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Candelaria and Tarabuco advice

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Candelaria and Tarabuco advice

While visiting the city of Sucre, Bolivia, in March 2011, my partner and I decided to book a trip to local villages Candelaria and Tarabuco with Candelaria Tours, whose services were highly recommended in the Lonely Planet Bolivia guide.

However, I have to question if the writer responsible for this section of the book actually went on the tour they recommend, or even to the village of Candelaria.

Without putting too fine a point on it, the two-day tour offered by Candelaria Tours was the single worst trip I've been on during my regular trips to South America over the past 10 years.

We were picked up from our hotel on time, but then spent an hour being driven around Sucre, picking up stuff for the trip. OK, so this sort of bewildering detour isn't so unusual in Bolivia, but it culminated in the tour company owner getting in the car too ­- who, we were told, was coming along as our cook - and a 90-something woman shuffling up to the car on a Zimmer frame.

This old lady, we were told by the tour guide, is the owner of the hacienda where we were to spend the night - and mother of the owner/cook - who *had* to come along as "she has the keys".

We stopped again in Tarabuco, where the owner/cook again spent half an hour sorting out various things, talking with the staff of the restaurant she owns there, and buying food.

Finally, at around 2pm, we arrived at the hacienda where we were to spend the night. While the hacienda is indeed "colonial", I can't see how Lonely Planet could possibly describe it as "beautiful". It's rundown, depressing and shabby, with a fountain in the middle spraying a sad trickle of muddy water.

Our room wasn't ready, so we had to sit around for almost an hour while someone changed the bedsheets. When he was finally done and we were shown our room, we were then press-ganged into buying some awful weavings from the cleaner.

We were then shown around the hacienda by the guide, who - given the lack of actual sights - resorted to showing us different kinds of insects, plants and domesticated farm animals.

Finally, at around 3.30pm, lunch was served. By this time we were starving, although in fairness the food was really good. Lunch was nonetheless incredibly uncomfortable as the elderly lady was helped to the table and given a bowl, but no food. As we ate, she'd occasionally lift her bowl and let out a plaintive cry which we couldn't quite understand.

Eventually, the owner/cook gave her mother some soup, shouting "QUE QUIERES MAMITA?!" over the table repeatedly as the elderly woman struggled to eat. Eventually, the old lady gave up using the spoon provided and slurped loudly from the bowl.

We ate our lunch in silence, embarrassed at being unable to help this frail old lady who was clearly struggling.

At 4.15pm, we actually began the 'tour'. And this is the crux of my complaint here - there is pretty much *nothing* to see in Candelaria. The book describes it as "appealingly rustic"; in reality it's pretty much featureless.

As we left the hacienda, a local man asked if he could show us his weaving technique. Fine, although we could see where this was going. After a ten-minute talk on weaving, the man tried to sell us a used poncho covered in food stains, while stressing how poor he is (which he clearly was, but what the hell am I supposed to do with a used poncho, even if I could get the thing in my rucksack?).

Afterwards the tour guide spent 20mins asking around town for a key, then we were finally shown to the textile "museum". It isn't really a museum; it's a shop with a few explainationary notes and displays. We were rushed through the musuem by the guide in about five minutes, while the woman who let us in stood looking at the ceiling, tapping her fingers on a table and waiting for us to buy something.

Again, we were pretty much forced to buy some decidely average weavings before we left.

Next we did a tour of the village. By this point even the guide

seemed embarrassed at the lack of local things to see, and resorted to prising open rocks in the hope of finding some fossils.

We walked up a hill, from which you could see how tiny Candelaria is, and down again - on the way being forced into buying *another* weaving from a local family.

Back at the Hacienda within an hour, we just had to kill time until dinner. I read a book for two hours.

Dinner was OK, with no old lady this time, but we were grateful to go to bed. In all, day one of the tour was not just a waste of a day, but one in which we felt uncomfortable, embarrassed and bored. It wasn't a tour; at best it was a homestay, and not even a good one.

I really wouldn't recommend visiting Candelaria at all, but if you do it needs an hour at best. It is not worth a full day, and the weavings are not of the high quality indicated in the Lonely Planet guide.

Day two saw us going to Tarabuco. We agreed a 7.30am breakfast so we could leave at 8am to get to the market for 9am - the main reason for our trip. At 8am we got in the car. At 8.50am we were still waiting as the owner/cook faffed about putting things in the car. We finally left at 9am, with five other people in the car, including the family who maintain the hacienda, and the owner's elderly mother.

As a town, Tarabuco is also underwhelming. The market doesn't even fill the town plaza - the streets beyond the main square have hundreds of market stalls, but they mostly sell items for local reisdents. There were some local weavings and hats for sale, but for the most part the goods were the same as those all over Bolivia (hats, gloves, leg warmers) at the same prices. In short, the Tarabuco market is not really worth going out of your way for.

It was Pujllay weekend, so President Evo Morales was about to arrive in town any minute. We found a fantastic vantage point from which to see the stage - only for the tour guide to track us down and tell us our lunch was ready and we had to come *right now*. So we missed the President's speech too.

The two-day tour lacked all the major elements of a tour - namely a schedule, a series of things to see, and a decent guide. We chose a private tour, as we often do, as we're short on time and like to have some control over the pace and timing of trips. But on this trip *everything* was dictated by the owner/cook. And with her elderly, frail mother in tow, it felt like the whole thing was the owner's nice weekend in the country, which we'd mistakenly paid US$200 to join.

Personally I wouldn't recommend Candelaria Tours *at all* - the guide wasn't very good, the tour badly organised and mis-sold, and the whole sorry affair was poor value for money. If you *really* want to see Candeleria and Tarabuco while in Sucre, book a cab - it will be cheaper, it will run at the pace you dictate, and you won't feel uncomfortable throughout the experience.

FOOTNOTE: Although this could be *absolutely* nothing to do with Candelaria Tours, we spent the three days following the tour doubled up in pain, suffering from food poisoning. And while there's no doubt the food was delicious, I hope our sickness had nothing to do with the cook/owner licking her fingers throughout the cooking process, or dunking a peeled cucumber in a bowl of dirty dishwasher to rinse it, before chopping it directly into a salad bowl...

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Sucre
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Chuquisaca Department, Bolivia
Bolivia
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11. Re: Candelaria and Tarabuco advice

Thanks for this! Just avoided a tour with Candelaria. Yay for google. Plus your review had me doubled over with laughter, sounds horrific and perhaps I'm overidentifying with a recent tour in Chile that wasn't quite so bad but up there. Good to know I just saved myself some money!

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Chile
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12. Re: Candelaria and Tarabuco advice

These posts remind me of the "other-sort-of-guidebook" section in the novel "Lucy Plays Panpipes for Peace," pp 40-41. It takes place in Oruro, Bolivia. Lucy had lost her Lonely Planet guidebook on the bus when she entered the country (with thrilling adventures!). When she got to Oruro she arrived alone during Carnival. Wanting to connect with local people, she wandered the streets playing the panpipes. She has a multitude of adventures, including hooking up with a recording studio to record a CD with local musicians. One day, another English-speaking tourist arrived at Lucy's hotel. Lucy borrowed that tourist's Lonely Planet and read the warning for women traveling alone. After reading that, she suddenly felt fearful walking down the very streets she had already been joyfully exploring for a month.

Ditch the guidebook, like Lucy, and embrace life.

Edited: 19 December 2012, 23:32
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Bolivia
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Tacoma, Washington
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13. Re: Candelaria and Tarabuco advice

I spent almost a month in Bolivia, and absolutely loved it! Candelaria and Tarabuco were among my favorite places because of the welcoming and kind local people, the beautiful scenery, the delicious food, and the experience of walking through the local markets to see the most BEAUTIFUL traditional textiles I have ever seen. We stayed in a Hacienda in Candelaria. I was amazed by how well the historical value of this lovely place was maintained through the traditional architecture of this home, so it was like I was experiencing a piece of history by staying in this peaceful place. Our hosts were friendly and very hospitable. I would go back in a heartbeat!!!

I have traveled a lot in my life, and I have visited several different countries. Our guide, Liz, was by far the most helpful, sincere, and responsible guide that I have ever had. She was EXTREMELY knowledgeable about every place that we visited...which was A LOT! She was on top of every detail, and made absolutely sure that we were happy and experienced all that we wanted to do. She made this amazing experience happen, and I would trust her - and Candelaria Tours - to do an excellent job on any trip that I would like to go on again.

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Bolivia
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14. Re: Candelaria and Tarabuco advice

I spent almost a month in Bolivia, and absolutely loved it! Candelaria and Tarabuco were among my favorite places because of the welcoming and kind local people, the beautiful scenery, the delicious food, and the experience of walking through the local markets to see the most BEAUTIFUL traditional textiles I have ever seen. We stayed in a Hacienda in Candelaria. I was amazed by how well the historical value of this lovely place was maintained through the traditional architecture, so it was like I was experiencing a piece of history by staying in this peaceful home. Our hosts were friendly and very hospitable. I would go back in a heartbeat!!!

I have traveled a lot in my life, and I have visited several different countries. Our guide, Liz, was by far the most helpful, sincere, organized, and responsible guide that I have ever had. She was EXTREMELY knowledgeable about every place that we visited...which was A LOT! She was on top of every detail, and made absolutely sure that we were happy and experienced all that we wanted to do. She made this amazing experience happen, and I would trust her - and Candelaria Tours - to do an excellent job on any trip that I would like to go on again.

Edited: 13 March 2013, 21:25
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15. Re: Candelaria and Tarabuco advice

It's possible, I suppose, that Candelaria Tours has been bought out, or had a total overhaul of their staff and service, since our terrible trip in 2011.

But given this update comes from someone who's created a TA account specially to leave this comment, you'll forgive me if I retain my cynicism for the time being.

Sucre, Chuquisaca...
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16. Re: Candelaria and Tarabuco advice

We also got ripped off by a tour company in Sucre, recommended in Lonely Planet - Eclipse Tours/Eclipse Travel who were irresponsible and dishonest. There must be some good tour companies. Condor Travel (a few doors down from the awful Eclipse Tours in Sucre) seem to be a very honest and reliable operation that operate as a non profit organization, giving much back to the community.

The terrible Eclipse Tours in Sucre chose to ignore the guides advice to postpone due to adverse dangerous weather conditions. Do not believe Eclipse Tours when they say lunch is included unless you think that a dry roll at 4pm, sitting on a dirty kerb counts as lunch.

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Sucre
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Los Angeles...
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17. Re: Candelaria and Tarabuco advice

Great thanks for all the info, I arrive in Sucre today so this is all helpful. And just to agree Lonely Planet is a waste of money, space and time. It is so outdated it is laughable and its suggestions for restaurants are always terrible and overpriced. I was given some pages from a guy in Ecuador and threw them out in Peru.

Edited: 31 October 2013, 11:12
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Sucre
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Peru
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New York City, New...
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18. Re: Candelaria and Tarabuco advice

I have been traveling to Bolivia for over 20 years. I absolutely love Bolivia, and feel very at home here. It's definitely not a place for those who prefer a "Club Med" atmosphere, however. I also have been bringing university students here almost every year since 2005 for a month-long study away course. I have been using Candelaria Tours since 2005, and have been working with Liz Rojas, the current manager, since that time. Perhaps the 2011 reviewer was talking about a previous manager, I don't know. But Liz has been an invaluable resource for planning my month-long courses. We spend time in Sucre, the Candelaria Hacienda -- where we watch weavers and do community service. We travel to Potosi to visit the mines, La Paz, Lake Titicaca, An Ecolodge in Madidi National Forest (an amazing place -- but again, definitely not for the club med set), and Tarabuco to the Sunday market. Actually the person who wrote the review in March 2013 was one of my students (Maureen), so I'm not sure what a TA account is, but I can assure you that she did, indeed, spend a month in Bolivia and loved it. One of the things I always stress to my students is that Bolivia is a developing country and the "trains [definitely do not] run on time". So they need to be ready for the unexpected -- but that's part of the adventure.

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Bolivia
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Sucre
Sucre
Chuquisaca Department, Bolivia
La Paz
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La Paz Department, Bolivia
Kapalua, Hawaii
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19. Re: Candelaria and Tarabuco advice

Lonely Planet is no longer the company that Tony Wheeler founded. Back then LP authors had to follow strict rules. No freebies in exchange for reviews. They paid their way. Then the BBC came on board. Noted for it's lack of journalistic integrity that tradition spread to LP. Authors started to take kickbacks for reviews. The most noted were the case of the Colombia, Guatemala, Panama and Fiji guides. The author of the Colombian guide admitted that he never visited the country. Living in San Francisco, his girlfriend worked for the Colombian consulate and provided his info. The Guat author ran a tourist magazine in Xela. He sold reviews in LP to those who bought ads in the magazine. The Panama guide even had a review for a non existent hotel. Then of course there was the major scandal with the Thorn Tree and some of it's mods involvement in sex tourism. If you want a guidebook, get the Moon or Footprint.

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20. Re: Candelaria and Tarabuco advice

I am very interested in textiles and in spite of the above postings would like to travel to Tarabuco for both the textiles and to see village life. I will not be arriving in Sucre until noon on a Sunday. Would I still have time to see the Tarabuco market if I leave Sucre at noon? How long does it take to get to Tarabuco? Does anyone know the cost by taxi? And finally is Tarabuco worth it?

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Sucre
Sucre
Chuquisaca Department, Bolivia