If you have the chance to visit La Paz and are up for elevating yourself to approximately 5,400 m, join the Chacaltaya Mountain tour. Already on your way to the mountain the view is breathtaking and beautiful. Also there are not so many tourists so that you are able to experience the nature’s unspoiled beauty.
After stopping to take some photos in the middle of this incredible scenery the bus continued its way up to the Chacaltaya Mountain.
Below you can see the little cabin on the Chacaltaya Mountain to which the bus brought us. The last 100 m up to the summit start from behind the house and go straight up to the summit. Depending on your level of fitness and weather conditions you need around 10-15 mins to hike up. The summit of the Chacaltaya Mountan is 5,400m high so you will be short of breath super quickly. Some people in our tour took much longer but some were super quick. The hike up is actually not difficult but it may be slippery and if you do slip and are unlucky you will fall into the rocks never to be seen again. So be careful and wear at least some good trainers. Of course hiking shoes would be the best solution but lots of people that join the tour do this as part of their overall Bolivia or Latin America trip and are not prepared for some ‘real’ hiking. Like us, for instance. Having spent the majority of the months before Bolivia hanging out on a beach, I didn’t even have proper warm clothes with me. I bought the brown vest on the day we booked the tour after the operator had mentioned that it can get to around zero degrees with sudden weather changes. Underneath the vest I wore like four layers of clothing to keep me warm. It kind of worked until.. until the weather changed!
When we started to hike up to the Chacaltaya summit we could already notice a change in the weather as it started to hail a bit. Well and then from one minute to the next one, it was hailing and partially snowing so heavily that everything was white after not even 10 min. That’s when we arrived at the summit. By then the entire hike was super slippery due to the hail and you had to be very careful not to fall. The quick change in weather was absolutely fascinating. When we were standing up the summit and not many people had arrived yet you couldn’t hear anything except the heavy hail. And apart from a few quick hikers, you couldn’t see anything except the surrounding mountains and dark clouds. When I was just soaking in the beauty of the scenery I heard an approaching thunderstorm so loudly that it felt like something had exploded close by. And then just above the mountain next to ours the first lightning appeared. The entire scenario was so captivating as it had something really apocalyptic. Totally loved it! But then, realising that these pretty lightnings were probably not so far away from us and that the weather was just getting worse, we accepted that it was time to leave this epic place 5,400 m above sea level and make our way back down.
Between the weather conditions in the above and below photo were around 10 min… So make sure you are always prepared if you go hiking in the mountains..
That’s me on the summit. Looking at this photo I feel super cold again! So not dressed for this kind of weather and entirely the wrong shoes!
Walking down we joined the other people of our tour that already had started their way downwards, back to the cabin. It was quite a slippery hike down with a few people panicking about the weather and rushing down. Some of them fell on their bumps but at least no one got hurt and no one fell off the cliff!
The adventure of course didn’t stop when we arrived back at the cabin. No. We still had to make our way down to the valley. Driving on a slippery narrow and curvy street with a huge bus (Bolivian bus without seatbelts and anything) without any winter tyres seemed to be even more of an adventure than hiking down the summit in the wrong gear. The bus driver of course just answered ‘No te preocupes’ (Don’t worry) and wanted to head down with the bus full of people. So in the end most of us walked down along the street and waited for the bus to slowly make its way down to the level that didn’t have any snow or hail. AND all went fine and we all arrived safely back in the hotel. Not convinced everyone enjoyed the trip as much as I did but a little bit of an adrenaline filled surprise can never be that bad, can it :)
If you are more experienced in hiking and have a few days to spare you can also join a hiking tour up to the Chacaltaya Mountain or other mountains in the La Paz area. Lots of those tour also operate privately so you can customise your trip. Make sure though you do enough research to choose a professional tour operator.