Tarata is a small town in the south of Cochabamba. It is prominent among the region's colonial towns for its surviving traditional architecture, and it is home to the annual festival of San Severino which marks the coming of the rains in late November.
Tarata's history as a colonial village is slowly disappearing, as increasingly colonial buildings are destroyed to make way for concrete multi-storey buildings. Tarata is just 29 kms or a little over an hour from the city of Cochabamba.
The Cathedral of Tarata houses the remains of a mystical former Bolivian President, General Mariano Melgarejo. The convent itself houses a museum with several relics, and together the religious structures are arguably the most impressive colonial buildings in the town.
Walk around town, especially up to the monastery, to experience the colonial feel, how it has been impoverished over the centuries, and how it is transforming into a more internationalized city (as new construction replaces characteristic old buildings). The most interesting colonial buildings are around the main square and the convent to the southwest. There are also several remaining large colonial villas that exhibit older architectural styles around town.
The festival of San Severino happens during the last weekend in November, and is an excellent opportunity to see the vast range of traditional dances from the region and around the country. The best place to sit is near the political officials' pavilion in front of the Cathedral, because all of the dancing groups put on a special show for the mayor and town officials.
Tarata is known for its traditional arts and crafts, especially for pottery and weaving. It is still inexpensive to buy the crafts in the town, many of which are useful for travellers such as clothing. Souvenirs and knick-knacks are also available from a few sellers around the town. (see video below).
Tarata has a tradition of preparing very thin sausages or chorizos, which are available at several local eateries at low prices.
Tarata is also known for it's popular drink called Chicha. Chicha is the traditional corn-based alcoholic drink, but in recent years changes to the method of preparing will make the chicha less than trustworthy. For adventurous travellers wishing to try, chicha is available at any shop hanging a red cloth diamond off a pole outside the entrance.
If you are into colonial towns, don't miss Cliza and Punata which very much similar towns in the same valley, and may be worth exploring to understand more of the older way of life in Cochabamba department.