Breathtaking Landscapes, Life-Risking Adventures, Salt Lakes and Geysers
Driving (or biking) down the “Death Road” from the altiplano to Coroico isn’t as adventurous as it used to be when it was the only road from La Paz into Coroico and buses, cars and minivans would regularly plummet off of cliffs while ascending or descending the road. But it’s still exciting. One wrong move and you will plummet at least a thousand feet to a certain death. Coroico is a great place to take a break from the altitude and cold of the altiplano. If you are driving, we’d recommend taking the paved to Coroico and then starting the drive up the death road at about 2:00 pm after all of the bikers are done with their trips down the road.
I first climbed Cabeza de Condor in 1995. I’ll never forget the thought of having to jump off of one side of the steep razor edge ridge if my partner slipped and fell off the other. Climbing Cabeza de Condoriri is not for the timid but a great alternative is to hike to the lake that forms the base camp for Condoriri and several nearby peaks. If you want to do day hikes from the base camp, hire a porter to watch your stuff. Thefts are common in the area (and throughout the Cordillera Real) if you leave your stuff unattended for too long. You can also do longer hikes through the Cordillera Real starting in the Condoriri Range. If you are interested in this let us know and we can put you in touch with a friend of ours who did just that.
Huayna Potosí is the easiest 6,000 meter to climb in the Cordillera Real. It’s also very close to La Paz. Today, there are numerous guiding companies that will take you to the top in a few days, including 1 day of training. But don’t take it lightly. If possible, hire a good guide to take you to the summit alone so that you don’t get pulled off the mountain to your death by someone who has never climbed and doesn’t know how to self arrest (this will also increase your chances of success since its common for climbers to get high altitude sickness on the way to the summit). And make sure that you acclimatize properly. Spend at least 4 days in La Paz and do at least one acclimatization climb before attempting Huayna Potosí.
Lake Titicaca was considered to be the birthplace of Andean civilization by the Incas so it’s a must see. But although Copacabana and Isla del Sol in Bolivia are worth a stop, we still preferred our more indigenous experience on Taquile Island on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca.
At first, the dizzying altitude, crazy streets and raw sewage filled rivers of La Paz will make you wish you hadn’t visited. But if you can ease into it, La Paz is actually pretty interesting. We’d recommend staying in the southern area of the city and using the teleféricos and an occasional taxi to get around. Don’t miss the Mercados de Hechicería, or witches markets of La Paz, including the huge one in El Alto which is seldom visited by tourists.
As described in our Bolivia and Northern Argentina trip report, Sajama National Park is amazing place where you can explore lakes full of pink flamingos and the world’s highest forest and to soak in hot springs fed by huge geyser fields. It’s a bit out of the way but don’t miss it!
Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. Underneath several meters of almost perfectly flat salt is a pool of brine which contains around 50 or 70% of the world’s Lithium. When it’s dry, the salar is an awesome place for overlanding so of course we’d recommend visiting during the dry season. During the rainy season, an 80 mile long section of the lake is transformed into the world’s largest mirror.
Sorata is a great base from which to do short hikes, including the hike to the Laguna Glacier or, if you are more adventurous, the 5 day hike around the Illampu Massif. Throughout this region, you will have views of the massive Anchohuma and Illampu mountains, the former of which I climbed on an expedition to the area in 1995 resulting in me getting frostbite and receiving a recommendation to cut off a toe from a Bolivian doctor. But that’s another story.
The Lagunas Route is a 400 plus kilometer off-road overlanding route from Uyuni, Bolivia to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. It’s not for the faint of heart and we decided not to do it due to the upcoming election (and a few other reasons). But we drove past the start of it and through alot of the same type of terrain in southwestern Bolivia and vowed to return to do it someday.
This is the one place that we were planning on visiting that we didn’t get a chance to due to the election and protests in Bolivia. Torotoro National Park is a new, relatively small national park 140 km south of Cochabamba. It’s full of amazing canyons and rock formations as well as dinosaur bones and footprints. This park is definitely off of the beaten path and can only be reached by an out and back road but looks fascinating.