There is not one capital of Bolivia, but two – Sucre and La Paz. La Paz is the executive capital and Bolivia’s government seat while Sucre is the country’s official capital as named in the Bolivian Constitution.
La Paz is the third most populous city in Bolivia and is the heart of the country with a population of around 816,000 as of 2020. It is home to foreign embassies, the central bank, the government ministries, as well as the president of the country. At an elevation of just under 12,000 feet, La Paz is the world’s highest capital city.
Sucre is a peaceful city with many whitewashed buildings, leading to its popular nickname la ciudad blanca (The White City). It has a smaller population than La Paz, with roughly 360,000 residents as of the 2021 census. It is the sixth most populous city in Bolivia.
Bolivia is unique in that it has two capitals, with the question over which city is the “true” nation’s capital leading to everything from heated debates to violence altercations. While the Bolivian constitution names Sucre as the country’s provincial capital, many consider La Paz to be Bolivia’s de facto capital because of it being the seat of the country’s government.
The rest of this article will tell you everything you need to know about these dual capitals, what makes them so unique, and how each became the capital (or co-capital) of this South American country.
Where are the Capitals of Bolivia Located?
La Paz lies in the Amazon Basin in the west-central region of Bolivia, near the canyon created by the Choqueyapu River, about 42 miles from Lake Titicaca. The city is surrounded by the Altiplano mountains.
Sucre lies in the south-central area of Bolivia in Bolivia’s Central Highlands, 258 miles southeast of La Paz.
Brief History of La Paz
Once an integral part of the Incan Empire, La Paz was founded by Spanish conquistadors in 1548. The area surrounding the city as well as the Incan lands had been entrusted to Pedro de la Gasca by the Spanish king Phillip II.
Gasca entrusted the founding of the new city to Alonso de Mendoza, who would serve as La Paz’s first mayor. La Paz was officially founded on October 20, 1548.
The city remained under strict Spanish rule, with several violent uprisings occurring between the indigenous people and the Spanish colonists.
In 1781, a particularly violent uprising occurred over a period of six months when indigenous people laid siege to the city in an attempt to revolt against the Spanish government. During this time period, open rebellions against Spain took place in both La Paz and Sucre.
In 1809, revolutionary Pedro Domingo Murillo led the Bolivian Revolution. He was captured and hanged by the Spanish on January 29, 1810, and to this day remains a hero in the fight for South American independence. When Bolivia gained independence in 1825, a major plaza in La Paz was named after Murillo to commemorate him for his service to the Bolivian people.
Brief History of Sucre
Like La Paz, Sucre once belonged to the Incan empire. Known originally as Chuquisaca to the Incas, the city was renamed in 1538 after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. The Spanish renamed the city Ciudad de la Plata de la Nueva Toledo (City of Silver of New Toledo) and called it La Plata for short.
The city was called La Plata even after Bolivia achieved independence in 1826. It wasn’t until 1839 when the city was renamed, with President Jose Miguel de Velasco naming Sucre Bolivia’s provincial capital and moving to name the city after the famed revolutionary, Antonio Jose de Sucre.
Olivia’s Supreme Court and the country’s seat of the Roman Catholic Church are both located in Sucre. Today, it is considered the most beautiful city in Bolivia and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
When did La Paz and Sucre become the Capitals of Bolivia?
While La Paz had always been a major Bolivian city, it was officially made the de facto seat of government in 1898 and the country’s unofficial capital.
Sucre was named the country’s official capital in 1826 when Bolivia achieved independence.
Why are La Paz and Sucre the Capitals of Bolivia?
La Paz is the de facto capital, being the seat of Bolivia’s government while Sucre is the official capital named in the Bolivian Constitution.
Best Places to Visit in La Paz
La Paz has a lot to offer tourists, and some of the best places to visit are as follows.
- Plaza Murillo – this place was named for the revolutionary who was executed by the Spanish.
- Calle Jaen – check out some of the best-preserved colonial houses along this narrow street near the center of town.
- Valle de la Luna – hikers will delight in this otherworldly collection of spires and canyons.
- Basilica of San Francisco – this church was first built in 1548.
- Chacaltaya Ski Resort – while no skiing has occurred at this resort since 2005, the hike is a wonderful way to catch panoramic views of the Andes Mountains.
Best Places to Visit in Sucre
If you ever find yourself lucky enough to visit the most beautiful city in Bolivia, there are several destinations that are a must-see for any tourist.
- Twin Hills, Churuquella and Sika Sika – located at the southern part of the city, the twin hills serve as a gateway to several small, well-preserved villages dating back to the 1700s. These villages are populated by the locals, many of which are part of the indigenous community.
- Church of San Felipe Neri – this beautiful and well-preserved convent dating back to the 1600s. Don’t forget to visit the rooftop, where you’ll catch the best panoramic views of the city.
- House of Liberty Museum – explore Bolivia’s rich cultural heritage in this museum and take a dive into the history of Bolivia’s fight for independence.
- La Glorieta Castle – this breathtaking gem of colonial architecture depicts the wealth of the silver industry.
- Museum of Indigenous Art ASUR – catch a glimpse of indigenous Bolivians weaving breathtaking works of art, as well as several exhibits of textiles and other art created by Bolivia’s indigenous peoples.