The Quechua region of Bolivia
The Quechua-speaking region of Bolivia covers the eastern half of the department of Potosí (provinces of Charcas, Rafael Bustillo, Alonso de Ibáñez, Bernardino Bilbao, Chayanta, Tomás Frías, Cornelio Saavedra, Linares and Nor Chichas) and the north-western section of the Chuquisaca department (provinces of Oropeza, Yamparáez and Zudañez), and spreads its influence to surrounding areas within the departments of Oruro and Cochabamba.
The central part of the Potosí department is characterized by impressive mountain range Cordillera Central, which comprises the Cordillera de los Frailes and the peaks of Michaga (5,300 m), Santa Juana (5,100 m) and Gracias a Dios (5,060 m). To the east lies the Cordillera Oriental, including the peaks of El Toro (5,810 m), Negro Pabellón (5,400 m), Azanaques (5,102 m), Cusuño and Huari. From north to south, the region’s most important rivers are the Caine, the San Pedro, the Chayanta, the Salinas, the Pilcomayo, the Yura, the Tumusla, and the Cotagaita.
The landscape is mostly rugged, dry and shaped by cold and wind. The severity of the cold is tempered in the valleys and the relatively warm microclimates of the slopes allow vegetables and cereals growing along with tough deciduous trees (white quebracho, churqui, molle, and ceibo) and queñua shrubs (Polylepis sp.). The fauna of this region include the taruka or Andean deer, fox, vizcacha, Andean cat or chinchay, puma, condor and several species of endemic birds like the red-fronted macaw (Ara rubrogenys).
The north-western portion of the Chuquisaca department shares the same landscape features and many of the geographical ones with neighbouring Potosí. The region’s economy is heavily dependant on mineral resources exploitation (tin, copper, lead, zinc, etc.), while agriculture and livestock raising occur mostly at subsistence level.
To the west of the Potosí department (the Aymara region), the Salar de Uyuni (salt flat), Lake Poopó, Licancabur volcano and lagoons Colorada and Verde dominate the landscape and tourist attractions. To the east, the Quechua region is well known by its traditional heritage, customs and culture, though it is also home to beautiful landscapes such as the magnificent scenery of the Torotoro National Park.
Special mention deserves the city of Potosí, founded at the foot of the mountain called “Cerro Rico” or Sumac Orcko (from Quechua language sumaq urqu, “beautiful mountain”), which was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. A brief description provided by UNESCO explains that “the site consists of the industrial monuments of the Cerro Rico, where water is provided by an intricate system of aqueducts and artificial lakes; the colonial town with the Casa de la Moneda; the Church of San Lorenzo; several patrician houses; and the barrios mitayos, the areas where the workers lived”.
Four years later, the city of Sucre (the constitutional capital of Bolivia) was also declared Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO in recognition of its mix of colonial and republican architecture buildings.
Other interesting towns are Macha, Cotagaita, Colquechaca, Betanzos, Llallagua, Arampampa and Tarabuco, all of them celebrated for the Carnival festivals (the pujllay of Tarabuco, the carnival of Betanzos and its street markets), handicrafts fairs and famous tinkus (Macha). In the surrounding areas of the Cochabamba department the towns of Anzaldo, Capinota, Punata, Quillacollo and Cochabamba stand out as cultural beacons.
In every province mentioned, more than 80% of the population are Quechua-speakers, a fact that turns Spanish into a supporting language, mostly used in large urban areas (Potosí and Sucre).
Picture 01. The town of Potosí and the mount Cerro Rico.
Picture 02. Potosí landscape.
Picture 03. Colquechaca surroundings landscape.
Picture 04. Panoramic view of Cotagaita.
Picture 05. Betanzos landscape.
Picture 06. Panoramic view of Llallagua.
Picture 07. Panoramic view of Tarabuco.
Picture 08. Sucre colonial downtown.
Picture 09. Quechua people, northern Potosí.
Picture 10. Capinota landscape.
Picture 11. Taruka (Andean deer).
Picture 12. Andean cat or chinchay.
Picture 13. Red-fronted macaw.