’s World Heritage listed City of Potosi: The church of San Lorenzo, constructed with beautiful stone work walls

 

So, for us, Potosi was just a stop on the way to the Salar de Uyuni.

The City of Potosi was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987
This site was also inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2014

Conclusion

As you can see, we had mixed reactions to the World Heritage sites we visited in Bolivia. What did surprise us was how well the Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos and El Fuerte de Samaipata were presented. We could really feel the pride the local people had in these heritage sites. Unfortunately the residents of the two cities we visited didn’t give us the same impression.
This is the historic centre of Sucre - one of Bolivia's 7 UNESCO World Heritage listed sites. They couldn't be more diverse: historic Jesuit missions in Santa Cruz, an ancient carved rock in Samaipata, old silver mines and churches in Potosi, and several other sites. We recommend that you include as many World Heritage Listed Sites as possible along your way through Bolivia!

PIN THIS for later!

 

Yasha

dare2go's human navigator (we're not lost because there's nowhere particular we have to be) alongside our Nexus 7 tablet, writer and editor of our blog, first cook and loving wife. Teaching English as a second language when possible.

You may also like...

8 Responses

  1. I have not yet been to Bolivia, but do hope to get to the Beni region, as they grow some excellent cacao there. Thx for the great post.

  2. noel says:

    These Unesco sites all look fascinating, I would definitely visit all of them listed in your post – wonderful how they are so well maintained.

    • Yasha says:

      We were particularly impressed by the setup at El Fuerte de Samaipata. There is just no way for visitors to encroach upon or damage this valuable heritage.

  3. Have to admit, we have never even thought about visiting Bolivia, but reading your posts is changing that. It looks very cool.

    • Yasha says:

      Bolivia does have a lot to offer, especially in its World Heritage sites. And it’s a small country so you can see a lot in a short time.

  4. Karen Warren says:

    I always enjoy Spanish colonial architecture, so I’d particularly like to visit those two Jesuit missions in Bolivia.

    • Yasha says:

      These Jesuit Missions in Bolivia are quite unique in South America – we loved spending time exploring all of them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 

There will be more great content like this! On our Facebook Page you can also keep up with where we are and see the latest photos from our journey.
So why not follow us?

Send this to a friend