After living in Bolivia for three months, I can say with confidence that the country teeters on all things bizarre. It’s not just my opinion; there’s a general consensus amongst travelers and locals alike that the country is just a little weird. Of all the strange, wacky and unique places and traditions I experienced in my three months there however, none perhaps was more remarkable or memorable than Cholita Wrestling.
Wrestling is a big sport in the country and a favorite of locals all across the high altiplano. Though sometime back in 2001 wrestling’s popularity and fan base in Bolivia began to dwindle. To revitalize the money making enterprise Juan Mamani, one of the country’s most popular wrestlers and head of the then all male league, decided to put traditionally dressed Bolivian women, known as cholitas, on the center stage. No longer a males only domain, wrestling in Bolivia has quickly been taken over by the famed fighting cholitas of the country.
Combing the elements of lucha libre, or free form fighting, Cholita Wrestling is part real sport, part pageant and has become 100% an important and cherished Bolivian tradition. Every Sunday, La Paz locals head up the steep valley to the city of El Alto and watch their favorite cholitas fight in the ring. More than just punch and jump, the cholitas play their theatrical parts- putting on a show and assuming respective character roles that always guarantee to get a rise out of the crowd.
The show lasts about two hours and the whole time the audience, locals and tourists alike sit in awe; contemplating the fantastic and idiosyncratic show being played out on the rickety ring before their eyes. Though not a cultural heritage in the historic sense, Cholita Wrestling is a beloved tradition that is quickly becoming the favored Bolivian past time.
If you find yourself in Bolivia on a Sunday, make sure you try to spend the night in La Paz. Cholita Wrestling is not a sport you’re bound to experience elsewhere but one that you need to see with your own eyes to even believe.