Most Oruro tours center on Carnaval de Oruro and the Oruro mining communities but there's so much more! Oruro is the capital city of the Department of Oruro and is located about 3-4 hours by bus from La Paz on the Bolivian Altiplano (highland plateau).
By Juan revolver - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28787014
The city has about a half a million people. Here are some of the attractions you can see during your Carnaval de Oruro tours or any other time of the year. Click here for some good Oruro street maps.
Oruro tours: the city
The Oruro Carnaval – Carnaval de Oruro
This is, of course, the attraction that made Oruro famous. It was declared a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. Each year in February (timed to end on Ash Wednesday) the Carnaval de Oruro features up to 20,000 dancers and 10,000 musicians over a 3-5 day period. Read about the origins of Oruro and its Carnival here.
Oruro Carnival Museum
In January 2011 Oruro city inaugurated a new Oruro Carnival Museum featuring some of the traditional Carnaval de Oruro costumes and masks. Initially 2 salons, dedicated specifically to the "Diablada" (the Devil Dance, main dance of the carnival) will be opened inside the Museo de Etnografía y Folklore de Oruro ‘Eduardo López Rivas’.
Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Mines - Santuario de la Virgen del Socavón
Located at the foot of the “Pie de Gallo” hills near the West side of Oruro, it used to by a ritual center used by the Uru peoples hundreds of years ago. When the town was originally founded they still carried out their yearly festivities in the area that is now the Plaza del Folklore. The Sanctuary was built in 1781 and was originally called the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Copacabana. Here locals worship the Virgin of Candelaria, patron saint of the miners, who locally call her the Virgin of the Socavón (Virgin of the Mines). Read more about the “mysterious” appearance of the Virgin Mary for whom this church was built on our page about the history of Oruro. The sanctuary also has a Museo de Arte Sacro (religious art museum).
Ethnographic Mining Museum - Museo Etnográfico Minero
Entering through the same sanctuary is one of the most ancient, yet best preserved, mining tunnels. Here you can enter underground to see how miners used to work during Colonial times. Legend has it that during this era a very famous thief called Chiru Chiru used this as his hiding place and that he shared what he stole with the poor, and that the discovery of his death is why Carnaval originated. At the end of the tour there’s a statue of the Tio (the Devil). Miners believe the Devil is lord and master of the mines.
Conchupata Lighthouse - Faro de Conchupata
You can enjoy a panoramic view of the city of Oruro from the top of this overlook, located on the corner of Herrera and La Plata streets. It’s a lighthouse! This is where the very first Bolivian flag was raised for the very first time on November 7, 1851 twenty-six years after Bolivia won its independence from Spain. The Luis Mendizábal Santa Cruz Teatro al Aire Libre (an open-air theater) is nearby as is the Parque Eduardo Abaroa, a park where you can see a replica of the Topáter bridge on which Avaroa, a hero in the Pacific War of 1879 between Bolivia and Chile, was killed by Chilean soldiers. When the Chileans told him to surrender, he said, “your grandmother can surrender, carajo!”
National Anthropology Museum – Museo Nacional de Antropología
Located on the southern side of the city on Avenida España, this museum contains a very large and valuable collection of archeological finds from the Wankarani culture that inhabited the area between 1500 and 1200 B.C. Here you can see pottery, stone tools, items made from bone, lithographs, sculptures of animals, woven fabrics, and mummies. The museum also has a replica of an Uru and Chipaya hut and an important collection of antique masks and costumes from the various Carnavals that took place long ago.
Mineralogy Museum – Museo Mineralógico
This museum is located inside the University in the southern zone of the city. It contains an astounding number of mineralogical samples (nearly 6000) found in Bolivia and around the world. It is considered one of the larges mineralogy museums in South America and one of the four most important in the world. You can visit all three Petrography, Mineralogy and Paleontology exhibits.
The House of Culture – Casa de la Cultura
Most major cities have a “House of Culture” and this one used to belong to Simón Iturre Patiño himself. It was one of his homes. He owned silver and tin mines and became one of the wealthiest billionaires in the world during the colonial period. It contains antique furniture, an art gallery, his private chapel, and both seasonal and permanent exhibits. It now belongs to, and is operated by, the Universidad Técnica de Oruro.
The Cerrato Hillside – Cerro Cerrato
This is another scenic overlook that offers good views of the entire city. You can drive to it or go to where Washington and Camacho streets end and walk up. There is a little chapel here called the Sagrado Corazón de Jesus (the sacred heart of Jesus).
Entrance to the Beatrium - La portada del Beaterio
In case you’re wondering what a beatrium is, it means “a congregation of pious people”. This entryway, sculpted from stone, welcomes pilgrims who are devoted to Sister Nazaria March, who was beatified in 1993. She was a missionary who founded this convent and it has a small museum that contains some of her belongings.
The Oruro Zoo - El Parque Zoológico
This small, somewhat shabby zoo contains animals that are native to the region like llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, armadillos, and some birds. You can also see monkeys, eagles, and the great Andean Condor, Bolivia’s national bird.
The Oruro Central Plaza – Plaza 10 de Febrero
In Bolivia almost all cities and towns were founded around a central plaza and this is Oruro’s. It is surrounded, as most are, by government buildings such as the Mayor’s Office, the Prefecture, and in this case, a movie theater.
The San Miguel Church - Iglesia de San Miguel de la Ranchería
Located on Soria Galvarro and 1 de Noviembre streets in the Ranchería zone of the city. It is one of the oldest churches in this town. The Spaniards built it to evangelize to the natives. It houses many very valuable and very antique paintings and sculptures. One of these is a painting of the archangel Saint Michael that is currently housed in the Santuario del Socavón.
The San Francisco Church – Iglesia de San Francisco
This church is located on Bolivar street between Soria Galvarro and 6 de Octubre. It was founded in the 17th century. In 1610 the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Visitation was founded here, by and for free blacks who lived in the town.
The Santo Domingo Church – Iglesia de Santo Domingo
You’ll find this church on Ayacucho street between Presidente Montes and Washington streets. Its convent dates back to 1602. It was remodeled at the beginning of the 20th Century but originally it was cared for by members of the Order of Preachers. One of them, Friar Bartolomé de las Casas, was called the “Apostle to the Indians” during the conquest.
The Cathedral Tower – Torre de la Catedral
This tower is attached to the city’s main cathedral located on Adolfo Mier street between Soria Galvarro and La Plata streets. It used to be a part of the Compañía de Jesus church which was built even before the town was founded. After the Jesuit priests were expelled by Spain, the temple was converted into a vicariate and when the Diocese of Oruro was created, it was designated as the city’s most important cathedral.
By Ruditaly - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17076045
Oruro tours: near and far
The San Pedro Sand Dunes - Arenales de San Pedro
Located just 2 kilometers from the city, this is a desert-like area of natural sand dunes. Here you can see the “quirquincho” (armadillo). Oruro proclaims this animal as its emblem. Unfortunately, quirquinchos are also the armadillos that charangos (Bolivian tiny typical 10-string guitars) are made of.
The San José Mine – Mina de San José
This mine is located about 5 kilometers northeast of the city. Micros (small city buses) and taxis can take you there. It has been mined for over 200 years and produced silver, lead and tin.
The Obrajes Hot Springs - Balneario de Obrajes
About 20 kilometers east of the city there is an important area of thermal waters which is quickly becoming known among tourists and Bolivians as the country’s best medicinal-recreational center. Locals believe it’s waters have curative qualities and there are nice accommodations there. It’s sort of like a natural spa.
The Capachos Hot Springs – Balneario Capachos
Located 12 kilometers from Oruro, it has hot springs too, along with individual baths and covered pools. The view of the surrounding area is very peaceful and pretty. This is something you won’t want to miss on your Oruro tours.
Just 20 kilometers from the city of Oruro is this archeology site where you can see rock paintings. There is also a small church here called Templo del Señor de Lagunas.
Lake Uru Uru – Lago Uru Uru
Also called Lago del Milagro (Miracle Lake) it is located just 8 kilometers south of the city. This lake was formed when the Desaguadero River flooded its banks and is located near the town of Machacamarca. It is about 20 kilometers long and 16 wide and currently is only about 1 meter deep. If you go the Alpaca Pub they can tell you how to take a day trip to the lake. It’s a nice place for bird watchers – you’ll see falcons, flamingos and other wading birds, doves, swallows, finches and more.
Lake Poopó – Poopó Lake
This is the second largest lake in Bolivia, after Lake Titicaca, and also the second largest in South America. It is located about 65 kilometers from the city. There is an island in this lake called Isla Panza where native Uru peoples live. It is about 85 kilometers long and 25 wide and only about 2 meters deep, although its depth varies. Right now the lake is evaporating will most likely also turn into another salt bed eventually.
This is the first town founded by the Spaniards in 1535. It has a pretty baroque-style church. Read more about Paria and the Spaniards here.
Chipaya Town - Pueblo Chipaya
This tiny town is located 184 kilometers west of the city of Oruro. The Chipayas have inhabited the region for thousands of years, even before the Aymaras and Incas. Their language “puquina” is unique in the world and has never been deciphered. The Uru language is thought to be a dialect of Chipaya. They also make some very peculiar round yet cone-shaped homes. You can see their typical dress and they are recognizable due to the specific type of way they style their hair.
Coipasa Salt Flats - Salar de Coipasa
While the Salar de Uyuni is known all over the world, not as many have actually heard of Bolivia’s second salt desert, Coipasa. It is located 225 kilometers south of Oruro on the way to the Salar de Uyuni. The unusual thing about this salt bed is that it has a lake in the center of it, which apparently is the last remaining portion of the lake it used to be. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains and cactus gardens and the lake has been called the “espejo del cielo” (the mirror of the sky).
Sajama National Park - Parque Nacional Sajama
This park is located 311 kilometers from the city of Oruro and is sometimes included in Oruro tours. In this important nature reserve you can see the snow-capped Nevado Sajama mountain, and there are hot springs, geysers, some colonial churches, and wildlife.