Overview: Valley Region of Bolivia
The people of Bolivia’s verdant valley region face a host of challenges invisible to visitors who flock here for the paradise-like climate and dramatic scenery. This narrow swatch of fertile land in central Bolivia — sandwiched between the Andes Mountains and the Amazon jungle — is Bolivia’s prized region. It produces abundant crops of citrus fruits, coffee beans, wheat, barley and maize. For those who live here, however, life is a daily battle against water shortages, social unrest, and some of the highest poverty rates in South America.
The Bolivian valley is in the grip of a punishing drought. The city of Cochabamba, one of the largest and fastest-growing cities in Bolivia, is taxed by an influx of Andean highlands migrants and cannot provide even basic services to its poorest inhabitants. Many houses in the hills receive water only a few hours every two or three days.
Other urban centers in the valley are facing similar growing pains. Tarija, Bolivia’s southernmost state, holds some of the country’s largest natural gas reserves and is home to more than 20 different indigenous tribes, the Guarani being the largest. Historic Sucre, despite its status as Bolivia’s capital and most beautiful city, is straining to meet the needs of a growing population.
A large percentage of the underemployed, primarily in the yungas (jungles) of the valley region, supplement their incomes by participating in illegal coca production. The coca leaf, an important tradition in Andean ritual and chewed almost universally within some indigenous communities, can be used to produce cocaine. The city of Sacaba, in the northern province of Chapare, is considered Bolivia’s coca growing capital.