By Stephen Taranto, Sendas Altas - La Paz on Foot, @LaPazonFoot
Stretching between two magnificent massifs, mighty Illampu (6368m/16400ft) to the north and serene Illimani (6438m/20,892ft) to the south, and sandwiched between sacred Lake Titicaca to the west and the Yungas Cloud Forests to the east, Bolivia’s Cordillera Real offers endless trekking routes for adventure travelers of all ages and abilities. Close the bustling city of La Paz and a setting-off point for key cultural and natural destinations throughout Bolivia’s highlands, trekkers seeking to spend less time on the road and more time on the trail are flocking to experience the range’s low-traffic itineraries that run from day-trips out of the city to fully-supported multi-day expeditions.
With eight peaks over 6000m/19,900ft (Illimani tops the bill) and more than 80 over 5000m/16400ft, the range has long been a destination for travelers and trekkers, whether for trade or for recreation, and the extensive network of pre-Columbian footpaths and roadways attest to its role in facilitating communication between Bolivia’s altiplano and the spectacularly biodiverse cloud forests and Amazon lowlands, easily and quickly reached via passes. What this means for adventure seekers is that trekking in the Cordillera offers not only epic high-mountain scenery but also an opportunity to explore a multitude of landscapes.
When asked what makes trekking in the Cordillera Real unique, Lea Quiroga, a long-time trekking guide with Sendas Altas - La Paz on Foot had this to say:
What I find special about the range is the tranquility, the vast open skies, the views of Lake Titicaca, the mountains and glaciers...you never get tired of looking at the landscapes. And it is fascinating to imagine, as you walk along ancient Inca and pre-Inca footpaths, that beyond the peaks to the east one finds the lush green slopes of the Yungas Cloud Forests and the vast green expanse of the Amazon.
While Sendas Altas - La Paz on Foot has offered trekking programs in the Cordillera Real for years, the past couple of seasons (trekking in the range is best between April and November) have seen a dramatic increase in interest in the region, especially as La Paz has become a must-see urban destination in South America and travelers seek alternatives to the crowded trails of popular trekking routes in Peru. This has led the responsible travel operator to engage with its local partners in the exploration of new routes and the development of operations capacity to meet demand and keep quality high.
One of the keys to their expansion is a growing relationship with IFMGA-certified guide Jaime Quispe and the village of Tuni, located about an hour from La Paz and where Jaime and other community members have resisted the urge to migrate to the city and have instead committed providing guiding and trekking support services to travelers from around the world. As Don Jaime commented during a recent field exploration, “we know that there are jobs and technology and education in the city, but we also know that we need to stay here and protect the mountains and the sacred peaks that have provided water, safe passage and inspiration for our people and visitors for thousands of years.”
“Our partnership with Jaime and the community is essential to providing top-notch trekking experiences to our clients and is an excellent example of our company’s commitment to developing respectful, horizontal relationships with rural stakeholders,” says Sendas Altas General Manager Tomas Sivila. “The community members know the mountains better than we do and together with our guides we are confident that our itineraries provide unforgettable experiences that only leave positive impacts for them,” he added.
As a result of the collaboration, Sendas Altas - La Paz on Foot now offers treks throughout the cordillera and even further afield into more remote circuits in Apolobamba National Park, renowned for the success of its vicuna conservation program and the millenial Kallawaya culture group. Whether travelers are seeking a one-day trek that takes them to the base of Tuni Condoriri or Pico Austria, multi-day journeys that originate in the cordillera and finish up in the cloud forests or even further downhill in true Amazon rainforest, the outfitters have the right experience for explorers visiting the region for a short time or those planning to stay for a while.