The capital of the department of the same name, with a population of 630,000, is situated in an Andean valley at an altitude of 2400m.
The moderate climate and the fertile soils of the area have earned Bolivia’s fourth largest city the nicknames “Garden City” and “City of Eternal Spring”.
Even at the time of the Inca ruler Huayna Capac, Cochabamba was already cultivating large areas of maize to supply the Inca Empire and 14,000 compulsorily relocated farm workers (mitímas) cultivated them.
More recently, the so-called Guerra del Agua “water war” has brought Cochabamba to the international headlines.
After the privatization of the water supply forced by the IMF, protests against the Aguas de Tunari consortium, dominated by the US Bechtel group, lasted for months from the beginning of 2000 until the government withdrew the privatization in April of the same year as a result of violent clashes between demonstrators and police forces, a general strike, seven deaths and hundreds of injured people.
Today Cochabamba is a modern city with only a few buildings from colonial times. For most Bolivian travellers it is a transit stop between the Altiplano and the lowlands. Its sights are listed quickly:
Visible from afar, the 33.40 m high Christ statue of Cristo de la Concordia rises on the Cerro de San Pedro above the city. More than a thousand steps and a cable car lead up to it. It was built between 1987 and 1994 as the highest statue of Christ in the world based on the model of the Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro. In 2011 this title had to be ceded to the statue in Swiebodzin, Poland.
Cochabambas Mercado La Cancha, with its chaotic mix of open-air stands and buildings in the north and east of the old railway station, also claims to be one of the largest markets in South America. Here you can buy everything from chicken to computers, although not always legally.
Far more noble is the former domicile of the tin baron Simón Iturri Patiño, which was built at the beginning of the 20th century in a subtle mix of styles and is open to the public as the Palacio Portales during guided tours. Patiño’s preference for elegant buildings can also be admired in the village of Pairumani, about 20 km northwest of Cochabamba. There is the lavish Villa Albina, named after Patiño’s wife, in the middle of a park-like garden.
With the Jardin Botanico “Martin Cardenas”, Cochabamba finally has a botanical garden worth seeing at the northwestern end of the Cerro San Pedro. Its collection basically includes the flora of the province of Cochabamba, but also tree species from all continents.