Welcome to another in our “Finding Beauty in…” series!

Some places are ugly. There’s no getting around it; not everywhere on the planet is beautiful. But sometimes we need to embrace that ugliness and try to find beauty in it.

Tarija in southern Bolivia, isn't at first the most picturesque town. If you spend enough time to get to know the place a little, though, you'll come to discover its secret charm, as we did when we spent two days there last week.

There isn't much reason to come to Tarija as a tourist, unless its for transit to or from Argentina to the south, or towards the salt flats in the west, and we saw only a handful of other tourists there. This made it an interesting place to see how people in Bolivia live, and we found it to be surprisingly pleasant place to do so.

The streets are clean and tidy, and the many squares serve as focal points of daily social life, and on more than one occasion, we saw volunteers tending the plants flower beds around the squares.

Plaza Sucre, Tarija
Plaza Sucre, Tarija

There are also trees and colourful flowers all over the residential areas away from the squares, giving the city a bright and cheerful feel.

flowers in Tarija
flowers around an iron gate in Tarija

We found a few curiosities too, such as this plane on the central reservation of one of the main roads on the outskirts of the centre…

a plane in Tarija
a plane in Tarija

…and a bookshop offering free Korean classes. Why? I don't know, I just found the incongruity rather charming. As well as the little pink hearts, of course.

(On a more prosaic note, Zab reckons it's because there is some kind of collaboration between the Bolivian and Korean governments to get Bolivians working for South Korean firms, such as Samsung, to reduce their costs.)

Free Korean classes
Free Korean classes

Most of the architecture in Tarija is unremarkable, even though its a colonial city (founded in 1547 by the Spanish). However, there are a several nice churches, and two buildings that stood out for just being so odd:

Casa Azul
Casa Azul: apparently they do wedding receptions and birthday parties
Casa Dorada
Casa Dorada: I have no idea what this building is, but I just love how tacky it is


There are a few nice places to eat in Tarija. We can recommend:

  • XOXO: an American-style diner/café. Good for breakfasts (20-35Bs), burgers, milkshakes and cheesecake. Good wifi. On Plaza Luis de Fuentes.
  • Café Mokka: a nice café with a wide selection of coffees and hot chocolates, which also serves food. The chicken fajitas are recommended and are enough for two (50Bs). Spotty wifi. On Plaza Sucre.
  • El Marqués: a tastefully decorated restaurant serving full meals (35-55Bs) and light snacks like sandwiches (20Bs) and lovely juices. Decent wifi. On Plaza Luis de Fuentes, opposite XOXO.
  • Comedor Vegetariano El Molino: A great place for a filling vegetarian lunch. You may have to wait for a table or share with strangers around lunch time and the menu includes a salad buffet, soup, main and drink for 15Bs. Ingavi 550.


We stayed at Hostal Bolívar, Calle Bolívar y Méndez, and paid 120Bs a night for a twin room with private bathroom, including a very basic breakfast and no wifi. Hostal América directly opposite was offering similar rooms for 140Bs a night with no breakfast but apparently with wifi. On Calle Sucre, there are plenty of other hotels, some claiming to be 3 stars.

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