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Chacaltaya - 5300m

Added: June 23, 2010

Tags: Bolivia RTW SouthAmerica lake mountains photos
The reason we decided to stay in La Paz for longer was we really wanted to go to Chacaltaya. It is probably the only place in the world where you can get so high by bus! You only need a few days of acclimatization and a few $. What could be the better birthday present for Zuzka anyway?

Chacaltaya was former highest ski centre in the world, but it does not operate any more. It misses one thing - snow. The remnants of glacier finally melted down in 2009 and it is not likely it will recover soon. Surprisingly it snows there only in summer due to wet air, but never in winter.

We like mountains a lot so I could not resist showing many photos again. Sorry for that :-)

Reaching sky by bus

Bus came to pick us to hostel about 30 minutes ahead of expected time range. We hurried and had to leave unfinished breakfast. Then we spent a lot of time travelling around La Paz, to pick other passengers. Pick up is great unless you are in the first hostel on its route.

The first stop was at the beginning of El Alto with nice, but cloudy view of La Paz. Then we continued up hill, until we started to climb dirt road and grassy hill. No mountains were visible yet, I still had no idea how far we will get by bus. Then we stopped again, with fantastic views of Huayna Potosí and Chacaltaya. If only Huayna Potosí was not in clouds...

El Alto with nice background.

A llama looking at El Alto.
llama looking at El Alto

A guide showed us Lake Titicaca in distance, the highest mountain in Bolivia, explained where we are going. It was very good commentary in English. Surprising thing is she told us in the morning she does not speak English. And here, she provided very good commentary. She was probably too hard on herself.

Huayna Potosí in clouds.

And there it is, our destination - Chacaltaya. I was not sure how high a bus can get us, it did not seem like there was a road.

But it was. Slope at one side of narrow road, chasm on other.

We had one more stop before reaching the top - the ski centre. Beautiful dark lakes ate in the valleys below mountains. Colourful rock makes whole scene amazing. The colours are provided by iron, copper and mercury.

This mountain was important also in the past, its name means "cold road" in Aymara and old inhabitants of region were using it to cross to Amazon plains. Well, it was not easy trip. Buses were not so popular then :-)


All sources state different altitude for Chacaltaya. Because I am not sure who is right, I am using 5300m as reliable estimate. It was taken directly from source.

We were followed by other group. In bigger and more colourful bus.

Walking last 200m

Finally we were there. It was rather cold and air was thick. We got 1.5h to get to summit and back. 1.5h does seem like a lot, but we had to go really slowly. Heavy breathing and light head could be fixed only by many stops.

Fortunately my loyal friend Nikon D200 helped me to provide good excuse for every stops ;-)

A view of ski centre.
ski centre at Chacaltaya

All wonderful (and high) mountains in distance were hidden behind clouds. Somewhere there should be Illimani.
View from Chacaltaya

Lake below Chacaltaya

This is probably the last hint of mighty glacier.
View from Chacaltaya

river below Chacaltaya

Aren't those colours and textures fantastic?
rocks of Chacaltaya


View from Chacaltaya

View from Chacaltaya

At the summit of Chacaltaya

We reached the summit, but where is our guide? She went other way, avoiding this summit and she is heading to 2nd one! So we are not there yet...

When we arrived to proper summit we could rest for some time and enjoy the view. It's panorama time! Unfortunately clouds around Huayna Potosí got thicker, so it was not visible well.

Summit of Chacaltaya.

Panorama from Chacaltaya

Panorama from Chacaltaya

Panorama with Huyana Potosí from Chacaltaya

Detail of Huayna Potosí.
Huayna Potosí in clouds from Chacaltaya

A glacier in distance.
Glacier seen from Chacaltaya

Back to La Paz

It was very nice half day trip. All tours to Chacaltaya go also to Valle de la Luna, but because it was cloudy and we were there before we decided to skip it.

Instead of Valle de la Luna we went to restaurant to finish Zuzka's birthday celebration with nice meal and drinks.

Later in the evening we got phone call from bus operator about bus driver strike planned for next 2 days, effectively cancelling our ride to Copacabana :-(