San Lorenzo, located just a few minutes from the city of Tarija, is a quaint Colonial town with a rich history. It's also home to the prettiest Easter festival in Bolivia.
Despite its small size, there are some very interesting things to do in San Lorenzo. The town's main attraction is the Casa de Moto Mendez
, located one block from the main plaza. Eustaquio Mendez was one of the main figures in Tarija's independence movement and his home is now a museum. You can see how he actually lived and can also view some of the weapons and armor he wore. His remains (ashes) are preserved in an intricately engraved silver box here too. So how did this one-handed man help free Bolivia from Spanish rule? Read the history of Tarija
to find out.
The town has a tiny central plaza. Across the street is the cathedral. It has a simple altar, some interesting carvings and statues, and pretty stained glass windows. The cathedral is at its best during Semana Santa (Easter week) when the town decorates its streets with dozens of arches and strings made from thousands of yellow flowers. To it's left is the San Lorenzo market and to its right is a great new restaurant called Eustaquio Resto-Bar Cultural, two yummy places to eat in town.
If you arrive at just the right time in the morning, you'll smell fresh bread and rosquetes baking. That's because San Lorenzo bakes most of the bread that is eaten in the city of Tarija and delivers it to markets and grocery stores throughout the city and surrounding towns. Rosquetes are like huge donuts only they're crunchy and covered in a white frosting. You can also try frosted pumpkin empanadas (more awesome than you can ever imagine) or some of the many breads served or you can purchase fruit, yogurt, milk and other staples.
Eustaquios is a very cool restaurant filled with historical artifacts and antiques. The family that owns it went to great lengths to preserve the authentic adobe house and many of the paintings, antiques and pieces of furniture it contained or they have acquired. It's called a "resto bar cultural" (cultural restaurant and bar) because you can actually learn about the history of this region from its decor. They offer delicious traditional Tarijeño foods with one twist: each recipe is changed just slightly to include one or two out-of-the-ordinary ingredients. In addition, the family is extremely health conscious and uses only organic produce.
A few blocks down from the central plaza in the opposite direction from the Cathedral you must make a stop at the Casa del Vino. Here you can taste authentic 'vino patero' (foot squashed wine), delicious home made cheese spread (queso fundido) and whole grape preserves.
If you're lucky, you'll get to visit San Lorenzo in April or May on Easter Sunday weekend, perhaps the best time to visit this town. The citizens of San Lorenzo work really hard for two straight days to decorate their town with hundreds of thousands of flowers, all hand tied in bunches and wrapped around massive arches that are set up along the main street next to the plaza and leading right up to the Cathedral door. This is all done for the Easter Sunday procession and people visit from miles around. People weave palm fronds into little hand-held bouquets and hang yellow flowers from their windows and above their doors. The entire town is transformed for this festival. I had the privilege of visiting while the decorations were being set up on Saturday. See photos of Easter in Tarija here.