Some 68km southwest of Samaipata on the old road from Santa Cruz to Cochabamba, a side road leads 53km south to VALLEGRANDE, a pleasant market town set in a broad valley at an altitude of just over 2000m. The town’s main attraction is the erstwhile grave of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, which attracts a steady trickle of pilgrims.
A peaceful backwater founded as a Spanish outpost in 1612, Vallegrande leapt briefly to the world’s attention in 1967, when the arid region of low mountains and broken hills to the south of the town became the scene of a doomed guerrilla campaign led by hero of the Cuban revolution, Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Vallegrande served as the headquarters of the Bolivian army’s successful counter-insurgency campaign; after Che was captured and executed on October 9 in the hamlet of La Higuera, about 50km to the south, his body was flown here strapped to the skids of a helicopter and put on display in the town hospital.
What happened next remained a closely guarded secret for the next 28 years, until the Bolivian general Mario Vargas Salinas revealed that Che’s body – minus his hands, which were amputated for identification purposes – had been buried by night in an unmarked pit near the airstrip on the edge of town, to prevent his grave from becoming a place of pilgrimage. After a year and a half of investigation, in 1997 his remains, along with those of several of his guerrilla comrades, were found by a team of Cuban and Argentine forensic scientists and flown to Cuba, where they were re-interred in a specially built mausoleum on the outskirts of the city of Santa Clara, the scene of his greatest victory in the Cuban revolutionary war.