5 mins

Bolivia's secret mountains

Our featured blogger, Ed Shoote from We Love Mountains, treks Sajama National Park

Sajama National Park, Bolivia (Ed Shoote)

Sajama National Park in Bolivia doesn't feature much in guide books. It’s extremely difficult to reach and generally just too much hassle for most. The result is a vast unspoilt landscape surrounded by spectacular mountains, dotted with empty hot springs and imbued with a real sense of adventure. It really is one of the greatest places I have ever been.

Our approach started in Oruro, located in the central altiplano of Bolivia. We had to catch a local bus for 125km to meet another bus from La Paz at a random road junction in the middle of nowhere. After waiting for an hour, we caught the connecting La Paz bus heading to Arica, on which a kind Chilean man –  who is now my Facebook friend – translated our plans to go to Sajama for the driver to understand. regardless the driver motored past the turn off to the park and then claimed it would be easier for us to get  a taxi from Tambo Quebo, the border town with Chile, instead.

Tambo Quebo sits at over 4,000 metres above sea level, so as sunset approached it got pretty cold. We found warmth in the local telephone booth shop, run by the local border crossing 'fixer'. Every 5 minutes, a man came in and handed over cash or received cash or received small parcels over the counter. This was clearly the place you could get whatever you wanted in the area. Except a taxi. Two hours later the fixer arranged for a local man to drive us to the park in the pitch black of night for the princely sum of 100 Bolivianos. As I said, accessibility for the independent traveler is not straight forward.

After a scary and bumpy ride down a long dirt road, we pulled up in a village. It was dark, except for the odd flickering electric light, and we got a room in the only hostel open in the village. It was a domed, hobbit-like building, covered with grass and made with mud brick walls, with an ensuite that didn't have hot water. It saved a chilly trip outside though, where the village shivered under a clear and starry sky.

The next day we hiked for about 6km at an altitude that left us breathless. We were rewarded with remote empty hotsprings, with the best view you could possibly imagine, and returned, walking between llamas and volcanoes, astounded that we had this amazing place to ourselves. We came upon deserted mud brick villages, but the only other human we saw was an odd-looking nomadic man aimlessly wandering around.

The local villagers suggested we climbed  Sajama itself, the highest mountain in Bolivia at about 6542m. The locals had played a football game at the top a few years back, they said, but we decided to give it a miss. Instead, we spent a few days exploring the park at a more leisurely pace, before sharing a lift back to the border where a kind border official gave us a lift across a stretch of  no-man's land and into Chile.

Ed ShooteWe Love Mountains | Edward Shoote

We Love Mountainsis a website about enjoying the mountains through sports like snowboarding, splitboarding, skiing, mountain biking, cycle touring, hiking and trekking. It is our thoughts and experiences living and traveling in the mountains. We love travel photography and always try to capture some great shots.

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