This post is by Steph Dyson, a former English teacher from the United Kingdom who gave up her career and moved to South America to use her skills as a teacher volunteering and supporting educational organizations. Her plan was to work for six months then begin exploring and have adventures in South America. Since she began, she has learned Spanish, worked for three different organizations and even found the time to raise enough money to build a new library. Through her blog Worldly Adventurer, Steph hopes to inspire you to see the adventures that you can have – whether you have one week or a lifetime at your disposal. By telling about her adventures – and my many mishaps – she shows that adventuring in South America is realistic and reachable.
Sucre, the Bolivian capital city, rarely makes it onto the lists of the best places to live in South America, but those who dismiss it are truly missing out. A charming, colonial city brimming with history and surrounded on all angles by stunning scenery, Sucre has much to offer, not least because a monthly budget of $800 for a couple goes far here.
When you first arrive in the city, it’s hard not to be struck by its awe-inspiring situation. Located in the Bolivian highlands, it’s ringed by the rolling, sun-scorched Andes Mountains. The centre is similarly striking; as one of the most important Spanish cities during the colonial period, Plaza 25 de Mayo – the main square – bears testimony to the wealth that was once found here, thanks to the elegant architecture and decadent churches that still line its edges. For those with a keen interest in the turbulent history of South America, Sucre is an excellent place to start.
To stay a month or more, accommodation is both cheap and comfortable, although as a foreigner, you’ll probably end up paying slightly more than the locals. You can find an unfurnished two-bedroom apartment from $250 per month, or a house from $400. If you’re only staying for a short period of time, it makes sense to pay more for a furnished place to save you the hassle of having to buy furniture.
Expect to have your basic utilities (water and electricity) included in your rent, although showers and cookers run off gas, which can be purchased per bottle for around $10 a month. WIFI may or may not be included and its speed is never guaranteed – unfortunately, it seems that this is dictated by the weather, with bad weather slowing it down! That said, you can get a pay as you go sim card where 1 GB costs as little as $7.
In terms of transport, it’s not necessary to have a car and few people do – particularly as vehicles cost up to 30% more than in the US. Instead, try the local public transport options for size: micros (buses) cost 20 cents per ride and taxis 50 cents within the centre. Just be prepared to haggle to avoid being ripped off!
To get further afield and make the most of Bolivia’s spectacular countryside, trufis (minibusses), cost in the region of $1.50 for trips to towns a few hours’ away and flotas (coaches) connect Sucre with other large cities, at around $1.50 per hour of travel. You can also take the plane, with a flight between Sucre and La Paz from $48.
While Bolivia isn’t exactly known for its haute cuisine, you can get hearty, two or three course meals for $3 in local restaurants, and three courses with wine in one of the most expensive places is only $25. There’s a whole range of restaurants in the city, catering to local and international tastes and all for a very affordable sum.
For those who love cooking, not only does the city have two supermarkets where you can get a good selection of local and international goods, but also the incredible Mercado Campesino – a place worthy of visiting in its own right.
Situated in the north-east of the city, its streets are swollen with stalls where local farmers and Andean women hawk their wares. Fresh fruit (many types of which you’ve likely never seen before), vegetables and household items can be purchased at exceptionally cheap prices and expect groceries for two people per month to cost no more than $300.
They also sell second-hand clothing, but you’re better off bringing a full wardrobe with you as finding international sizes (particularly for shoes) can be a bit of a nightmare.
Entertainment wise, there’s plenty to keep you occupied in Sucre. Check out the cinema ($3.50 per ticket) or screenings of Bolivian films in local bars.
Casa de la Libertad (where the Bolivian Declaration of Independence was signed in 1809), museums about Bolivian traditions and customs (such as weaving and textiles) and the University of Saint Francis Xavier (one of the oldest in the world) are worth visiting, while the largest collection of dinosaur footprints ever found on the planet is located in Parque Cretácico, a quarry in the north of the city.
Beyond Sucre’s charming streets, there’s plenty of options for striking out into the mountains. Responsible tourism agencies can take you on a three-day tour, where you hike along paved Inca trail and visit rural communities, for only $95. Be aware that at 2,810m above sea level, you might want to take it easy to start with!
Another way to stay busy is with Spanish classes – something useful to have under your belt given that few people speak English in Bolivia. Not only will this help with the logistics of organising an apartment when you arrive, but it’ll make your day-to-day life vastly easier. Expect to pay around $7 per hour for a private lesson and less if you commit longer-term.
In terms of medical costs and healthcare, visiting a private doctor can be as little as $6, but it’s important to have travel insurance to cover you for any emergencies. Dental treatment is widely available too, and costs around $25 for a scale and polish; get recommendations from other expats living in the city about where to go as quality – and cleanliness – does vary.
Unfortunately, you do have to pay $160 to enter Bolivia if you’re a US resident, and getting a visa for longer than three months costs around $300 and can be less than straightforward – particularly if you speak little Spanish. Always check the information on the US Embassy of Bolivia’s website before planning your visit.
Is it worth it?
Although the logistics of settling here might be a bit more complicated than in other cities around the world, Sucre is the gem in Bolivia’s crown and makes for a charming place to live, particularly for those keen to discover more about one of South America’s most traditional countries.
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