Bizarre, crazy, empowering and hilarious are just some of the words used to describe one of La Paz’s most unusual attractions.
Inspired by America’s WWF and Mexico’s famous lucha libre, Chollita Wrestling is a one-of-a-kind event, featuring Bolivian women battling it out in spectacular fashion.
Over recent years, Cholita wrestling has become popular with both locals and tourists alike, the women captivating crowds with their colorful costumes and enthusiastic antics.
It’s no secret that the staged shows focus more on entertainment than skill. However, if you’re up for a laugh and even willing to be part of the act, a Sunday evening watching Cholitas wrestle will not disappoint!
Once a derogatory term for indigenous or mixed heritage girls, the word “Cholita” has come to have positive connotations as a name for the empowered, fashion-conscious, resourceful and proud women of Bolivia.
For the first time, indigenous Aymara women are owning the word Cholita, using their iconic dress and feisty spirit to rise above the racism and oppression that has plagued them.
One area in which Bolivian women are making waves is in the popular Latin American sport known as Lucha Libre . The Flying Cholitas are a group of female lucha libre wrestlers who perform every Sunday night not only alongside other women, but against their male counterparts also.
More than entertainment and profits, Cholita wrestling is a way for Bolivian women to prove their worth in a “man’s world”. Having been abused, humiliated and discriminated against throughout history, the ring is one place where indigenous women can hold their heads high, do their job with pride, and be on equal footing with men.
Another way in which Cholita wrestling is empowering women is by providing the female working-class with an opportunity to earn money. Most Cholitas come from low-economic and/or broken households and wrestling is a way for them to independently improve their own life and that of their families.
Unfortunately racism and sexism in the country still exists, however with groups such as the Flying Cholitas paving the way for change, it won’t be long before Bolivian women receive the rights and respect they are entitled to.
Since the 1950’s, Bolivian wrestling has been a popular sport in the country. However, it wasn’t until 12 years ago that Cholita wrestlling was really pushed into the spotlight.
Cholita wrestling was first started as a way for females who suffered from domestic abuse to express their frustration and release stress. It wasn’t until local wrestler and promoter Juan Mamani had the idea to put the women into the wrestling ring for publicity, that the money making opportunity became apparent.
Up until the now Cholita wrestlers have been part of Mamani’s Titans of the Ring, which includes male and female wrestlers. However in 2011 many of the Cholitas decided to break away from the male-controlled Titans and set up their own association.
Every Sunday night hundreds of people line up to witness Cholitas tackle, dodge, slap, choke, jump and fall on their opponents with a mix of humor and passion unique to the sport.
Even before the show begins, the atmosphere is lively with bands, street stalls and food vendors lining the outside of the sports center.
Inside the stadium the show opens with a male wrestling match, however it’s not until the Cholitas enter the ring that the crowds really start to cheer. Poised and beautifully dressed, it doesn’t take long before the Cholitas turn into fighting machines, launching themselves at each other, becoming disheveled in their quest to win.
What ensues is a mix of acrobatics, good guy vs bad guy routines and comical confrontations. Audience members are left in stitches, laughing at the absurdity before their very eyes. Even though everything is staged, the Cholitas still train hard to perfect their moves and to execute them without injuring themselves or others.
Those lucky (unlucky?) enough to be sitting in the VIP section are sprayed with water while the rest of the audience throws plastic bottles, popcorn, potatoes and goodness knows what else at the wrestlers. These antics are all part of the fun and the wrestlers encourage interaction with the crowd.
Audience members can expect to witness a show like no other. The show lasts for around 3 to 4 hours and is defitnely worth checking out when in La Paz.
By far the most defining characteristic of Cholita wrestling is the costume.
Women perform wearing traditional Bolivian dress featuring long braided hair, bowler hats and puffy, multi-layered skirts.
Adding wonderful colour and unique flair to an already flamboyant act, the wrestlers’ outfits surprisingly don’t hinder their performance and they manage to work around the cumbersome costumes.
It is possible to go to Cholitas’ Wrestling by yourself, however a tour doesn’t cost much more and is an easy and hassle free way to enjoy the event.
Red Cap offer a deluxe extended tour which not only includes entrance into the Cholita Wrestling match, but takes you to the giant black market in El Alto where you have the chance to take the teleferico, purchase some unique goods, meet a local shaman and take some stunning photos of the city from the great view points in El Alto.
Tours begin at Oliver’s Tavern at 2pm on a Sunday afternoon and finish around 8pm at Oliver’s Tavern where you can try a local drink.
The cost for the Red Cap tour is Bs 170 / $25 US.
Take a mini bus (the destination is CAJA) from San Francisco church to El Alto’s Multifunctional Center. Get off when you see the bridge. It takes 30 mins to get there and the bus ride costs Bs 2 each way. For those making their own way, Cholita Wrestling tickets are Bs 50 / $7 US at the door.