Cerro Chacaltaya


The 5395m-high Cerro Chacaltaya peak atop a former glacier is a popular day trip. The glacier diminished over several decades and, tragically, had melted completely by 2009. Until the ‘big melt,’ it was the world’s highest ‘developed’ ski area. It’s a steep 90-minute ride from central La Paz, and the accessible summit is an easy 200m ascent from there. For visitors and hikers, Chacaltaya offers spectacular views of La Paz, Illimani, Mururata and 6088m Huayna Potosí.

It’s a high-altitude, relatively easy (but steep) 100m or so climb from the old ski lodge to the summit of Chacaltaya. Remember to carry warm clothing and water, and take plenty of rests – say, a 30-second stop every 10 steps or so, and longer stops if needed – even if you don’t feel tired. If you start to feel light-headed, sit down and rest until the feeling passes. If it doesn’t, you may be suffering from mild altitude sickness; the only remedy is to descend. From Chacaltaya it’s possible to walk to Refugio Huayna Potosí, at the base of Huayna Potosí, in half a day. Before you set out, you must obtain instructions and maps from Instituto Geográfico Militar.

You can get your thrills, spills (well, hopefully not) and great views on a 60km-plus mountain-bike trip from Chacaltaya to Zongo and beyond at descents of up to 4100m (vertical drop). La Paz bike outfitters run trips for B$800-1300 per person (depending on group size).

There’s no public transportation to Chacaltaya. Most La Paz tour agencies take groups to Chacaltaya for around B$80 per person, and many include it with another attraction for a full-day tour. Bring warm, windproof clothing, sunglasses (100% UV protection) and sunscreen. Those who fly into La Paz from the lowlands will want to wait a few days before visiting Chacaltaya or other high-altitude places.

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