A FEW PRACTICAL INFORMATIONS
(Cordillera Real - Bolivia - July/August 2006)
Located north of La Paz, the Cordillera Real includes many mountains of an altitude higher than 5000 meters.
Among the mountains higher than 6000 meters, the best known are Illimani, Illampu, Jacoma and Huayna Potosi.
The cordillera is flanked on the West by the arid Altiplano, and, to the East, by the Amazon basin.
A few books :
- Lonely Planet "Bolivia" - March 2001
- Lonely Planet: "Trekking in the Central Andes" - 2nd edition - June 2003
- Guide du Routard "Pérou Bolivie 2005/2006" (in French)
Trekking and mountaineering guides and other books :
- "Les Andes - Guide d'alpinisme ",
by John Biggar (Nevicata 2000) : short descriptions of ascent routes to a great number of summits in the Andes.
- "Trekking and climbing in the Andes ", Val Pitkethly & Kate Harper (Stackpole Books 2002) : 26 treks in the Andes, among which 6 treks in Bolivia.
- "Backpacking in Peru and Bolivia", Hilary Bradt (Bradt 1989). Not very recent, but some useful informations.
- And, of course, if you find it, and if you are ready to pay the price, Sir Martin Conway's "The Bolivian Andes - A Record of Climbing and Exploration in the Cordillera Real in the Years 1898 and 1900". This great english explorer went to Bolivia by boat, via the Panama isthmus (the Canal was not yet dug out) : he tells us all about his trip. He was accompanied by two swiss guides, Maquignaz and Pelissier, and together they made the first ascent of Illimani. They also attempted Jancoma, but had to turn back a short distance from the summit. After Bolivia, they went to Aconcagua and Terra de Fuego, but that story is told in another book : "Aconcagua and Tierra del Fuego".
- "Wild Winds", par Ed Darack. The author is an american photographer, who decided to climb the highest mountain of every South American country. He tells us all the details of his trips, where he goes alone or with a friend. And he is more interested in taking excellent pictures than in performing athletic feats : he carries an impressive photo equipment. Once you read his book, you may want to think twice before going to Aconcagua... Excellent !
We went from Paris to La Paz via Miami, in order to make the whole trip with the same airline (American Airlines), to change plane only once, and to simplify possible baggage problems. The only thing is that american authorities require all passengers - even transit - to go through immigration and customs : that make for long queues, particularly with the present security procedures.
Hotel in La Paz (three nights on arrival, one night after each trek, and one night before leaving) : Hotel Estrella Andina (av. Illampu, 716 - mail:firstname.lastname@example.org). $28 for a double room with private bath, buffet breakfast included. Very clean and very friendly. Perfect. Since we arrived very early in the morning, we had asked the hotel to send a taxi to pick us up : the owner came himself (for a fee of $8). In La Paz, many shops, visit of the old town, and, most, important, acclimatization.
Hotel in Sorata : Hotel El Paraiso ($8 ? I forgot...). Clean and very friendly, with a splendid terrace, ideal to rest and read... Small quiet town, perfect for resting.
Hotels in Copacabana : La Cupula (upscale, with running hot water and electric heating in the room - $25 for a double, breakfast not included), and Utama (very good - $20 for a double, including american breakfast).
Public transports very cheap ($1.5 $ to go from La Paz to Sorata...) but a bit rough.
Restaurants : excellent, and very cheap (a few $. A very decent lunch costs a little over $1, if you take the almuerzo). One should of course taste the trout, as well as the lama meat. Wine is a bit more expensive (local product), but beer is good.
Trek/mountaineering agencies : we could have contacted them by e-mail, but we preferred the personal contact..
We decided to trek with a guide and mule (or porters) for several reasons : we were not too keen about carrying the huge backpacks necessary for long treks, maps are very imprecise (and there are no marked trails), and trekking with a guide is an excellent opportunity to get to know a few Bolivians quite well.
Costst of the treks :
- In Sorata, we contacted the Guides' Cooperative Association (email@example.com). We met Abraham in the office, Rolando was our guide (if you want to get in touch with him, the easiest is to call him on his cell phone : (591) 712 49 582). We had one mule for the first day, and two porters for the following three days. Absolutely perfect. Only one (very small) comment : be sure to check carefully the services included in the price you pay.
Sorata - Laguna Chillata - Laguna Glacial and back (4 days) : $110 for the two of us, not including the food (which we bought separately, accompanied by the guide, about $25 for 14 person/day), plus the taxi to save us 2 hours up, and two hours down : $8 . The total includes the guide, the mule for one day, and the two porters.
- In La Paz, Alberth agency (Juan - firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com) is located almost in front of the hotel Estrella Andina, and we received a perfect service : the owner, Juan, is very competent and very agreable, the guide (Eliseo) and the "muleros" very kind and professional, the food was absolutely outstanding, and the team was ready to bend backward to satisfy our needs and desires...
Quta Thiya - Laguna Ajwani - Juri Quta - Chigara Quta - Maria Lloco - Refugio Huayna Potosi (6 days, including one day for the trip to Quta Thiya). $28 per day per person (including the taxi from and to La Paz, the food, the guide, two mules and their muleros, and even a cook).
Of course, a 10% gratuity is expected (we also invited Eliseo and Julia to a dinner, when we came back).
We used our own tent and sleeping bags. The total cost is not cheap, by bolivian standards, but the service is in accordance with the cost : perfect. And, after all, we contributed directly to the local economy...
And I almost forgot : most places (hotels, travel agencies) will accept dollar bills, but large denominations must be brand new.
What to take along :
- Not being sure of finding locally quality equipment, we brought our own tent. In truth, Alberth has some excellent tents. We also brought along our sleeping bags and mats.
- Warm clothing and Gore-Tex vest : above 5000, the temperature is often quite low, and we also had a few snow flurries.
- Good waterproof trekking shoes (Gore-Tex).
- One (or several !) cameras !
It is of course recommended to protect the content of the pack with plastic bags (Ziploc) : it may rain, but dust is is omni-present...