Cotoca Sanctuary, Santa Cruz
Cotoca is a small town of Guarani origin located to the East of Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
The town is best known for its pottery shops as its ceramic artists are very highly skilled. It is also famous for its Fiesta de Cotoca, held each year in early December. Cotoca is also very well-known for its sugarcane molasses which is sold in small ceramic pots, as well as other baked and candied goods.
Cotoca's central plaza and its church are its main attractions. The Sactuary of the Virgen de Cotoca (locally called Mamita de Cotoca or, Little Mother of Cotoca), a parrish run by Dominican priests, is a beautiful colonial-style church located on the central plaza. Each year very devout Catholics take part in a pilgrimage to Cotoca. As the Virgin of Cotoca is believed to have the ability to perform extraordinary miracles, hundreds walk the entire 17 miles from Santa Cruz to Cotoca hoping that in exchange for their efforts, she will grant them their prayers. Many, in penitence, crawl on their hands and knees all day and night until they reach the church, where they light candles and pray. Others, upon purchasing a new car, take their car to the Sanctuary of Cotoca on Sundays to be blessed by the priests.
Cotoca is the entryway to the Department of Beni and the Chiquitania region, where 400 years ago Jesuit priests attempted to convert the Chiquitano and Guarani natives to Catholicism and established Jesuit Missions.
When you arrive, visit one of the many pottery stores, most of which display their goods along the town sidewalks. Buy a colourful hammock, or spend some time in the central plaza, around which you will find small restaurants and vendors selling regional handcrafts.
It takes about 35 minutes by car, or 50 minutes by bus to reach Cotoca from downtown Santa Cruz. You pass through it when you take the Jesuit Missions tour because it's one of the first towns you'll come upon when you leave Santa Cruz in that direction.
You can visit Cotoca easily in one morning or one afternoon. On your way to Cotoca you'll pass by the Jardin Botanico (Botanical Garden), El Potrero (a small but really pretty outdoor restaurant with swimming pool) and also Madre Selva (another GREAT outdoor restaurant and swimming pool). In order to really enjoy your day outdoors, you could start with a trip to Cotoca in the morning, then eat lunch at El Potrero or Madre Selva, maybe a dip in the pool, and then complete the day with 2-3 hours at the Botanical Gardens. All of these places are very worthwhile visiting, and you can cover them all in one day.
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