All you need to know to explore Tarija Bolivia, the high altitude wine destination!
While Bolivia’s tourism scene increased exponentially in the last decade, few ventured far beyond the iconic must-sees of the Uyuni salt flats or the the large metropolitan city of La Paz. Very few dare to venture into the uncharted territories of Bolivia. For those willing to go off the beaten track, the wine region in Bolivia is a must see.
Located in the southernmost point of the country and bordering Argentina is the city of Tarija Bolivia. Reaching a higher altitude than most wine producing regions, Tarija is quickly making a name for itself globally. There is plenty of things to do in Tarija Bolivia, but the most important thing of course is drinking Bolivian wine.
Getting to Tarija Bolivia
Getting to Tarija Bolivia requires more planning than other Bolivian cities. The handy tourist bus service, the Bolivia Hop does not go to Tarija Bolivia. You can, however, catch a public bus from all of the major cities. Buses leave from La Paz (18 hours), Sucre (10 hours), Santa Cruz (14 hours) and Tupiza (7 hours).
If you are traveling South America by van, the drive from Tupiza to Tarija through the Cordillera of Sama Biological Reserve is stunning. Dramatic landscapes through canyons, winding unsealed roads and tiny villages nestled along the river bed made it one of our favorite drives in South America. With only a handful of other vehicles on the road, it is a scenic route not to miss.
Where to Drink in Tarija | The Bolivian Wine
As mentioned previously, tourism is new to the area. Planning is key to visit the wineries in Tarija Bolivia. Most wineries locked their doors and only opened if a reservation is made in advance. And even making reservations could be challenging as many of the smaller wineries failed to even acknowledge our request to visit. Despite this, we still managed to visit a few great places to make the most of our time in the wine region in Bolivia and enjoyed plenty of delicious Bolivian wine.
We hope our list of what to see in Tarija will guide you through this beautiful city.
After a couple of failed attempts at visiting wineries in Tarija Bolivia, we stumbled upon Casa Real. Casa Real is not a wine producer but rather a Singani producer. Singani, the national liquor of Bolivia, is distilled from white Muscat of Alexandria grapes. Only produced in the high altitudes of Bolivia, Singani is similar to brandy. Singani, in fact, is so similar to brandy that it is commercialized in the US as such. This is because there is no official treaty with the US and Bolivia to market Singani under its official name as there is with other national liquors such as tequila in Mexico.
The Tour and Tasting
Casa Real offers a one hour tour of the facility explaining the history of the distillery and the Singani making process. After the tour, there is a Singani tasting. The Singani tasting at Casa Real, however, is unlike other tastings. Instead of a sample of three or four different varieties of Singani, Casa Real gives you a chuflay. The chuflay is Bolivia’s national drink made with Singani, ginger ale and lime.
The chuflay originated in the 1800s during the construction of the railroad by the British and Americans. The men requested “gin on gin” from the Bolivianos. A “gin on gin” was gin with alcoholic ginger beer. As both gin and alcoholic ginger beer were unavailable at the time in Bolivia, they improvised. They decided to use the local liquor, Singani, with ginger ale as an alternative.
There is some controversy over how the name, however, was born. One story suggests the name then arose from the railroad term “shoofly”. A “shoofly” is a short workaround from one track to the main track used as a temporary fix. Others suggest the name is from workers swatting flies away from the drink saying “shoo fly”. Regardless of the origin, the Bolivianos interpreted the word as “chuflay” and the word stuck.
As one of the largest producers of Bolivian wine, Aranjuez is partially the reason for Bolivia’s recent boom on a global scale. Aranjuez’s Tannat is making a name for itself among wine connoisseurs. And it is slowly creeping into the US market due to recent articles posted by the Washington Post and the New York Times. After visiting, there is little secret as to why the secret is spreading.
The Tour and Tasting
A tour and tasting at Aranjuez will set you back a little more compared to other vineyards and certainly compared to other purchases in Bolivia. It is even more expensive than other tastings in both Chile and Argentina. But it is definitely worth it and has to be the best winery in Bolivia.
The tour begins with an introductory video outlining the progression of the facilities since it opened in 1976. Hopefully, the grandson will give you the tour which added a little extra touch to other wine tours we’ve seen. After the tour of the facilities, you load up on a bus to head out to the Aranjuez estate approximately 20-25 minutes outside of the city. With acres and acres of beautiful vines with ripe, juicy grapes ready for picking, the estate is impressive.
The tour continues with a drive through the vineyards. The guide explains the types of grapes planted and which wine is made from each hectare in the vineyard. For example, Aranjuez produces one wine, the Tannat Origen (Single Vineyard), which is made only from Block 40 on the Aranjuez estate. The name originated as the vine is said to be the first place the tannat grapes were planted in Bolivia.
At the end of the vineyard tour, it is off to taste the wines. Aranjuez offers two types of tastings. The regular tasting includes four varietals of wine from their Terruño line, Duo line and their Rosé. Each wine is accompanied with a small slice of cheese or meat suited for the aromas and flavors in the wine.
The premium tasting includes three additional wines two of which are the award winning tannat, the Tannat Origen and the Juan Cruz. Each of these, although unique in flavor, highlight their rounded, full character with each sip. Trust me. At the end of the tour, you will be purchasing a few bottles to send home to family and to stock your wine cellar. Delicious.
Once you have finished, the bus brings you back to the city where the house is located just a short distance from the city center. Although a little bit on the expensive side, the quality of the wines, the snacks to accompany and the view to boot make it worthwhile.
Where to Eat in Tarija Bolivia
El Fogon de Gringo
Now I am sure you think I am crazy to tell you to go to a restaurant with the word “gringo” in it. “Gringo” is the term Hispanics use to describe Western people. You will also think I am crazy if I tell you that all the salads and sides that come with your meal are offered buffet style. I thought I left buffets behind me when I left small town Georgia, but I was wrong.
Looking past the name and the buffet, we found the steak hearty and delicious. We ordered a 400 gram steak cooked rare to share and left fully satisfied. El Fogon de Gringo cooked the steak beautiful, but the best part of all was the price. At only USD $8, we walked away with a steak plus salad and sides. And no that is not per person. This had to be the cheapest steak ever sold anywhere. Add in a bottle of Bolivian wine and two people can still get out for under USD $20. Truly amazing.
Hopefully this will help you to plan what to do in Tarija, where to eat in Tarija and where to drink in Tarija as well. We hope your experience will be as great as ours!
Where to Stay in Tarija Bolivia
Hotel Los Ciebos is the spot to be in Tarija Bolivia. Located in the historic district right near El Fogon de Gringo, it is the perfect place to stay. Plus, there is a pool to cool down in after a hot day exploring the vineyards and sampling delicious Bolivian wine.
Entel offers solid 4G coverage in Tarija Bolivia and WIFI is available at most establishments.