Oruro is dirty, crowded, the food sucks and there’s not much to do outside of Carnaval season. Yet, there’s something about this place – the largest berg in the region, a miners’ city that takes no slack from anyone – that endears it to visitors, making for an oddly atavistic experience that some may find intoxicating.
In many ways Oruro (which means 'where the sun is born') is the most ‘Bolivian’ of Bolivia’s nine provincial capitals and an intriguing place where 90% of the inhabitants are of indigenous heritage. Orureños (Oruro locals) are salty, hard-working and upfront people who have had it tough over the years. Locals refer to themselves as quirquinchos (armadillos), after the carapaces used in their charangos (traditional Bolivian ukulele-like instruments).
The town sits against a range of low mineral-rich hills at the northern end of the salty lakes Uru Uru and Poopó. Record-high mineral prices are creating a boom in the city – and construction is on the rise. While many visitors skip Oruro altogether, it’s got decent museums and there’s plenty to see in the surrounding area. It’s also culturally very colorful, with a rich dance and musical heritage that culminates in the riotous Carnaval celebrations, famous throughout South America for the lavish costumes and elaborate traditions on display.