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.
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.
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.
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.
By bus from Potosi 7 hours, 8 hours from La Paz, 10 hours from Santa Cruz, and 4 hours from Oruro.
Most transport to towns within the department leave from certain distinct spots within the city of Cochabamba, for example, local services to Tarata and Cliza leave from Avenida Barrientos, south of La Cancha marketplace, and cost about 5 Bs. For other destinations it's good to ask a local from 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.
Toro Toro 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 says more. The road to the park is realy 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.