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Travel in Latin America

About Cochabamba, Bolivia
By:Sally Hansley Odum

Known as the "City of Eternal Spring," Cochabamba offers something for everyone. Cochabamba is often referred to by locals as Chocabambinos. It is the third largest city in Bolivia.


Situated in a fertile valley within the Andes mountain range, Cochabamba is home to approximately 1,608,276 people. It is the capital of the Cochabamba Department. The climate offers spring-like temperatures all year long.


Inhabited in ancient times by Inca, Tupuraya, Omereque, Tiwanaku and Mojocoya, the Cochabamba Valley was popular for its fertile soil and desirable climate. Garci Ruiz de Orellana, a Spaniard, came to the valley in 1542. He obtained a large parcel of land from local tribal chiefs. He registered the title deed in 1552 at the Imperial City of Potosi. It shows he purchased most of the area in the Cochabamba Valley from Chiefs Achata and Consavana for 130 pesos. "The House of Mayorazgo," his original homestead, still stands in Cochabamba, within the Cala Cala neighborhood.

In 1571, the original city of Villa de Oropesa was founded as an agricultural production center. It served the nearby mining towns in Altiplano Region, especially the city of Potosi. After many centuries of growth, the city began to decline in the 18th century. In 1786, King Charles III of Spain renamed the city Cochabamba. According to the 1793 census, there were 22,305 persons living in the city. Of those, 12,980 were mestizos, 6,368 were Spaniard, 1,182 were indigenous natives, 1,600 were mulatto and 175 were African. From the 19th century forward, the city began to thrive as an agricultural center again.

The city today is very modern. It is one of the most economically and socially progressive of all cities in Bolivia.

In 1998, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $138 million loan for Bolivia. To comply with structural reforms drafted by the IMF, Bolivia agreed to sell off public enterprises such as its national oil refineries and Cochabamba local water agency, SEMAPA. In September of 1999, the Bolivian government signed a $2.5 billion contract for the municipal water system with Aguas del Tunari. Aguas del Tunari is a multinational consortium of private investors, which includes a subsidiary of Bechtel. In the early part of 2000, large protests ensued over water privatization, catapulting the Cochabamba water privatization issue into the world news.

The Coalition for the Defense of Water and Life (La Coordinadora), led by activist Oscar Olivera, organized peaceful protests, and was met with riot police, arrests and violence. After declaring a state of emergency, the government suspended constitutional rights of the citizens, shut down radio stations and arrested protest leaders. The government was effectively shut down for several days. An agreement was reached in April 2000 which promised the repeal of water privatization legislation. Later, the multibillion dollar corporation Bechtel (and the Netherlands-based Aguas del Tunari) sought $25 million in damages from Bolivia for breach of Aguas del Tunari's water contract. In 2002, Olivera was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize Award.

In 2007, rural protesters sought the resignation of Manfred Reyes Villa (the first democratically elected Prefect of Cochabamba). The protests were unsuccessful although tensions remain.

The People

Cochabamba offers a vibrant central commercial district that is surrounded by Plaza Colon and Plaza 14 de Septiembre, where visitors will find modern business and commercial industries. Discover nightlife in Calle Espana and El Prado. The Wilstermann International Airport serves the area. The area adjacent to the airport is remote and impoverished with unpaved roads. This gives many visitors a misleading first impression enroute to the city.

The leading language in Cochabamba is Spanish, although English is widely spoken and understood. The racial demographics today consist of indigenous (Quechua), Mestizo, Castizo and Caucasoid (or Criollos). Bolivia is one of South America's poorest countries, with some people earning less than $100 (USD) per month.

Places to Visit

A "must see" on any visit, La Cancha is the largest open-air market in South America. Open every day of the week, this market offers something to suit every taste, from music CDs to cultural items, food, clothing and trinkets. Mingle with the people and taste the true culture and cuisine of the country.

El Cristo de la Concordia is the tallest statue of Jesus Christ worldwide. View the city from the top.

Palacio Portales is a mansion with French Renaissance architectural influences located in Queru Queru neighborhood. It was the home of Simon Patino, a wealthy industrialist. Take a guided tour. Visit the library, art galleries and gardens.

Visit Villa Tunari, a Cochabamba rainforest town. See various monkeys, pumas and exotic animals at the animal refuge.

Convento de San Francisco was built in 1607. This Catholic church is made from rainforest wood and features a golf leaf altar. It is built in Spanish Baroque mixed with Indigenous architectural styles.

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