Cochabamba is a department in the Sub-Andean region of Bolivia. It lies in the Andean valley region of Bolivia, between the tropical lowlands of Santa Cruz and the highlands and altiplano in Potosí and La Paz.
The urbanized region of Cochabamba and surrounding Quillacollo and Sacaba are the economic centers of the department, and in recent years have grown to be highly linked, such that a tourist may not recognize that they are travelling between cities. Nonetheless the locals maintain that each has a distinct character. Cities in this central region include:
Outside the central valley of Cochabamba department, there are numerous small towns, some of which retain a well-worn version of colonial charm. The three most prominent are in the valley directly south of the departmental capital.
Further afield are a number of major attractions.
Cochabamba is both the name for the department (like a state or province in other countries) and for the capital city, Cochabamba.
Like all Bolivian departments, Cochabamba is politically divided into several provinces. The capital city is coterminous with the province of Cercado. In general, the political divisions of Bolivia beyond department are not relevant to tourists, unless volunteering with an organization that works within a specific city, for example in a development project within the Cercado province.
You're always bound to find someone speaking Spanish, even in rural regions where Quechua is the predominant language. Bolivians tend to be shy with foreigners - it isn't disrespect, it's merely a cultural tendency when dealing with unknown people. It's still polite to smile and say "Buenos Días/Tardes" to people you see.
When someone says "salud" in your direction and holds up a drink, it indicates that they would like to share at least a sip of their drink with you. It is impolite to refuse - use your best judgement.
The best roads into and out of Cochabamba city lead to La Paz, Oruro, and Santa Cruz. It is also possible to travel to and from Potosi and Sucre by bus, but because of long, winding mountain roads at very high altitudes, the trip is uncomfortable and should be avoided. Typical prices (2011), travel times, and recommended bus companies are as follows:
In general it is a safe bet to arrive at the bus terminal and expect a bus from at least one company to be leaving for Cochabamba within an hour or so.
Cochabamba is the hub of the new airline Boliviana de Aviación (BoA)[www.boa.bo] and as such has good, inexpensive connections to domestic and international destinations, including Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo.
TAM Bolivia[www.tam.bo] flies on a less regular schedule to a number smaller cities and rural towns. AeroSur,[www.aerosur.com] Bolivia's older airline, also offers connections through its hub in Santa Cruz, though it is generally more expensive than BoA and it pays to book in advance. TAM Mercosur[www.tam.com.br] flies a few times a week to Asunción, Paraguay.
Services to Quillacollo and other cities within the main valley traverse many of the streets in the capital. Go to a main road that's going in the general direction you want to go (eg. Heroinas or Aroma heading westward for Quillacollo), look on the front of the minibuses for the destination, or ask a local. These nearby urban services cost up to 3 Bs. Services within the city of Cochabamba cost 1.70 Bs.
Most transport to towns within the department leave from certain distinct spots within the city of Cochabamba. They go whenever full, and are usually available throughout the day. Services to Tarata and Cliza leave from Avenida Barrientos, south of La Cancha marketplace, and cost about 5 Bs. Services to Aiquile leave from 6 de Agosto and Barrientos, and cost 20 Bs; no service on Sunday. Villa Tunari services go from Oquendo and República, and cost 15-25 Bs. Ask the taxi driver to take you to the bus station to Chapare. Observe that there is a huge drug related checkpoint on the way with dogs and everything.
For other destinations it's good to ask a local from the tourist information office or a travel establishment, though they might try to sell you expensive private services.
The mountain ranges, including Tunari and Cerro San Pedro with the famous Cristo de la Concordia statue, form most of Cochabamba province and provide opportunities for hiking and camping, as well as South America's most famous paragliding companies.
The rainforest region of Chapare has all the best characteristics of the rainforest, and there companies offering hotel stays and trips through the jungle.
Torotoro National Park is about 4 hours away from the capital city, Cochabamba. There you can see dinosaur footprints and climb down in a big cave. Only 2 days are needed even if tourist companies say more. The road to the park is really bad.
Cochabamba is also a good point for excursions into the Chapare Region:
Cochabamba department prides itself on its food, mostly for the large portions in local dishes - Cochabamba has been dubbed the "bread basket of Bolivia." Though it may not all be prepared close to western tastes, it's worth trying at least the Sillpancho, a egg-meat-tomato-onion-rice-potato dish, and the Sopa de Maní, which is a creamy peanut soup.
Chicha is the traditional corn-based alcoholic drink of the rural areas, and while in the past it may have been trustworthy to drink in most places (when saliva was used in fermentation), the modern-day addition of other products for fermentation (some highly unsanitary) may make it dangerous in most places.
Local beers include the nationally-known Taquiña brand, though most Cochabambinos prefer Huari which comes from outside the region.
The southern portion of Cochabamba city and the hillside may be dangerous after dark, but most of the northern areas (above Av. Heroinas) are safe most of the time, with normal precautions. During the rainy season the roads throughout the province are more difficult, especially to Toro Toro.