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Oruro, Bolivia

Folkloric Capital of Bolivia


Andes of Bolivia

Andes of Bolivia

Oruro, in the department of the same name, is located in the high altiplano southeast of La Paz. This area of Bolivia is a natural marvel, a wild, windy wilderness with few people and towns. (See this interactive map from Expedia.) At an altitude of 12,159 ft (3,708.5 m), Oruro is the only city on the southern end of Bolivia's altiplano, and it is cold, arid and circled by mountain peaks. The highest is San Felipe.

Oruro seems an unlikely spot for the capital of Bolivia’s folkloric traditions, yet UNESCO has proclaimed Oruro a Tangible Heritage site.

Much of Oruro’s cultural traditions are based on the legend of Wari, Lord of the Earthquakes, who lived inside Mount Uru Uru. Every morning, the sun’s firstborn daughter, Inti Wara, the dawn, woke Wari, who tried to capture her with arms of smoke and fire but the Sun always rescued his daughter.

Seeking revenge, Wari turned the local farmers away from solar worship and their agricultural efforts and into activities pursued in the dark: mining, drinking too much chicha and the worship of snakes, lizards and frogs. The people became silent and apathetic.

Following a fierce rainstorm, Inti Wara descended to earth on a rainbow accompanied by handmaidens and chiefs Wari had exiled. The goddess reinstituted the ancient worship of the sun, taught the people to speak Quechua, and guided them along the righteous path.

In retaliation, Wari send four great plagues: La Vibora, a monstrous serpent that devoured livestock; El Sapo, a colossal frog; El Lagarto, a lizard that threatened to destroy villages; and las Hormigas, a legion of ants. Inti Wara fought each of these plagues, decapitated them and turned them into stone. (Today they are the rock formations of La Víbora, el Sapo, el Lagarto and las Hormigas.)

Following her victory, and to prevent further retribution from Wari, Inti Wara transformed herself into the Virgen de Socavón, Patrona de los Mineros, the patron saint of miners. Wari became El Tio, the uncle, who lives underground in the mines.

During carnaval, one group of dancers is dressed in devil costumes, led by the chief dancer, called Waricato, representing Wari.

Founded on November 1, 1606 by Don Manuel Castro de Padilla, Oruro was originally called Real Villa de Don Felipe de Austria, in honor of then Spanish monarch Felipe III, after silver was discovered the year before. The city became known as Oruro from Urus, one of the indigenous groups of the area, and during the 17th century, it became the largest city in what was then the Alto Peru region.

As the silver was exhausted, the Indian workers moved elsewhere, leaving behind an abandoned city. Agriculture is not possible at this altitude, and it wasn’t until the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the city revived after Simon I. Patiño bought La Salvadora, a tin mine located east of the city. This mine became the world’s most productive and made Patiño one of the wealthiest men of the age.

With the decline in tin, Oruro (photo) again rested, although today Oruro (photo) still depends on mining of tin, tungsten, and copper as the foundation for its economy.

Mining and tourism, that is.

In addition to the cultural attractions of Oruro, the environment itself draws visitors to the altiplano. Hot springs, the flamingos and other wildlife at Lake Poopó, mystic desert mirages, volcanic activity, the great salt lakes, or salars, such as at Coipasa and Salinas de Garcia Mendoza, and the rock formations at Pumiri.

Getting There
The city of Oruro lies north of the salty lakes Uru-Uru and Poopó and is three hours (by road) south from La Paz. By Land:

  • By bus: from La Paz, Cochabamba, Sucre, Potosí, Arica and Iquique, Chile via Pisiga on the border. La Paz to Oruro, Bolivia – Note: very slow loading, large images
  • By train: from Potosí, La Paz, Cochabamba, Uyuni, Argentina via Villazón on the border, and Chile, via Avaroa or Charaña, both on the border. Oruro is considered the center of Bolivian railroading, due to the mining industry.
    By Air: Private jets and air taxies only. Check flights from your area to La Paz or other bolivian cities and make connections from there. From this page, you can also browse hotels, rental cars, and special deals.

    When to Go
    Oruro is cold and arid most of the year. It is warmer, almost temperate between August – October. Summers are warmer and surprisingly wet between November and March.

    Check today’s weather in Oruro.

    The greatest influx of visitors to Oruro occurs with Carnaval, with the famed Devil’s Dance, or Diablada on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday in late February or early March. Reservations are a must.

    Practical Tips
    Be prepared for the cold! The combination of low temperatures and cool winds make for cold nights, and a number of hotels and restaurants are not heated.

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