It's rare to see long skirts and stockings in a wrestling ring... Except in Bolivia, where American Indian women don their best traditional dress for fights. But don't be fooled into thinking this makes them any less fierce...

Every Sunday in a vast public gym in El Alto, 4,150 metres above sea level, a dozen female wrestlers turn up to fight. Of indigenous Ayamara origin, the women wear the traditional skirt, bloomers, plait and hat to enter the ring. The locals call the fights "the highest wrestling matches in the world".

Foreign tourists pay a high price to watch the show. No doubt some of the money the wrestlers earn - up to 60 euros per fight - goes towards buying the increasingly flamboyant attire. In 2008, several "cholitas" were invited to take part in a popular US talk show for Hispanic audiences, and their popularity has since exploded.

Video posted on YouTube par Cesar Angel.

"It’s just for show, there’s no real violence"

Cesar is a Spanish tourist who watched a cholita wrestling match in El Alto, Bolivia.

I think cholita wrestling is mainly for tourists these days. Tourists pay three times as much for their tickets as locals do, but they do get better seats. Most of the audience are American or Anglo-Saxon tourists, or backpacking kids visiting the Salar de Uyuni salt desert.

There’s no real violence in cholita wrestling, it’s just for show. Male wrestlers do the first couple of matches: they’re really bad. The cholitas come in at the end, with their flashy colourful outfits, and they’re the real stars of the show. There was a Peruvian TV channel filming the fights the day I was there.

Tourists buy "cholita wrestling" tours from travel agencies in La Paz for about 40 euros. The price includes transfers, entry tickets, a little porcelain cholita souvenir, as well as two free coupons to go to the loo! Tourists can also buy wrestling masks and other souvenirs during the games – as you can see it’s a real business. "

Photos posted on Flickr by Cesar Angel.

"Most cholita wrestlers are also housewives"

Alberto Medrano is a Bolivian blogger who promotes cholita wrestling.

Most Cholitas are housewives from low-income families who train as wrestlers on the side. They train very hard, with well-known professional wrestlers like Kid Simonini. They learn how to tackle, throw their opponent, hold him or her down, dodge blows, jump and fall without hurting themselves. Some of them become really excellent wrestlers and famous in their own right."

Scenes from cholita wrestling matches


Vidéos posted on Youtube by Cesar Angel.