The U.S.’s WWF and Mexico’s Lucha Libre may be more famous, but if you want the craziest wrestling spectacle for your buck, you need to attend a Cholita Wrestling match in La Paz. Locals and tourists alike gather each Sunday evening to watch the theatrics. Like those of its predecessors, the highly entertaining matches are staged to showcase different tricks and storylines rather than truly fought, and the storylines emphasize humor and social justice. The uniquely entertaining matches are part of the culture of La Paz, with a surprisingly long history.
Speaking of social justice, ‘Cholita’ was once a derogatory term for indigenous Aymara women, but it’s since been co-opted by women proud of their heritage and traditional folkloric dress and eager to promote pre-Columbian languages, dances, and other traditions. There’s even a Cholita crowned at each year’s Carnaval, which shows how far the term has come to connote a sense of pride. You’ll recognize the traditional Cholita dress easily: multi-layered skirts, woven shawls, and long braids topped by bowler hats. You’ll notice this dress on older Bolivian women throughout your travels through the country; the wrestlers don’t merely adopt it as part of the show.
Men participate in the matches as well, but it’s the women who are the stars. This isn’t a new phenomenon: wrestling has been popular in Bolivia since the 1950’s, and Cholita Wrestling has been in the spotlight for more than a decade. Originally part of the Titans of the Ring organization, the women broke away several years ago and set up their own independent association. They are passionate about their craft and proud of their local fan base and their ability to support their families.
Male wrestlers open the show, but it’s when the Cholitas enter the ring that the crowds go crazy. Soon they are launching themselves across the ring in a display of impressive acrobatics, flying and tackling. The entire show of matches lasts around 3 to 4 hours. If you’re in the VIP section, beware: you’ll be right in the line of fire as the audience launches food and drink at the wrestlers, and you might find yourself involved in the show, which at times becomes interactive.
You can go to a Cholitas Wrestling show by yourself, buying your entrance ticket for US$7, or you can arrange a tour through a travel agency or through your hostel in La Paz for around US$12, which includes a few extras and takes away the hassle of procuring transport. The shows, and thus the tours, only take place on Sundays. Tours begin at 3:30pm, finish around 8pm, and generally include hotel pickup and drop-off, bilingual translator, tickets for VIP seats, a hot or cold drink, and a souvenir.