Dan and I spent ten days in Bolivia earlier this year visiting the Uyuni Salt Flats and Bolivia’s wine region, Tarija. We ended the trip with a couple days in La Paz and, while not expecting to love La Paz, we ended up having a grand time. This post details what we did on our few days in La Paz, Bolivia.
LA PAZ (AND EL ALTO), BOLIVIA
La Paz as most travelers see it, is actually made up of two adjacent cities high in the Andes mountains: La Paz and El Alto. El Alto is home to the La Paz airport, where many travelers fly in (including us!), and is located at over 13,000 feet above sea level. La Paz abuts El Alto, but is located at a lower altitude, with the lowest parts being around 10,000 feet. The difference in altitude is wild! The two cities are connected by cable car but, for most casual tourists on a short visit, there’s not a noticeable difference between the two. Most tourist attractions, besides the airport, are located in the city of La Paz. La Paz is one of two capitals of Bolivia (the other being Sucre). In terms of tourist attractions, La Paz does not have many “bucket list” sites IMHO, but I listed some of the things we enjoyed below. On a quick trip, I probably wouldn’t spend more than 2 or 3 days in La Paz, unless you have something planned.
La Paz, Bolivia.
El Alto, Bolivia. La Paz is below in the background.
WHAT WE ENJOYED DOING IN LA PAZ
As I mentioned, there are not a ton of must see sites, but here are some things we enjoyed.
Vallee de la Luna: Located on the outskirts of La Paz near “the highest golf course in the world,” Vallee de la Luna (or “Moon Valley”) is a natural park comprised of an eroded mountain left with really cool clay spires jutting out of the Earth. There are clearly marked trails and the views and photo opportunities are really cool. Tourists can go on their own, but our guide gave some additional context. Note that the altitude will making walking around here much harder than you think.
Dan and I spent a few days in Tarija, Bolivia earlier this year. Located not far from the Argentinian border, Tarija has a “wine and steak” culture, similar to that in many parts of Argentina (and unlike much of Bolivia). Steakhouses are quite popular in Tarija, and Dan and I visited two, both of which seemed to be rated the highest on most “best of Tarija” lists: Casona dal Molino and Fogón del Gringo. I have no idea how accurate these lists are, but here is my review of both! If you find yourself in Tarija, I definitely recommend a meal at one of these steakhouses or something similar.
Dan and I at Aranjuez Vineyards in Tarija, Bolivia!
Before getting into the individual steakhouses, steakhouse restaurants are common in Tarija, and popular with both locals and tourists. The menus are almost always beef heavy, but we did see a couple beef alternatives, such as chicken. The standard order at these types of restaurants is a cut of beef (from which there are many to choose), which usually includes unlimited visits to a buffet or “salad bar.” These buffets and salad bars vary by restaurant in terms of quality and options, but are usually largely vegetarian and include a number of cold dishes, such as traditional lettuce salad, olives, potato salad, and a hot bar with a few types of potatoes, rice and possibly even pasta! The buffets were refilled regularly on our visits and diners went back many, many times. Meals are also usually served with crusty garlic bread and an in-house sauce or two and wine, which is extra and ordered from a wine menu (most commonly by the bottle, but there are single-serving and half bottles for sale). Finally, while not so popular in the US, it is customary to order beef well done in Tarija! Who would have thought?! We still went rare (or “inglés”) and our steaks were always cooked perfectly.
A cheatsheet for ordering steak in Tarija. As English is not very common in Tarija, I suggest using this cheatsheet.
CASONA DEL MOLINO
Casona del Molino is one of the two most well-known steakhouses in Tarija, at least according to my internet research. The other being Fogón del Gringo (keep reading for my review on Fogón). We dined at Casona del Molino twice during our stay in Tarija, and the restaurant was excellent both visits. Casona Del Molino is located right in the heart of Tarija across from the Campilla de San Juan, which was still decorated for Easter during our visit. Casona del Molina itself is a large white building that looks like it has been around for many, many years, with a deck proudly flying the red and white Tarija flag. Inside Casona is some seating, the salad bar and the large grill room (where all the food is made), but the highlight of the restaurant is the back garden where most diners will have their meal. The garden is indeed lovely! I would strongly recommend the outside if the weather is nice.
Casona del Molino entrance.
The deck of Casona del Molino.
Campilla San Juan for reference.
Some interior seating. I loved the design.
The back garden. This was a beautiful spot for a meal.
The indoor grill room. Insanely large.
Moving on to the food, Casona del Molino has a large menu with many cuts of steak. I am not entirely sure what I ordered, but it was a HUGE steak, cooked perfectly rare on my request, that cost less than $15 USD. Crazy! Every steak at Casona del Molino is seved with a little Tarija flag, very cute! Casona del Molino also has a large wine menu, but we skipped wine as we were eating in the middle of a wine tour…
Our delicious steak.
Like at most steakhouses in Tarija, our Casona del Molino order came with unlimited visits to the salad bar, and Casona’s salad bar was something special. I have some pictures below, but they do not do it justice. On offer were an insane number of pickled things, olives, various types of cold salads, pasta, a bruschetta, and a hot bar with a really good rice/egg/vegetable dish and delicious french fries. And that list is not at all exhaustive. Casona del Molino’s salad bar was the best that we saw, and everything was fresh and tasty.
The “pickled things area.”
More traditional salads.
Additional salads. The hot bar is in the covered portion at the end.
Like most steak restaurants, every meal also comes with crusty garlic bread and some dipping sauces (at least that is what I called them), at Casona del Molino we received an eggplant caponata, a green aioli type dressing, and my favorite Bolivia hot sauce, Llajua (found everywhere in Bolivia – made with watermelon and peppers!). These dipping sauces at Casona were particularly good!
Casona’s dipping sauces.
For reference, some of my carb heavy buffet visit. The fries were also particularly good.
After eating at Casona twice, I would certainly return to Casona del Molino and recommend it to others. The vibe is upscale, but we were fine dining in shorts and a nice top (shorts & polo for Dan). I would suggest making a reservation, especially if you want a nice table in the garden. Credit card was accepted and not many people spoke English (true in Tarija in general).
CHURRASQUERIA EL FOGÓN DEL GRINGO
Moving on to the other popular steakhouse in Tarija, Fogón del Gringo also has a great location, just across the street from Los Ceibos Hotel (where we conveniently stayed). Fogón is very well lit with the Tarija flag and colors flying strong. Fogón has a small outside area with tables and an insanely large open air grill, where you can watch your dinner being made, as well as ample interior seating, including a private room that looked for nice for a party. We were seated without a reservation on a Wednesday at 8 PM, although the place did fill up soon thereafter with locals.
Fogón del Gringo from the outside.
A small sample of the menu for reference.
Like at Casona del Molino, every meal at Fogón begins with crusty garlic bread and homemade sauces. The Llauja was particularly good at Fogón, and even more so on the garlic bread. As we ordered a huge steak for two – the Churrasco di Filete to be precise, it came with access to the salad bar and hot potato and pasta buffet for both of us. While not as photographable or large as those at Casona del Molino, the food was on the buffets was decent and replaced pretty frequently.
Fogón’s sauces and garlic bread.
Here is a small snippet of the buffet at Fogón. Its not as fancy as Casona but it was decent.
And not to forget our Churrasco di Filete, it was great! Perfectly cooked as we asked and humongous – a real steal for $24 USD. As it was Dan’s birthday, the staff brought a complimentary dessert with a candle. A very nice touch!
The Churrasco di Filete for two. This was more than enough for me and Dan.
Dan’s very sweet birthday dessert.
Like Casona, Fogón also has an extensive wine menu with a wide range of Bolivian bottles, include single glass bottles. As it was Dan’s birthday, we splurged for the Aranjuez Juan Cruz (around $50 USD), which is probably Tarija’s most famous wine. It was really great. I also had a single glass bottle of the Cabernet France from Aranjuez (where the photo of us above was taken).
The Juan Cruz Tannat. It literally won awards.
A single serving of Cabernet Franc. It’s common to serve glasses by the small “airplane bottle” like this.
All in, Fogón was also a good dinner. We again wore shorts and did not feel under dressed, although locals dressed up a bit more. Credit card was accepted and, like in Tarija generally, no one really spoke English. We still ordered and paid fine.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Casona del Molino: Loma de San Juan, Bolivar, Tarija, Bolivia. Open daily 12 – 3 and 7 – 12, except on Sunday when its only open for lunch. I suggest a reservation, even if it’s only calling earlier in the day. Casual (we wore shorts), but the locals tend to dress nicely. Credit card accepted.
Churrasqueria El Fogón del Gringo: La Madrid, Tarija, Bolivia. Open daily 12 – 3 and 6:30 – 11, except Sunday when the restaurant is only open for lunch (common in Bolivia). I suggest a reservation, even if it’s only calling earlier in the day. Casual (we wore shorts), but the locals tend to dress nicely. Credit card accepted.
As Christmas was essentially cancelled in 2020, Dan and I moved up our planned Costa Rica New Years Eve trip to leave on Christmas day, spending and working a few days in San Jose before moving on to the La Fortuna area, our original NYE destination! You can read about our experience in San Jose here. In La Fortuna, we spent most of our time at the Tabacón Thermal Resort and Spa, which has lovely, amazing thermal pools. This article details our experience at the Tabacón.
Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, Costa Rica.
For those unfamiliar, La Fortuna is a small, touristy town about a 3 hour drive from San Jose. The centerpiece of La Fortuna is the Arenal volcano, which towers over the town and is quite magnificent on a clear day (which apparently doesn’t happen that often). La Fortuna’s surrounding area also offers lots of adrenaline-fueled jungle activities, including white water rafting, zip lining, and rain forest hikes. However, due to the Arenal Volcano, the area around La Fortuna also has lots of less-adrenaline fueled thermal springs – or water sources naturally heated by the volcano. Since we love a good hot spring, we decided to stay at one of the resorts planned around said hot springs. We opted for the Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa because it looked very nice online and is part of the Hyatt hotel network.
THE TABACÓN THERMAL RESORT & SPA
The Tabacón Thermal Resort and Spa is a resort complex located about a 15 minute car ride from downtown La Fortuna. While you cannot easily walk between the Tabacón and La Fortuna, there is plenty in the Tabacón complex to keep guests busy, from four restaurants, to a lovely pool, a shop, lots of space to walk around, complete with wildlife and perfectly manicured grounds, to the amazing hot springs, and guests will not want for activities to fill the time. Indeed, guests could stay here for several days without leaving, if that is what you are look for, or simply leave the resort and go into town, making the Tabacón a good choice for may types of travelers.
Back in 2020/2021, Dan and I spent Christmas and New Year’s in Costa Rica, starting in San Jose and moving to La Fortuna for the New Year. I have been meaning to post about this forever, so this article details what we got up to in La Fortuna.
New year, new vacation bank! Yes, it’s that time of year again. Time to plan your 2022 getaways and vacations. Last Spring, me, Dan, and Dan’s sister took a five day trip down to Isla Verde, Puerto Rico to celebrate Dan’s birthday! The trip was easy, fun, and the perfect few days away from New York City. If you are planning a similar trip this year (which you should!), here’s a summary of our lovely trip.
Palm trees in Puerto Rico.
Isla Verde, Puerto Rico is a gorgeous strip of beach located just outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico in Carolina. While technically in Carolina, Isla Verde is extremely close to San Juan and nearly borders San Juan’s international airport. For this reason, Isla Verde often lumped into San Juan vacation speak, often referred to as the best beaches in the San Juan area. I cannot vouch for the validity of this statement, but Isla Verde is gorgeous, much more so than the Condado area if you are looking for beaches. And beaches were exactly why we decided to stay in Isla Verde. Aside from beaches, Isla Verde has numerous restaurants and tourist activities, but we ventured into San Juan for most of our non-beach activities.
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