Cochabamba – South America’s Biggest Market


Cochabamba, Bolivia

After the colder climbs and mines of Potosi, we looked for a place at lower altitude and the next logical place seemed to be Cochabamba. Cochabamba is most well known for its gigantic market, but is also home to a Christ statue that exceeds the height of Rio’s!

I Love Reliable Bolivian Buses!ย 

We were looking forward to the bus to Cochabamba. Compared to a lot of the bus journeys we had already taken, the prospect of a short 9 hours descending from Potosi seemed the equivalent of a few stops on the London underground. Our bus had other ideas, and an hour outside of Potosi, it broke down. At first we took the breakdown quite jovially. It was a funny site watching all the men, one by one in a typically masculine fashion, get off the bus, take a look at the engine (as if they could fix it) only to return to their seat shaking their heads. After a couple of heated exchanges between the other passengers and the driver, despite not understanding a word of their slang filled arguments we got the gist that we were going to have to wait until the morning for a new bus. At this point I think its worth making a note about overnight buses in South America as there’s a few things you can almost guarantee:

  • There will always be a crying baby.
  • There is usually one passenger who is uncontrollably coughing and spluttering throughout the whole trip. They are usually sitting next to you or behind you.
  • When booking a ticket in Bolivia, tickets sold as semi-cama usually always turn out to be normal seats, those sold as cama usually turn out to be semi, and I have no idea how to actually find cama.
  • The person infront of you will always fully recline their seat as soon as the bus starts to roll.
  • The buses will have multiple stops which you didn’t know about. You will have no idea which one is yours. In this situation get off with the majority of other passengers. (Works most the time, or at least we think it did)
  • Temperature control is awful. Buses are always either ridiculously warm, or those fitted with aircon will leave you exiting the bus in an unnecessarily frozen state.

With those points in mind, I find it very hard to sleep on buses, and this case was no different. Arthur and I spent the majority of the night staring at our moonlit reflections in the drivers cabin window infront of us. Ben, on the other hand, could sleep on a chair made of marble during a nuclear war, and got a pretty decent sleep. Eventually we got a bus to Oruro and then another to Cochabamba. So a nine hour journey turned into twenty four. When we arrived all we wanted to do was sleep.

view of cochabamba

Great views of Cochabamba from the base of Cristo de la Concordia

Cochabamba – The Market City

So we slept in on the first night completely oblivious to the bustling city going on around us. But soon after recovering we ventured out and soon discovered “La Cancha”, the market we were told is the biggest open air market in South America. It certainly was big. A good sense of direction is essential if you would like to be able to find your way out of this place. Its a never ending labyrinth of makeshift stalls and shops selling every thing imaginable. We spent two days just walking around and around, finding new pockets of interesting stalls even when we thought we had seen it all. Its really cheap aswell, even more so than the rest of Bolivia because there is so much competition for prices. We had great fun just being around the hustle and bustle of a huge market.

Arthur Charango

Arthur with his new purchase!

Arthur fell victim to temptation and bought the charango he had been searching for, and the instrument he would then go on to play non-stop throughout the rest of our trip ๐Ÿ˜› With a little bit of bartering he got a great deal, and came away with a nice hard case as well as the charango. Unfortunately we didn’t get many photos of the market itself as we had been forewarned to be vary careful of our belongings here. We didn’t actually come across any trouble, but better to be safe than sorry.

Cristo de la Concordia

Cristo de la Concordia

De ja vu? Nope this one is 0.6m taller than the Christ in Rio!

Another sight to see in Cochabamba is Cristo de la Concordia. Officially the largest Christ in South America (they are everywhere, almost every town city and village has one) at 40.44 metres tall compared to that of Rio’s at 39.6 metres. Interestingly if you don’t include the crown of the “Christ The King” statue in ?wiebodzin, Poland, this is the tallest statue of Jesus in the world. It is a great place to look out over the city and we were especially lucky as the skies were crystal clear. We opted for a taxi to the top, which only cost us 20 bolivianos, and we got the cable car down which was a further 5 bolivianos each.

Take Note Londonย 

Cochabamba was also the first place that we saw Dodge buses used as local buses. Ok these aren’t your average red or yellow dreary affair. Each one is beautifully painted in interesting designs brightening up the sometimes dull streets of Cochabamba. We thought that this was beyond cool, and is

Dodge bus in Cochabamba

A typically colourfully painted dodge bus in Cochabamba

certainly a much better idea than london’s bendy buses! These buses have also stemmed a top secret idea for the future. It’s a very long way off at the moment, but if it is successful some very exciting things with a group of lovely people will happen. Stay tuned!

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  • Jacqui

    Great read & as always another adventure to add to your growing list.

  • Steve M

    Enjoyed the bus ride description. Very funny. The market sounds brilliant and worth the trip.
    Well done

  • Hi Jozef,

    I can definitely empathize with the overnight bus scenario! Great post, Iโ€™ve added a link to the Travel Bloggers Guide To Bolivia Iโ€™m developing.ย  I hope you donโ€™t mind?

    Kind regards, Si

    • Hi Si,

      Glad you liked the post! Yeah that bus was a nightmare. No of course we don’t mind you including a link, quite the opposite. Thanks for including us!

  • Scary – you had me at “there will always be a crying baby”… and then it just got worse from there!ย  ๐Ÿ˜›

  • Fun post and I’ve learned so much about bus travel in Bolivia from you guys! Actually, several items on your list of what you’ll find on Bolivian buses sounds like some of my airplane experiences. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I love colorful buses like that, although I hate having to actually take them somewhere! ๐Ÿ˜›

  • Wendy Ford

    i’m searching for people in cochabamba. they have plenty of money hidden
    in a three stores house they are building now. i know the man is
    italian and his name is Roberto.
    I know for sure they have a lot of money and they claim to be poor.
    If someone knows those people, please let me know.
    They have a little kid, maybe named Mattia.
    all this money comes from drug smuggling.
    i beg for some info.

    Thank you