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Hike Chacaltaya

-16.353523,-68.131880, Bolivia



2 miles

Elevation Gain

334 ft

Route Type



Added by Christian Murillo

High above the massive cities of La Paz and El Alto, Chacaltaya stands at 17,700’. A short hike to the top of this mountain is sure to take your breath away with both the altitude and incredible scenery.

Just a short drive from La Paz, Chacaltaya makes for a perfect short day hike if you are visiting Bolivia’s high altitude capital.  At 17,700’, Chacaltaya was once the highest elevation ski run in the world, with a rudimentary lodge and rope lift at the top of the mountain.  Unfortunately, due to climate change there is no glacier left to ski on since 2005, and the lodge and ski lift have been left in disarray. 

I hate to bore you with the logistics of getting to Chacaltaya, but Bolivia is not known to be incredibly easy to travel in, even for the most seasoned backpackers, so I do feel obligated to clear some of the dust.  There are several methods to get to Chacaltaya.  The most popular method is to hire a tour from one of the many tour agencies near the Plaza de San Francisco.  Depending on your preference, you can hire a private tour for your group, or join a group of people in a surprisingly capable mini-bus.  Another option is to hire a private driver, which is more significantly more expensive, but you will have more time and freedom at the top of the mountain and will likely be more comfortable in a 4x4 vehicle.  If you are feeling truly adventurous, you can rent a 4x4 and drive yourself to the top of Chacaltaya.  This can be a bit complicated, as there are hardly any street signs and the roads can be difficult to navigate and Google Maps may not always be correct.  Additionally, driving in South America can just about cause a heart attack for most travellers from North America or Europe.  Although Chacaltaya is less than 20km from downtown La Paz, expect the drive to take anywhere between 1.5-2.5 hours, largely depending on the traffic getting through El Alto.

Once you arrive at the lodge, you are only about 310 feet from the top of the mountain.  Although the hike is short, the relative steepness of the trail and shocking elevation makes it difficult to breathe after just a couple of steps up the mountain.  Even if you are properly acclimated after a couple days in La Paz, the key here is to just go slow and steady.  Locals will recommend that you either chew Coca leaves or bring some Coca candy along, as this can help relieve headaches and other symptoms related to altitude sickness. 

The first peak of Chacaltaya is the tallest, revealing incredible views of Illimani (21,122’) and Mururata (19,262’) to the south, las Yungas (the jungles) to the east, and El Alto and the altiplano to the west.  On a clear day, you can also see Lake Titicaca 50km to the northwest and Nevado Sajama, the tallest mountain in Bolivia at 21,463’ over 200km to the southwest. 

Descending down from the main peak, the trail continues north to Chacaltaya’s second summit.  This summit reveals arguably more impressive views, as you can see Huayna Potosi (19,974’) in its full grandeur, less than 10km away.  At the base of Huayna Potosi, you will be able to see several spectacularly colored glacial lagoons.  If there is any view that makes you feel on top of the world, this is it. 

Hiking back down the mountain is very straightforward.  You will find that going downhill is not nearly as demanding of your precious oxygen supply.  The hike down makes for a great opportunity to look for prehistoric fossils in the rocks on the ground.  Unbelievably, Chacaltaya used to be under the surface of the ocean millions of years ago, and fossils of nautilus shells, mollusks, trilobites, and other sea life can still be found today. 

Killer views, accessibility from La Paz, incredible elevation, and ancient fossils are all spectacular reasons to put this hike at or near the top of your list for things to do the next time you find yourself in La Paz.   

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