Museo de la Coca – La Paz, Bolivia - Atlas Obscura

Museo de la Coca

Museum dedicated to the sacred leaf of the Andes. 


The Coca leaf generally gets a bad rap. When coca comes up in conversation in the United States, it’s usually in relation to its powdered derivative that lines the noses of businessman and rockstars. The Museo de la Coca spends much of its time in a desperate effort to destroy this image, and educate its patrons on the long history of coca before it was the well-known synthetic stimulant cocaine.

In some ways, the Museo de la Coca is an anti-defamation organization, although definitely the most bizarre of any similar group. In telling the story of coca and the sacred leaf’s positive uses, the museum employs both a classic museum format, and a living public service announcement complete with a replica cocaine lab and a model addict carrying an old television set.

Since the first people inhabited the Andes, the coca leaf has played an important role in religious ceremonies, rites of passage and even social situations. Although not nearly as potent as its chemically altered cousin, coca leaves have long been chewed for their stimulating properties, and used similarly to coffee or alcohol.

Besides telling the tale of coca’s evolution into a problematic drug in the United States and an international pariah, the museum aims to provide a commercial outlet for coca leaves outside of drug manufacturing. The creators of the museum hope that their legal approach to the natural leaf will allow for legal cultivation. Bolivia has long worked to destroy coca plantations used for cocaine production without hurting local farmers who rely on the product.

For those wishing to support the legal use of coca, a coca-distilled alcohol is available for a purchase after a quick jaunt through coca’s history in the museum.

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October 18, 2011

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