From the moment you land in Tarija, it’s clear you are in Peru’s wine capital: posters are splashed all over the airport with the wine route, welcoming you to the ‘capital de la sonrisa’ (the smiling capital) with a boozy smile. The massive wine glass tower resembling a disco ball and overlooking the town removes any doubt in your mind. Tarija is Peru’s wine capital, and they are proud of it.
Although the locals have a sense of pride much bigger than most other wine capitals in South America, Bolivia’s production is definitely on the petite side. Tarija has just 2,400 hectares of vineyards which, combined with the other wine regions in Bolivia, makes a total of just 3,000 planted hectares across the whole country. That’s less than a tenth of Champagne! Nevertheless, nothing dims the locals’ pride when it comes to their wine and Singani production.
Tarija is a busy commercial town, although the main wine action happens outside in the surrounding wine valleys. A lush landscape of green vines and verdant hillsides surround the town, and this is where you will find the heart of Bolivian wine.
What to do
Bolivia is a climbing hotspot in South America and offers some of the most challenging and beautiful mountains and volcanoes to climb on the continent. In Tarija proper, most active outdoorsy folk rave about visiting Valle de los Condores (Condor Valley), where you can climb up to the top of the peak to see the local inhabitants swoop through the air with pose and grace.
Another nearby attraction is San Jacinto lake where locals like to head for fish lunches and beautiful views over the wide lake with the hills in the distance.
Where to stay
To get a complete look over the valley, Los Parrales hotel is the best spot. A ten minute drive up above the town and you get a great hilltop view over Tarija town and the surrounding hillsides which are the gateway to the wine region. This is also the top hotel resort in Tarija: the large bedrooms open out onto private balconies, and in the centre is a swim-around pool and gardens that are perfect for beating the Tarija heat in summertime.
The owner of the hotel is also part of the same family that make Kuhlmann sparkling wines, so you can order a chilled bottle of Bolivian bubbly to while away the afternoon with the best view in Tarija.
You’ll need to fly via La Paz (see our guide) international airport, and from there you can fly into Tarija domestic airport, which is close to the city. Another alternative route for visiting Bolivia’s main wine region is to travel from northern Argentina – Tarija is a ten hour bus ride from Salta.