This is a relatively little-trodden trek between the village of Chuñavi and the Sud Yungas’ provincial capital, Chulumani. Declared a national monument in 1992, it preserves good stretches of pre-Columbian footpaths and archaeological remains dating from the Tiwanaku and Inca periods.
This is one of your better bets for wildlife watching, as it has less traffic than other treks (though mining is on the rise). Keep your eyes peeled for Andean foxes, condors, and plenty of birds and butterflies.
There are a couple of variations to the standard trek, including a pass over the northern shoulder of Illimani to get you started, as well as an alternative – and considerably more spectacular – route over Cerro Khala Ciudad, which begins beyond Lambate. Some guides even offer the trek backwards, starting at Chulumani, but that’s a fairly punishing alternative. Crossing several passes at over 5000m, it’s easily the most demanding of the Inca trails and usually takes three or four days.
There are no official campsites along the route, although there are plenty of easy-to-find spots along the way to set up camp. If you are going to attempt this trek you’ll need to carry the 1:50,000 topo sheets Palca – 6044-I, Lambate – 6044-II and Chulumani – 6044-III or, even better, arrange a guide (highly recommended). Many agencies in La Paz offer this trek, with guides, a cook and pack animals. Note that there is no water available on the last day, so stock up ahead of time.
There’s a good case for hiring a 4WD to take you to the trailhead at Lambate. Otherwise you can go straight to Chuñavi (four hours) or Lambate (five hours) by micro from La Paz, with departures from Calle Venancio Burgoa, near Plaza Líbano, leaving daily from 5am.
The return to La Paz from Chulumani and Irupana is straightforward: catch one of the many daily buses or camiones (flatbed trucks) from the tranca (police post) in Chulumani.