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Cochabamba, city and department in Bolivia.


Cochabamba City is the capital of its department and the third largest city in Bolivia. The estimated 2003 population of the city was 559,872, and with its immediate environs, over 800,000. Although its population has more than quadrupled since 1963, it has lost its position as the second largest city of Bolivia to the even faster growing Santa Cruz, in the eastern lowlands.

Cochabamba was founded in 1574 by Sebastián Barba de Padilla, who named it Villa de Oropeza (Oropesa). In 1783 the name was changed to the Quechua Kocha-pampa (eventually Cochabamba), meaning "a plain with small ponds." The creator and first president of Bolivia, Simon Bolívar, wanted Cochabamba to be the new nation's capital, but he failed to convince the colonial elite.

The city is located in a fertile valley, about 15 miles long and 6 miles wide at an altitude of 8,400 feet, facing the Tunari range, which in the winter is covered with snow. The valley has a moderate climate, with an average temperature of 66 degrees Fahrenheit. Considered the granary of Bolivia, it produces a variety of fruits, and has considerable herding. Cochabamba has some small industries and an oil refinery. It is an active trade center with a large and colorful weekly market (La Cancha). The University of San Simón has a fine medical school.

Although modernization has destroyed some of the colonial residences, Cochabamba still has a number of architectural treasures, such as the cathedral, the municipal palace, churches, and a cloistered convent with paintings by Goya. There are also notable nineteenth-century buildings, including the mansion of the late tin magnate Simón Patiño, which is now a museum and conference center.


One of the nine departments of Bolivia, Cochabamba has sixteen provinces. Under the nation's unitary form of government, the head of the department (prefecto) is appointed by the president. Cochabamba is the most centrally located department in Bolivia; it covers 23,300 square miles. In 2003 its population was estimated at 1.6 million, slightly more than triple the number in 1973.

The department has a varied topography. The famous eighteenth-century German naturalist Thad-deus Haenke, author of a classic account of Cochabamba, described the region as a continuous descent from the high peaks of the Andes in the west to the tropical plains in the east, from over 16,000 feet to 500 feet. The western and central parts, the most populated, have large, fertile valleys with a year-round temperate climate. The capital of the department, the city of Cochabamba, is located in the largest valley. In the north is the continuation of the Yungas, subtropical forested valleys that are accessible from La Paz. East of the Cochabamba Valley is the subtropical Chaparé region, which is well suited for the cultivation of coca. Although it is a traditional crop, the increased production of coca since the 1960s, much of it for illegal export, has become a focus of intense controversy and international attention.

The population is heavily Mestizo and Quechua with a Europeanized urban sector. In the rural areas Que-chua is the predominant language. There is a modern airport in the city of Cochabamba. The only railroad link is with the city of Oruro, where it connects with railroads to La Paz (the de facto capital of Bolivia), Argentina, and Chile. An all-weather highway goes to Santa Cruz. All the rivers of the department join the vast eastern Bolivian fluvial system, which connects with the Amazon system.

The main production is agricultural, especially cereals and fruits in the fertile valleys. There is also considerable herding and some small industry, mostly in the city of Cochabamba and its surroundings.

Water is a controversial issue in Cochabamba. The influx of migrants from poor rural communities has taxed municipal resources. More than 40 percent of Cochabamba's population lacks running water. In January 2000 protestors from the city mobilized over the privatization of sanitation services and the municipal water supply, which had doubled or tripled their water bills. The protests later spread to the agricultural sector because the same water company also had concession rights for irrigation water. Ultimately, popular pressure forced the Bolivian government to rescind the contract, but the problems of access to and supply of water continues.

See alsoBolívar, Simón; Bolivia, Agrarian Reform; Drugs and Drug Trade.


For both city and department, see Augusto Guzmán, Cochabamba: Panorama geográfico, proceso histórico (1972), and Geografía de Cochabamba (1978); S. R. L. Viajes Tejada, Cochabamba: Su belleza y sus riquezas (1974).

For the city, see José Benito Guzmán, Crónica de la villa de Oropesa (1884); José Macedonio Urquidi, El orígen de "la noble villa de Oropesa," Cochabamba (1950); Ricardo Anaya, La ciudad de Cochabamba (1959); Fernando Calderón G., La Cancha: Un gran feria campesina en la ciudad de Cochabamba (1984).

For the department, see Guillermo Urquidi, Monografía del departamento de Cochabamba (1954); Thaddeus Haenke, Taddeo Haenke, su obra en los Andes y la selva boliviana (1974); Centro De Investigación y Desarrollo Regional, Monografía del trópico del departamento de Cochabamba (1990); Humberto Solares Serrano, Historia, espacio y sociedad de Cochabamba, 1550–1950 (1990).

Fernando, Calderón G., and Alicia M. Szmukler. La política en las calles: Política, urbanización y desarrollo. La Paz: Plural Editores 2000.

Goldstein, Daniel M. The Spectacular City: Violence and Performance in Urban Bolivia. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

Jackson, Robert H. Regional Markets and Agrarian Transformation in Bolivia: Cochabamba, 1539–1960. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994.

Larson, Brooke. Cochabamba, 1550–1900: Colonialism and Agrarian Transformation in Bolivia. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998.

Ledo García, Carmen. Urbanisation and Poverty in the Cities of the National Economic Corridor in Bolivia: Case Study, Cochabamba. Delft, Netherlands: Delft University Press Science, 2002.

Urquidi Zambrana, Jorge E. La evolución urbana de la ciudad de Cochabamba: A través de ordenanzas y reglamentos municipales 1786–1982: Comentarios. Cochabamba, Bolivia: Colegio Arquitectos de Cochabamba, 1995.

Vargas, Humberto, Jaqueline Garrido Cortés, and Víctor Calisaya Hinojosa. Las travesías de la participación ciudadana: Casos de Sucre y Cochabamba. Cochabamba, Bolivia: FORHUM, 1994.

                                  Charles W. Arnade