Tarabuco Market in Bolivia’s Chuquisaca department provides visitors with an illuminating insight into the fascinating Yampara culture. It’s colourful, exciting and full of energy, making it one of the most popular trips from nearby Sucre.
The vast market serves as a weekly meeting point for various indigenous groups from the surrounding area. For the Yampara people, Tarabuco Market is far more than just a place to do the weekly big shop.
It’s a huge cultural event, a chance to connect with old friends and keep important traditions alive.
Because of this you’ll encounter people in all manner of magnificent traditional dress, a celebrated aspect of the market. You’ll also find food, drinks, textiles and many more clues to a captivating civilisation whose origins date back many centuries.
We really enjoyed our visit and would highly recommend making the short trip to spend a morning there. Here’s the lowdown on how to get to Tarabuco, what not to miss while you’re there, plus some extra helpful tips.
How to Get to Tarabuco Market
Tarabuco Market is around 40 miles (65km) away from Sucre meaning you’ll need to take transport to get there. There are a few different ways to make the trip, these are the options you have to choose from.
How to Get to Tarabuco by Bus
The best and easiest way to get to Tarabuco Market is to catch a local bus. Otherwise known as a trufi.
They are like shared minibus taxis that run a fixed route, but that you can get off or on anywhere along that route. Space permitting anyway. There’s usually numerous and they wait in line so you need to get in the first one.
They run from just outside the centre of town meaning you’ll have to first make your way to the bus stop. It’s a spot called the Parada de Tarabuco. And it’s on Tupaj Yupanqui, just round the corner from a large roundabout..
Depending on where you’re staying it may be easier to either walk, catch a bus, or jump in a cab to the Parada de Tarabuco. The buses to the Parada de Tarabuco run from Mercado Central and you can catch the number 14. It should cost 1.50 Bolivianos, or roughly 20p in GBP or 20 cents in USD.
If you’d prefer to cab it, tell your taxi driver you’re going to the Parada de Tarabuco. They’ll know where you’re talking about and the price should be 5 Bolivianos per person, around 60p GBP or 70 cents USD.
The trufis from the Parada de Tarabuco will have a sign that says “Tarabuco” in the front window. Double check with the driver if you’re in doubt. There are no departure times as such, they simply leave when they’re full.
It’s best to get to the Parada de Tarabuco early, we’d suggest latest 9:30. Then even if you’re waiting a while, you’ll still get a decent amount of time at the market.
The journey takes around 1½ – 2 hours depending on traffic, your driver and vehicle. Some of the trufis are much newer than others and better suited to navigating the sometimes steep and windy roads. The cost is 10 Bolivianos (£1.20GBP, $1.50USD) per person and you pay when get off.
The route itself is quite picturesque in parts with great views over the surrounding landscapes.
Tour to Tarabuco Market
There are numerous tours provided by various companies that will take you to Tarabuco. You’ll see them advertised all over town.
There’s a popular one that leaves directly from the main square in Sucre, just in front of the Cathedral. It’s run by Oasis Bolivia and leaves at 8.30, returning at around 15.00.
They provide various packages, from just the bus ride, to private tours with lunch included. Prices start at 50 Bolivianos (£6GBP, $7.25USD) for just transportation but are significantly more with a guide.
As mentioned, there are various other providers so you can shop around for better prices and different packages. Bear in mind that a tour gives you less flexibility over your visit to Tarabuco, particularly your leaving time. We’ve heard that some people find the tours are too long.
Taxi to Tarabuco Market
Another alternative is to organise a taxi for yourself. Taxis are plentiful in Sucre and have an unusual system of charging per person rather than for the journey itself.
The taxi will drop you off in Tarabuco and wait for you to return at a prearranged time. It’s probably the most comfortable way to get to Tarabuco Market as the local buses can get pretty crowded. However, at around 80 Bolivianos (£9.50GBP, $12USD) per person, it’s also by far the most expensive.
2 Day Trek to Tarabuco Market
If you’re up for a longer adventure and like your walking there’s a fourth alternative for getting to Tarabuco Market. Condor Trekkers offer a 2 day hike that also takes in Tarabuco.
Condor Trekkers is something of an institution in Sucre and a place that most visitors become familiar with. The business began as a non-profit trekking company supporting various social programmes in the local area. It’s since grown to include a kick-ass vegetarian cafe that’s one of the city’s most popular eating and meeting spots.
The highlight of the trek is spending the evening in a Quechua village in the company of a local family. Here you can learn about the history, observe the culture and eat traditional food.
The price of the tour is 300 Bolivianos (£35GBP, $45USD), for more info check out the Condor Trekkers website.
When to Visit Tarabuco Sucre Bolivia
Tarabuco Market happens just once a week – on a Sunday. Strangely though, for such a large event, it’s not an all day affair.
It starts early in the morning and things start packing up at around 14.00. Because of this, the best idea is to get there pretty early.
Because the journey is a minimum of an hour and a half, this means setting off early. We’d suggest no later than 09.30 if you’re getting the public bus.
While it’s a vast and interesting market, unless you’re on a major shopping spree, a few hours is easily enough. That’s plenty of time to wander around, take some photos, buy a few keepsakes and scoff some food.
Things to do in Tarabuco Market
The market is the main reason to visit Tarabuco – the town is tiny so don’t expect a great deal more. There are, however, a few things which definitely shouldn’t be missed on your trip.
Grab Some Traditional Grub
There are various delicious options for food when you’re visiting Tarabuco Market. Firstly, there are a few restaurants aimed at tourists that the tours head to as part of their trip. But if you’re not consumed with worry about the prospect of a dose of “Bolivia Belly” then a spot of street food is a must.
There’s a long row of stalls along one side of the square selling local specialities cooked up in clay pots. Throughout the rabbit warren of streets that the market sprawls through there are also stalls selling stuff like fried chicken.
Then there’s a whole courtyard full of restaurant stalls not far from the main square. The ladies here cook up Bolivian staples like pollo picante and mondongo.
Alternatively the indoor farmers market building has a section dedicated to food stalls. This is where we chose to eat and we had a simple but tasty chicken with rice and potatoes dish.
Check Out the Textiles
The incredible textiles on offer are something that the market is particularly famous for. Hand woven fabrics with intricate designs are highly culturally significant with each design documenting a different story from folklore.
Top examples will take months for the artisans to finish meaning you will have to pay a lot for them. Beware, these are intermingled with lots of mass-produced stuff made on machines rather than by hand.
Don’t come here expecting low prices, particularly if you’re after the real deal. Feel free to haggle, but do be respectful of the work that goes into each piece.
Bag Some Local Handicrafts
Aside from the textiles there is a huge variety of other interesting handicrafts on offer at Tarabuco Market. If you’re on the lookout for some souvenirs or keepsakes then this is a great place to pick them up.
From handmade silver jewellery to tacky llama keyrings, you’ll find all manner of paraphernalia here. Be prepared to search, though, if you’re after something in particular. The market is large and there are lots of different segments to it, not all dedicated to crafts.
There’s plenty of fruit and veg stalls, coca leave sellers, clothes stands, and stalls selling everyday household items like toothpaste. While it’s loosely sectioned into related areas, there’s no map to tell you where each thing will be.
Chill Out in the Main Square
The main square in Tarabuco is the first part of the market that you’ll come to when you arrive. Around its four edges are dozens of sellers peddling food, textiles, trinkets, hats, sandals and much more.
The majority of the market sellers here are adorned in traditional dress making it a fascinating introduction to the town. What stands out immediately is the assortment of elaborately decorated, colourful hats boasting designs featuring everything from beads to bobbles.
Just the sheer variety of hats on display is astounding and each one has its own significance and meaning. For example, we were told that ladies wearing caps with the peak to the back were married while those with their peaks to the side were single.
Some of the hats are designed to look like the ones the Spanish conquistadors wore. Then of course there are the more widely known “cholita” bowler hats which have a cracking back story.
We’ve been to events in other countries where indigenous participants have dressed up specifically for the tourists. It feels as though the soul of the thing is lost and almost exploitatory in nature.
However, in Tarabuco there are no such concerns. While it’s undeniably touristy, the majority of punters are Bolivian, meaning it manages to maintain the magic.
Take a seat on one of the benches in and around the main square and just drink it all in. It’s the perfect place to do some people watching and simply observe what’s going on around you.
See the Jumbate Statue
Also in the main square is an incredible statue that literally stopped us in our tracks as we passed it. Not so much for its artistic merits, more for the gruesome subject matter.
The statue shows an indigenous man towering over a Spanish soldier. He’s got one arm in the air holding a large bull’s horn. The other grips a bloody heart, a hole in the Spaniard’s chest from where it’s just been torn.
Most striking is the blood around the Quechua fighter’s mouth indicating he’s just taken a bite out of the organ. Definitely a break from the usual boring, pigeon-shit decorated statues you find in most squares in Latin America.
It was built to commemorate the battle of Jumbate which took place in 1816 during the war of independence. The story goes that the Tarabuceños pounced on a group of Spanish soldiers, killing them all minus the drummer boy, then eating their hearts straight out of their chests.
It’s the same battle that’s commemorated in the Tarabuco Festival of Pujllay, more details on that below.
Tarabuco Festival of Pujllay
The town of Tarabuco is famous throughout Bolivia for holding one of the country’s largest indigenous festivals. The Tarabuco Festival of Pujllay occurs once a year over two days on the third weekend in March.
Originally it was a festival to celebrate the arrival of harvest at the end of the rainy season. But over time it grew to also be a commemoration of the battle of Jumbate, as mentioned above.
The Pujllay Festival is a huge, colourful, vibrant get together of people from all over the surrounding regions. The costumes are even more extravagant than usual as all the best finery comes out.
The name Pulljay itself translates as “play” or “game” and has numerous alternative spellings including pukllay, phukllay, pucllay and pugllay. It refers to a dance and accompanying music of the same name that’s a central feature of the festival.
There’s a big party atmosphere with processions, dancing, music and age old rituals performed. Much of it takes place around a huge tower or “pukara” that’s covered in fruit, vegetables and various other foodstuff.
It’s truly a big deal and even the opinion-splitting president, Evo Morales, has attended in the past. If you’re there at the right time of year then be sure to prepare in advance. You’ll need to book accommodation way ahead if you’re planning on staying in the town.
Things to Bear in Mind When Visiting Tarabuco Market
There are a couple of bits and pieces that are useful to know before you visit Tarabuco Market. Here’s the lowdown.
Prepare for High Altitudes
The town of Tarabuco lies at 3,290 metres above sea level, almost 500 metres higher than Sucre. If you’ve been in Sucre for a while then you may be used to the altitude already. But if not, it’s good to be aware that Tarabuco is even more elevated.
Quite a lot of visitors report suffering from altitude sickness, so if you’re prone to it, take some precautions beforehand. Drinking coca tea and chewing coca leaves help with the symptoms, you may also want to bring some specific medication.
Be Considerate When Taking Photos
Photos are a delicate subject throughout much of Bolivia, particularly ones that feature people. Some indigenous people believe that photographs capture part of the soul and are therefore understandably reluctant to be shot.
To add to this, as with many markets the world over, patrons are often unhappy at their goods being photographed. Especially if you’re not planning on buying anything.
The best policy is to ask before taking any portrait-style pictures, as you should in any situation, regardless of location. Same goes if you’re taking shots of someone’s stall.
A lens that allows you to shoot from distance, of course, enables you to be more discreet. If you’ve got one, you’ll be able to capture candid-style shots without disturbing anyone.
There is No ATM
Tarabuco is a tiny town of around just eight by eight blocks. Other than the market there’s really not a great deal going on here.
Because of this there’s no bank and no ATM in Tarabuco. This means you’ll need to make sure you bring plenty of cash with you. Particularly if you’re planning on purchasing any of the artisanal goods which can get pretty pricey.
Don’t Forget Your Insurance
Travelling without insurance is never a good idea. While Sucre and Tarabuco are overwhelmingly safe, accidents and unexpected incidents do happen. Give yourself peace of mind and get yourself covered.
Our go to insurance provider is World Nomads thanks to their fantastic plans and no bullshit approach.
Fill out the box below for a quick no obligation quote.
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Travel lover, professional writer and football (soccer) obsessive, James loves nothing more than getting outside and exploring little known corners of the globe. He’s also very partial to a drop of Guinness.