Masks are an essential part of Bolivian celebrations, allowing dancers to adopt the personalities which populate the country’s myths and legends. Demons, dragons and angels join representations of real-world creatures like bears and beavers.
La Paz has a number of intriguing museums, including one dedicated to the unfairly maligned coca leaf, and another which takes a look at the War of the Pacific, when Bolivia lost its ocean access to Chile. Though we’re normally big on museums, we were constantly distracted by the bustling street markets, and never made it to most of La Paz’s. But we dared not skip out on the Museo de Etnografía y Folklore, near Plaza Murillo.
Most people don’t realize that Sucre is technically the capital of Bolivia. La Paz has become the country’s largest and most important city, but according to the Bolivian constitution, Sucre is still the official capital. And the Casa de la Libertad is the country’s most historically significant building.
It’s no secret that Bolivians love their hats. Especially among campesinos, a smart hat is an essential part of the wardrobe, and every region in the country has a particular style. Decorated, thin black caps covering the ears for the Tarabuqueños, round bowler hats for the people in Sucre, shallow pale-colored hats for those from Tarjia.
Disillusioned by the horrors of Cerro Rico’s mines and the callous greed of their families, a number of Potosí’s young women renounced the world by entering into the Convent of Santa Teresa. They would never again step outside its walls.
We were pressed for time, and told our guide that we wanted just a quick tour. But the convent’s history was simply too fascinating, and we ended up spending about two hours inside. Santa Teresa was established in 1685, providing a home to a sisterhood of Carmelite nuns. It’s still active today, but its numbers have dwindled significantly, and most of the immense complex is now a museum.
Heralded as Bolivia’s best museum, the Casa de la Moneda offers a fascinating look back at a time when Potosí was the center of the Spanish Empire’s wealth. This mammoth building in the center of the city was the Royal Mint, pressing silver extracted from the Cerro Rico into coins and medallions.