Like most children, I loved dinosaurs growing up. I was a nineties kid so Jurassic Park had a huge influence on me and I was long fascinated by these mighty beasts. Fast forward twenty years and I was in Sucre, Bolivia, waiting to see some real dinosaur footprints. My inner child was in her element!
Parque Cretácico (Cretaceous Park)
Just five kilometres outside of Sucre is Parque Cretácico, also known as Sucre’s Dinosaur Park. It is home to the most extensive set of dinosaur footprints in the world, which definitely made me wonder why I hadn’t heard of it before!
The site was discovered by the Fancesa company in 1994, who were mining the layers of nearby rock for concrete. Upon finding the footprints, they ceased work in this area and palaeontologists were invited into the site to verify what had been discovered. Since finding the first footprints, more have been discovered and there are now around 5000 individual prints at the site.
It was discovered that these footprints stem back a whopping 68 million years to the late Cretaceous period. In order to preserve the area, Parque Cretácico was opened in 2006. It aims to educate visitors about this period in history and is also boasts some of the largest dinosaur sculptures in the world, like a real-life Jurassic Park!
As well as a small museum, restaurant and shop, there is also a play area for children which even allows them to dig up dinosaur bones from beneath the sand. A complimentary tour around the park is provided in French, Spanish or English for visitors, however, you will need a footprints specific tour if you want to get up close to the prints.
Why are these footprints on the wall and not the floor? – Cal Orcko
I will admit, that whilst I can pick out a lot of countries on a map, my geography needs work. I was a little confused to see the footprints in the side of a cliff and not on the floor. Luckily for me, there are clearly other confused people out there.
Upon entering Parque Cretácico, we were shown to the introductory room which would explain a little about the discovery of the prints and history from the Cretaceous period. It was here where we were shown a video explaining the origins of the footprints and how they ended up on the cliff face, instead of the floor.
Palaeontologists believe that the footprints at Cal Orcko cliff were created by dinosaurs stomping through shallow clay lakes. After these lakes dried up, the prints fossilised and gradually faded from view, buried by millions of years of sediment.
It is tectonic plates that hold the key to the modern day footprint location. During the formation of the Andes Mountain range, the tectonic plates pushed the ground up which is why the footprints are now located alongside the cliff.
Although the sheer volume of prints and the diversity of the dinosaurs are impressive in their own right, Cal Orcko actually holds the record for the world’s longest recorded baby T-Rex prints too. The 347-metre trail is the longest path of preserved prints to ever be unearthed.
Why does Parque Cretácico need your tourism?
Despite the huge historical significance of this discovery, the Cretaceous Park does not get the volume of tourism that you would expect. This could be down to several factors, including signage or both international and local promotion.
However, the park has never needed tourism as it does now. Sadly, Cal Orcko cliff is unstable which jeopardises the future of the footprints. In 2010, a section of the cliff collapsed and many of the invaluable footprints were lost.
Although palaeontologists suspect that there are far more footprints underneath the surface of the wall, its fragile status means that we may never be able to uncover them.
Currently, there is work being done to try and obtain UNESCO World Heritage status for Cal Orcko to help with funding to preserve the cliff, however, this is not a quick process. In the meantime, the park is trying to raise the funds with the proceeds from entrance tickets, shop fees and restaurant sales.
How can I visit Parque Cretácico?
There are three options for visiting Parque Cretácico.
1) The most enjoyable is to catch the dino bus from the main square (Plaza 25 de Mayo) from outside the cathedral. The double-decker bus showcases amazing views of the city and makes for a novelty way to travel. At the time of writing, there were departures at 9:30, 11:00, 12:00, 14:00 and 15:00. The journey costs 15 bolivianos for a return ticket.
2) You can arrange a taxi from Sucre to Cretaceous Park. These are roughly 15 bolivianos each way. Taxis wait outside of the park so it is unlikely you would need to pay a driver to wait for you. As with any kind of taxi travel in Bolivia, always make sure that you agree on a price before your journey to avoid getting ripped off.
3) To get to Parque Cretácico using public transport, catch bus number 4 from either Arenales street, on the corner connecting to Junin Street or directly from the bus terminal. This is the cheapest way to get to the park but may not be the most comfortable. The bus will drop you at the Fancesa Cement Factory and you will need to walk up the hill for the park. These buses come regularly but public transport in Bolivia isn’t always reliable so plan ahead to ensure you make it in time for the footprints tour.
Useful Information for visiting Parque Cretácico
For foreigners, the entrance fee into the park is 30 bolivianos per person which includes a tour around the park and the *footprints tour (see below).
* if your visit coincides with the tour times.
Parque Cretácico is closed on Mondays. Tuesdays to Sundays it is open from 9.00 till 17.00.
Sucre’s Dinosaur Park is located at altitude so make sure you give yourself some time to acclimatise before you visit.
Although the life-sized replicas of the dinosaurs are pretty cool, it doesn’t take that long to tour the park if you are not going to visit the footprints. Although these can be seen from a viewing platform inside the park, you can only get up close via a guided tour.
Every day, the footprints tour is offered at 12.00 and 13.00 in both Spanish and English. Surprisingly, the tour is free, however, if you wish to take photos, you will need to pay an extra 5 bolivianos per person for the permission.
I will state here that whilst this is the rule, I saw plenty of people taking photographs without the necessary permission badge. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether this is worth the extra cost but I will say it appeared that this rule is not strictly enforced.
Walking shoes are recommended for this tour as the ground can get muddy and slippery after rain. Bear in mind that the steps you will have to descend to reach Cal Orcko are steep so avoid taking photos until you are safely back on flat ground!
If you have a few days in Sucre, be sure to check out the cemetery too!
Have you visited the Cretaceous Park in Sucre?
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