Worth a Trip: Inter-Andean Valleys

During the summertime, there are several places in the valley to go swimming in the rivers, including Tomatitas, Coimata and Chorros de Jurina. The tour companies operating out of Tarija generally include Coimata and sometimes Tomatitas on their 'Campiña Chapaca' half-day tours.

Tomatitas, with its natural swimming holes, three lovely rivers (the Sella, Guadalquivir and Erquis) and happy little eateries serving cangreitos (soft-shelled freshwater crabs), is popular with day-trippers from Tarija 5km to the south. The best swimming is immediately below the footbridge, where there’s also a park with a campground and barbecue sites.

From here you can walk the 9km to Coimata. If coming from Tarija, turn left off the main San Lorenzo road (micros from the city to Coimata leave from Calle Comercio at the Mercado de los Campesinos). After less than 1km, you’ll pass a cemetery on the left, which is full of flowers and brightly colored crosses. Just beyond it, bear right towards Coimata. Once there, turn left at the soccer field and continue to the end of the road. Here you’ll find a small cascade of water and a swimming hole that makes a great escape, as lots of tarijeño families can attest. There’s also a choice of small restaurants serving misquinchitos and doraditos (fried local fish with white corn), as well as cangrejitos (small freshwater crabs). From this point, you can follow a walking track 40 minutes upstream to the base of the two-tiered Coimata Falls, which has a total drop of about 60m.

Another swimming hole and waterfall are found at Rincón de la Victoria, 6km southwest of Tomatitas in a green plantation-like setting. Instead of bearing right beyond the colorful cemetery, as you would for Coimata, follow the route to the left. From the fork, it’s 5km to Rincón de la Victoria.

The twin 40m waterfalls at Chorros de Jurina, 26km northwest of Tarija, also make an agreeable destination for a day trip. Set in a beautiful but unusual landscape, one waterfall cascades over white stone while the other pours over black stone. In late winter, however, they may diminish to a mere trickle or dry up completely.

The route from Tarija to Jurina passes through some impressive rural landscapes. From near the flowery plaza in San Lorenzo, follow the Jurina road, which turns off beside the Casa de Moto Méndez. After 6km, you’ll pass a school on the left. Turn left 200m beyond the school and follow that road another 2.5km to the waterfalls. From the end of the road, it’s a five-minute walk to the base of either waterfall. The one on the left is reached by following the river upstream; for the other, follow the track that leads from behind a small house.

Micros A and B to Tomatitas leave every 20 minutes from the corner of Domingo Paz and Saracho in Tarija (B$2), some continuing on to Jurina (B$7) via San Lorenzo. Get off near the school and then walk the rest of the way. For Coimata, similarly frequent departures leave from the corner of Campesino and Comercio (B$3) in Tarija.

Worth a Trip: San Lorenzo

San Lorenzo (population 21,400), 14km north of Tarija along the Tupiza road, is a quaint village with freshly whitewashed adobe facades, cobblestone streets, carved balconies, a church built in 1709 and a charming plaza shaded by towering palm trees. Next to the plaza is a tiny market with vendors selling a variety of pastry specialties including rosquetes, basically a crunchy, dry doughnut with white frosting.

The town is best known, however, as the home of José Eustaquio ‘Moto’ Méndez, the hero of the Batalla de la Tablada, whose former house is now the Museo Moto Méndez, aka 'Casa de los Libertadores de America.' The popular Fiesta de San Lorenzo takes place here on August 10 and features chapaco musical instruments and dancing. During Easter, yellow flowers are hung along the streets and buildings, providing a dash of color to the town's white stucco palette. After seeing the museum, head 2km north to the former Méndez family chapel, Capilla de Lajas, which is delicate, exquisitely proportioned and a fine example of colonial architecture.

Just to the north is the former home of erstwhile Bolivian president Jaime Paz Zamora, with an adjacent billboard paying homage to him. Only a few kilometers north of here, you can arrange in advance for a guided tour of El Picacho, Zamora's beautiful estate – he'll likely be on hand to regale visitors with stories.

Micros and trufis (B$3, 30 minutes) to San Lorenzo leave from the corner of Av Domingo Paz and Calle Rojas in Tarija approximately every 20 minutes during the day. All of the tour companies in Tarija include a stop in San Lorenzo on at least one of their designated itineraries.