Trekking Bolivia’s Cordillera Real – Maps, Basic Info, and Planning Advice

Previous Post: Getting Real High in Bolivia – La Paz, Lake Titicaca, and The Cordillera Real

Over the past decade I have had the good fortune – as well as the time and fitness and available cash! – to trek and climb South America’s Andes Mountains on a half-dozen three-week trips.  From Ecuador’s highest peaks to southern Patagonia’s hiking trails, the reward for meeting the challenge of an often high-altitude alpine environment is stunning mountainscape  and photo opportunities that few get to walk into.

After one trip – the trek in Peru’s Ancash region south of Huaraz, I posted a trip report titled “The Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit – South America’s Finest High-Altitude Trek”.  We spent sixteen days in the compact cordillera, which Joe Simpson helped to bring to the mountaineering world’s attention as the location of Siula Grande in his Touching the Void.  The most amazing high-altitude trek indeed!

lake-titicaca-and-cordillera-real

As great as that trek was, handing out first prize to the Huayhuash before I have seen all the contestants was probably not a good idea!  I have just returned from Bolivia and a walk down the  Cordillera Real –  Spanish for Royal Range.  My heart – and my head – are telling me of my experience: “This just has to be the finest high-altitude trek in South America!”

Over fourteen days we walked about 120 kilometers from the north end of the cordillera below the west face of Nevado Illampu down to the north side of Nevado Huayna Potosi. We passed hundreds of peaks over 5000 meters and five over 6000.  We also walked up a couple of trekking peaks in the 5300 meter range and almost daily crossed passes of 5000.  To put all the numbers  into perspective, North America has one 6000-meter-plus peak (Denali) and only ten which are 5000 meters or higher.

While the Himalayas and the Karakoram clearly dominate any global list of high-altitude peaks, Bolivia’s Cordillera Real comes close to Peru’s Cordillera Blanca for the most stunning collection of high-altitude summits outside of Asia.  And how about the already-mentioned Cordillera Huayhuash?  It remains in the conversation too!  a  Look at this list of the dozen 6000 meter + peaks in the 30-kilometer  range, and you can see why it is in the running for South America’s best high-altitude trek . In the end, I’ll just forget about naming one of them as the best.  Let’s just say that I’d be happy to have visited any, or even better,  all of them!

I’ve put together a series of posts detailing our Cordillera Real route with Google satellite maps and elevation charts to give you an idea of what the trek involves. To create the route map I used the gps tracks recorded by my Spot Connect. While not as accurate as the Garmin Oregon I decided to leave at home, the results are usable. (The Spot only records a location every ten minutes while the Garmin does so each second.)

Cordillera Real Trek Route - west side

Cordillera Real Trek Route – west side

The images from the two cameras (the Sony A77 and the Sony A6000) and various lenses  I brought along will show a little of the breathtaking views  that were the daily reward for being in the Cordillera. I’ve also added a few of the many excellent photos taken by my trekking mates.

When To Go: 

I did the trip in September – the 11th to the 24th – which in Bolivian terms is near the end of their dry season, the stretch from May to October when the skies are more likely to be clear and there is less chance of rain. It is also the time when nighttime temperatures dip down close  to freezing, even in La Paz at 3800 meters.

La Paz temperature range and rainfall

La Paz temperature range and rainfall

July and August are considered high season but we would have excellent weather during our two weeks in September. It only rained twice – once on our rest day at Chachakumani and then on the last afternoon as we walked down a valley to the east side of the Cordillera and the humid air of the Yungas and Amazonia.  Typical campsite altitude was around 4500 meters. On a few occasions I found the contents of my water bottle frozen in the morning. Day time temperatures were in the 15ºC range.

The Need For Acclimatization Time:

Before you head for the Cordillera and a typical altitude  in the 4500 to 5400 meter range, you need to give your body some time to adapt to the new situation. (I flew in from Toronto which is 100 meters above sea level!)

Here is a graph which makes clear the impact of decreasing air pressure as you gain altitude. While the percentage of oxygen in the air remains the same – i.e. 21% – no matter what the altitude,  the column labelled “Effective Oxygen” shows that the number of molecules of oxygen per given volume of air does decrease.  This is what people are referring to when they say the air gets thinner as you ascend.  You need to breathe a greater volume of air to get the same oxygen that you get at lower altitudes.  So at 5500 meters, for example, the “effective” oxygen level is 10.5% or half of what it is at sea level. That is quite the decrease.

effective-amount-of-oxygen-at-different-altitudes

Given that La Paz itself is at 3800 meters and a walk down the Cordillera Real will have you in the 4000 to 5000 meter range for almost two weeks, you can see the need to spend some time acclimatizing. They key is not to rush things – and a week spent in and around La Paz will give your body that time.

La Paz itself is an incredible experience and is worth a few days of your time.  Nearby are excellent cultural day trips.  The visit to Tiwanaku is the most popular one. As well, an overnight visit to Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca and then to nearby Isla del Sol will have you up just above 4000 meters.  You’ll also get to know a little about the people who live with the Cordillera Real every day!  See the following posts for more information:

What To Do In the Cordillera Real: 

When it comes time to head for the mountains, you can do one of two things:

The Mountaineering Option – you can climb some of those peaks. With a week of basic acclimatization done, you can follow that up with a week at Condoriri Base Camp on Chiar Khota doing some climbs that will take you up to 5500 meters or so. Then, in the third week, the climax – summits of Huayna Potosi and/or  Illimani and Sajama, all in the 6000+ range. The current Lonely Planet Bolivia guide-book  has a chapter on mountaineering in Bolivia with specific info on climbing the peaks I mentioned above.

Cordillera Blanca's Tocllaraju high camp

ourTocllaraju high camp in the Cordillera Blanca’s Ishinca Valley

brain bolivia climbing

The image below shows some of the Condoriri peaks that we got to see on a somewhat cloudy afternoon from Pico Austria, a 5400 meter trekking peak that does not require any specialized mountaineering gear to climb.

Base camp for Condoriri would be down below on the shore of Chiar Khota. Yossi Brain’s 1999 Bolivia: A Climbing Guide is still the best thing out there in English if the climbing option is your choice.

the Condoriri Massif - the left wing of the Condor

the Condoriri Massif – the left wing of the Condor

The Trekking Option –  you can trek alongside and through the Cordillera Real and experience its grandeur from the various passes and trekking peaks that will take you up to 5400 meters. No crampons, ice axes, ropes, or harnesses required – only a little tilting of your head upwards!  I went for this less intense option, figuring it would provide an excellent introduction to Bolivia and to a mountain range that deserves a return visit with  my mountaineering gear.

The trek turned out to be fairly intense in itself. On ascents I sometimes  felt like I was running on empty.  Stepping on the scale when I got back home, the numbers told me that in three weeks I had lost 6.4 kilograms (14 pounds)!

How To Go – On Your Own or With An Professional Trekking Agency? 

While the Torres del Paine Circuit or the W in Chile’s southern Patagonia  is totally do-able on your own, as are the trails in Argentina near El Chaltén and Fitz Roy or up in northern Patagonia near Bariloche, a multi-day trek down the Cordillera Real would not be easy for independent hikers. Unlike Patagonia, trekking infrastructure is all but non-existent and even the trails – of our route at least – were often little more than shepherd trails and faint llama tracks. Supplies would have to be brought from La Paz since there are no nearby villages to replenish.

There is also the safety issue – being with a guide, arrieros, and other trekkers provides you with built-in protection and security.You become part of a family and everyone looks after everyone else. Our trekking group was mostly middle-aged or older (I was the second oldest at 64).  As well, most of us could be labelled as Type A personalities, somewhat obsessed with setting goals and meeting them. Three of them had done Bhutan’s month-long Snowball trek the previous year.  Given the cost of the trip, all had white-collar jobs or comfortable pensions back home to support their quest for a new challenge!  I felt right at home!

our trekking team atop Pico Austria

our trekking team atop Pico Austria –

The most recent Lonely Planet Bolivia guidebook (8th edition 2013)  dealt briefly with the safety issue with comments specifically about the Sorata area at the north end of the Cordillera –

“With Sorata’s economy turning from tourism to mining and farming, there are fewer guides offering services here, and fewer pack animals for hire. Reports indicate that this could be a dangerous area for trekking and many agencies are no longer offering treks in the region. The El Camino de Oro trek is reportedly seeing little traffic these days, meaning you’ll have to clear the trail with a machete and may face some tough locals along the way. The Mapiri trek has an even rougher record, with increased reports of robberies. The villages along the way are now charging passage fees and are said to have become quite aggressive with those who do not pay.”

While the quote is specifically talking about treks down into the Yungas from Sorata, and not the trek down the Cordillera Real, it is still worth consideration. The Laguna San Francisco area has a history – perhaps not recent – of trekkers being robbed.

Given the reality of trekking in the Cordillera Real area, the best plan is to find a reputable agency in La Paz to organize the logistics of the trek for you. Guide, donkeys, muleteers, tents, food, shuttle to and from the trek – you are paying people who have the contacts and experience and equipment necessary to make it all work.

Note: For an alternative view, see what Felix has to say in the Comments section below. The two German hikers did a fifteen-day version of the hike – and they did it unsupported and without resupplying en route, except for stocking up on a few treats in Cocoyo. They also did it in April, the tail end of the wet season. Snow occasionally covered the faint trail and they made use of cairns to find their way.

Reputable Trekking/Mountaineering Agencies in La Paz:

For me, finding a reliable agency to go with usually begins with a look at various guide books like Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, and Footprint.  That is how I ended up with SAS Travel in Cusco for my Machu Picchu Inca Trail trek; it is also how I found a mountaineering agency in Quito for a couple of climbing trips.  If I can find out which local company a  U.S. or British agency like Mountain Madness or Exodus turns to, then I take that as a sign that it must be doing a very good job.

My research led me to a handful of agencies – click on the name to access the website.

andean-summits-header

In The Lonely Planet’s Bolivia guide-book you’ll find this brief and fairly bland mention of Andean Summits:

Offers a variety of outdoor activities from mountaineering and trekking to 4WD tours in Bolivia and beyond. The owners are professional UIAGM/IFMGA mountain guides.

James Read in the current edition of The Rough Guide To Bolivia has a more enthusiastic review.

Professional and much respected adventure tour operator with an excellent reputation that runs “off the beaten track” mountaineering and trekking expeditions throughout Bolivia, led by experienced and highly qualified English-speaking guides,

Googling Andean Summits did result in a bit of confusion.  There is another company in Huaraz, Peru named Andean Summit (no s). It gets great reviews but  it is not the agency based in La Paz!

climbin-south-america-header

Another climbing/trekking agency with guidebook mentions is Climbing South America. Based in La Paz, it offers trips throughout the Andes. Again, the Lonely Planet entry is brief and bland. You will read this – “Climbing South America is a reputable operator.” Read’s Rough Guide entry is more positive –

Sharing the same colonial space as Café Illampu and run by affable Australian Jeff Sandifort, this professional and dedicated company offers trips to all the Bolivian peaks…

Given the reluctance of many agencies to actually post their prices on their website, it was a nice change to see this agency do that for some of their trips. I take that as a sign of a company confident in what it is offering.

bolivian-journeys-header

Bolivian Journeys is another la Paz agency which gets a mention by the Lonely Planet writers. The summary reads like this –

A specialist in climbing, mountaineering and trekking, this company does guided climbs to Huayna Potosí. Equipment rental is available, with maps and gas for MSR stoves for sale.

A bit of surfing the net turned up this recent (Sept. 2015) thread at tripadvisor’s Bolivia forum – click here to access. The reviewer did the section of the trek from Chiar Khota to the end in Chacapampa/Botijlaca – the last three days of the two-week trip I did – and while it seems he enjoyed the walk he did not think he got value for money. “Third-world service for first-world prices” is how he put it. The responses to his post are also interesting.

bolivian-mountain-guides-header

Bolivian Mountain Guides is a La Paz agency which I did not find mentioned in the guide books but it does get discussed in the trip advisor’s Bolivia forum. The comments are definitely positive. (See here.)  So are those of these members of the Alpine Club of Canada whose Bolivian climbing trip it  organized. See here for the article. More recently, it was revealed by BMG that Malia Obama’s Cordillera Real trek had been organized by them.  (see here for the story).

Update: Since I posted this blog, a trip advisor thread on a guide service I had not heard of – Andean Ascents – has caught my eye.  It is a La Paz agency managed by Alex von Ungern, a  German/Swiss guide in his early 30’s.  You can find the thread here.  You’ll see a comment I made, a few very positive comments by satisfied clients (mostly Swiss like the manager), and one by Von Ungern himself.

mountain-kingdoms-header

When I found out that the English trekking agency Mountain Kingdoms used Andean Summits to run their Cordillera Real trek, I decided to focus on it.  My reasoning is that if the local agency is not delivering a quality service it is unlikely that a U.K. or North American agency would be dealing with them.  A few emails went back and forth – I was impressed by their prompt and no bullshit replies – and it became clear that I, as a lone trekker,  would have more difficulty in making something happen than a party of, let’s say, three or four.

They also seemed to be incredibly busy – I would later find out that they were running tours and treks flat-out through September!  Then Andean Summits did a funny thing – they suggested that if I wanted to join a group, there was one that they would be organizing for Mountain Kingdoms!

It turns out that over half the trips Andean Summits does are under the name of European or British or American agencies. What Mountain Kingdoms (or any other decent adventure travel company) does is find a capable local agency to handle the actual tour. It may work with the local company to develop trips it thinks will attract potential clients. Then it packages the trips,  promotes them with top-notch website support, and puts together the group which will do the trip, and takes care of all the money issues.  If you are on your own, this is the easiest way to find yourself a group of like-minded travellers.

The local agency also has a strong incentive to deliver an A+ trip since it would like to keep handling the tours.  My wife also felt safer with the knowledge that I was with a small group organized by a quality outfit and not off on my own with god knows whom!

And me? I was able to do the trek thanks to Mountain Kingdoms. Of the nine of us in the group seven were single travellers who would have had a difficult time putting something together without finding a partner or two or three.  Most impressive was the detailed preparatory information sent via email; I was left with very little to organize or worry about. If you’ve got the money and value your time, then this is clearly the way to go. Everything is taken care of for you, including a ride in from the airport!

Mountain Kingdoms Bolivia home page

Click here to access the Mountain Kingdoms home page for the Bolivia trip

Our guide for the trek – on the AGMT ( Asociación de Guias  de Montaña y Tekking) Bolivia’s website, he is listed as Oscar Javier Thellaeche Urdin.  Along with his partner Jose Fidel Camarlinghi Mendoza, he has been running Andean Summits for over twenty years.  Not only is Javier an excellent trekking and mountain guide; his wide-ranging knowledge of the mountain environment and of Bolivia – culture, history, politics – in general , made for an enriched experience for all of us gringos. The fact that he can express himself effortlessly in English made it even better – even if it meant that the Spanish I’ve been working on wasn’t really necessary.  (Actually, It was very useful during the week i was on my own in La Paz!)

The Trans-Cordillera Trek: The Classic Route 

Trekking In Bolivia coverYossi Brain, whose climbing guide to Bolivian peaks I mentioned above, also did a trekking guidebook.   Trekking In Bolivia: A Traveller’s Guide, released in 1997, was perhaps the first book in English to provide a comprehensive introduction to Bolivia’s trekking possibilities. With Brain, as well as Andrew North, and Isolbel Stoddart as the authors,  it was  published by The Mountaineers, it is still useful almost twenty years later.

The route that they describe is what I will call the “classic” route. It begins in Sorata at the north end of the cordillera and then heads to the east side of the mountain range before cutting across to the west side near Condoriri and then continuing on down to Botijlaca on the north side of Huayna Potosi.  Most trekking agencies in La Paz still offer this trek – or sections of it – to prospective trekkers.

Andes Pitkethly

Another book, The Andes: 28 Treks and Climbing Peaks, written by Val Pitkethly and Kate Harper and published in 2009, describes a version of this mostly east-side of the cordillera trek.  Since Google Books has a copy of their book online, you can read what they have to say here. (Just go back to page 94 for the start of their six page treatment.)

Here is a map of a typical itinerary for the classic route from north of Sorata (a bit odd) down the east side of the range (until Day 8 when it does cut through the cordillera for the west side) –

Trekking Bolivia's Cordillera Real - Classic east side route

Bolivia’s Cordillera Real – Classic east side route – see here for the source at Elma Tours website.

And here is the map from the above-mentioned The Andes: 28 Treks …by the way, an incredible goldmine of trip ideas if you’re looking for inspiration! Unlike the map above this one actually starts in Sorata.

The CLassic Trans-Cordillera Real Trekking Route

  • Day 1 – La Paz – Sorata
  • Day 2 – Sorata – Ancoma
  • Day 3 – Ancoma – Cocoyo
  • Day 4 – Cocooyo – Chajolpaya
  • Day 5 – Chajolpaya – Chacapa
  • Day 6 – Chacapa – Palca
  • Day 7 – Palca – Huarihuarini
  • Day 8 – Huarihuarini – Lake Kottia (aka Laguna Khotia)
  • Day 9 – Kottia Laguna – Laguna Ajuani
  • Day 10 – Ajuani – Jurikhota
  • Day 11 – Jurikhota – Cerro Austria – Laguna Chiari Khota
  • Day 12 – CB Condoriri
  • Day 13 – Condoriri – Liviñosa
  • Day 14 – Liviñosa – Chacapampa (Botijlaca) – La Paz
  • A Point of Clarification –  Chakapampa or Botijlaca?

Some trek itineraries use the name Chakapampa (or Chacapampa with a “c” instead of a “k”) to indicate the end point; others use the name Botijlaca.  Both are correct.  Chaka Pampa literally means “the flat place with a bridge”.  It was there that the electric company built the hydroelectric plant called “Botijlaca”. Andean Summits is one of the agencies that use the name Botijlaca in its itineraries.

The Alternative Trans-Cordillera Real Route: The West Side

Given increased mining activity in the Sorata area, as well as on the east side of the Cordillera, the Andean Summits team, as well as others, have developed an alternative route that stays on the west side of the Cordillera until the last full day of the trek. Instead of the traditional first eight days of the classic route which goes north and east from Sorata, this one heads southeast from Sorata to Millipaya and Alto Llojena and then on to Lago San Francisco.  Doing so, it avoids the mining roads and the potential for trouble in the sometimes boisterous mining communities on the east side.

This is the route we did. Often the “trail” is no more than shepherds’ paths and llama tracks up and down and across valleys; just as often we were relying on our guide’s experience (he has done the route several times) and the GPS track on his Garmin device. To restate the obvious, this is not at all like walking the Huayhuash Circuit trail or along the Inca Trail or the trails in Torres Del Paine Park.


 

Maps: 

I found a copy of the Liam O’Brien map in a La Paz bookstore called The Spitting Llama at Linares 947. Titled  A New Map of The Cordillera Real De Los Andes, the map is a 2009 reprint of the original from 1995.  The scale is 1:135,000.  It is unclear if any changes were made in the reprint; the glacier limits shown on the map are based on Landsat images from 1989 and 1992 and are thus about twenty-five years old.

One thing the map definitely illustrates is the confusing state of transcribing Aymara names into English.  For example, the massif referred to as Chearuku or Chiaroco on other maps appears as Ch’iyaruq’u on the O’Brien map.  Ancohuma becomes Janq’uma. It will probably take a few more years before a uniform English spelling of the various peaks and valleys of the Cordillera develops. Using Spanish language rules to transcribe Aymara sounds into English seems a bit silly.  Until the dust settles, Google a different spelling and you often get a different set of websites!


Even if you have a really good map and compass reading skills, an extended walk down the west side route of the Cordillera Real is not the place for an unguided adventure. At the very least, you should arrange a muleteer (arriero is the Spanish term) and a donkey or two to carry food and supplies.  The arriero would also serve as your guide and help you negotiate with any locals you might meet.  We saw one other trekking group in two weeks; we did not pass through any villages – they were all much lower down in the valleys we traversed.  We did on occasion meet people who – I learned later – had come to collect a fee for passing through or camping on their land, the campesinos seeing the upper reaches of the valley as a part of their communidad.

Cordillera Real Trek Route - west side

Cordillera Real Trek Route – west side

Here is a list of our camp spots over the roughly 110 kilometers of the route, as well as the daily lowest, average, and highest altitudes. It makes clear the high-altitude nature of the trek and puts the 1420 meters of the Torres del Paine’s highest point (Gardner Pass) or even Machu Picchu (2430 meters) and the Inca Trail’s Dead Woman’s Pass (4,215 m) into perspective.  (Click on the blue to access that day’s maps, images, and summary.)

Day     To                                      Dist     Min     Ave      Max

1          Alto Llojena                       8.6     3696   3870   4042

2          Lago San Francisco        9.7     4042   4559    4889

3          Chojña Khota                10.1    4504   4769     5129

4          Jistaña Khota                  5.6     4567   4898     5188

5          Upper Kelluani Valley       9.1     4460   4924     5348

6          Upper Chachakumani     8.9     4460   4933     5350

7          rest day Chachakumani

8         Rio Jallyawaya Valley      11        4461   4623     5040

9         Laguna Khotia               11.5     4453   4790     5038

10       Alka Khotia                      8.6    4395    4537     4784

11        Juri Khota                    10        4515    4815     5096

12       Chiar Khota                    7.1     4669    4895    5306

13       above Botijlaca               7.5      3811     4509    4995

14       Botijlaca                          2        3578    3669    3806

The kml tracks for the entire trek (a 205 kb kml file) are in my Drop box folder. Download here. You will need to have the free Google Earth app installed on your computer or mobile device to open it.

If you’d like to see more about each day’s route – maps, elevation gain and loss, and the photos I took along the way, it all starts with the link to the next post in blue below.

Next Post: Day 1 – South Of Sorata to Alto Llojena

This entry was posted in Bolivia, hiking/trekking, mountaineering and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Trekking Bolivia’s Cordillera Real – Maps, Basic Info, and Planning Advice

  1. Jeanne Marie Thomas says:

    Hi-thanks for all of the amazing information. My husband and I are interested in day trips to the highest places possible in the Cordillera Real. We are strong hikers (actually fairly experienced climbers) but I have really bad hands due to serious frostbite damage and I can’t endure the cold of an overnight. Do you have any ideas for round trip day trips? Or are there multi day trips where we could sleep in a home or hostel? We would really like to see one or more of the high passes.

    Thanks-I appreciate any tips.

    • true_north says:

      Jeanne Marie, the Cordillera Real does not really lend itself to day hikes with a return to a hostel at the end of it. There is no nearby accommodation except the tent you pitch. A place where this would be possible is El Chalten and the Fitz Roy area where long day hikes are possible using El Chalten as your base camp.

      Having said that, a brief two or three day Cordillera Real trek that would include Juri Khota and Chiar Khota as well as the pass in between them would give you a wonderful slice of the Royal Range. You could also include a walk up to Pico Austria. My Day 12 itinerary has pix and discussion of the route. There is a road from La Paz to Laguna Tuni and from there you could choose to head for Juri Khota or Chiar Khota and then drive back out again on the same road. I’m afraid this is not a day hike. More like a two-night in a tent hike which would also require a guide who would also provide the transportation to get to the trailhead.

      You know your hands best but would not a pair of goose down gloves or the use of those chemical handwarmers make it possible to spend one or two nights in a tent. The temparature would be around freezing – maybe a titch above. During the day you could just wear a T-shirt!

      My first Cordillera Real post discussed various trekking/climbing agencies in La Paz. Why not get in touch with one or two of them and see what they suggest? Do note that in terms of prices, Bolivia is not Nepal – and from what I hear even Nepal is getting more expensive! That is just the way it is – and it is still worth it.

      Beuna suerte with your plans.

      • Jeanne Marie Thomas says:

        Hello again and thank you. I am contacting a number of guide agencies, but I thought you might be a bit creative – as you have been. We will put El Chalten on our list! I will think about the glove idea. Even when skiing at 8,000 feet in the US I have pretty serious problems although I have very expensive ski mittens with cashmere liners. Still, I will think about strategies for brushing my teeth, etc, in the cold temp. Somehow I have the impression it will be in the teens or low twenties at night in September. I will check further. I really appreciate your ideas and will check out the Royal Range. And the guide prices seem fine to us, all things considered.

        Jeanne Marie 360.480.9244

        Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2016 01:09:14 +0000 To: jeannemariethomas@msn.com

      • true_north says:

        Jeanne Marie, temps definitely did not dip into the teens or even the low 20’s when I was there last September. Maybe high 20’s on a few nights.

        After I posted my reply I thought further about the hostel idea and Nepal came to mind. Of all the high places I’ve walked, it has the most extensive network of trails on which you can walk from teahouse to teahouse, never having to tent at all. The Annapurna Circuit would fit the bill – if you haven’t considered or done it already. So would a walk up the Khumbu Valley to Everest Base Camp or Kala Pathar.

        The Swiss mountain town of Zermatt is also a fabulous walking destination if “high” is what you want. An extensive hut system takes you right across the Monte Rosa Glacier from one Italian hut to the next – the spaghetti traverse!

        In any case, enjoy your time in the mountains – and send me the link to your pix when you post them!

      • Jeanne Marie Thomas says:

        Hi Ramblin Boy,

        You are a wealth of great information. I love all of your ideas. My husband and I now have the freedom of controlling our schedules, and we want to do everything, despite a few relatively small limitations (mainly my hands, really). I had very bad frostbite due to inexperience and poor gear on a glacier climb (and an inexperienced team that refused to turn back). My fingers were black and my hands were treated as if I had a severe burn, so I think they are pretty seriously damaged. Oh well.

        Great to get the feedback about the nighttime temps in the high country. I am searching through my equipment-and I just may decide to tough it out.

        In any case we plan to have fun and I will check out all of the destinations you have mentioned.

        I truly appreciate your interest and generosity.

        Jeanne Marie 360.480.9244

        Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2016 12:47:18 +0000 To: jeannemariethomas@msn.com

      • true_north says:

        Happy trails!

  2. Julie De Coninck says:

    Hi, Thanks for all the information! In November we did the hike to Everest Base Camp and back home I already dream of another exciting hike in the mountains. Next summer I would like to hike Transcordillera in Bolivia or Aconcagua in Argentinia. Did you do this one already?

    • true_north says:

      Julie – great walk, isn’t it! Of all the places I’ve been to, the Khumbu Valley comes out on top. I love the mix of mountain majesty and Buddhist culture it has. the closest I’ve come elsewhere is in the Peruvian Andes with the Quechua cultural element.

      Re: the Cordillera Real. As you can tell from my post, I found it a great walk. Unlike in Nepal where the trail takes you from village to village, the Cordillera Real trek is above where the villages are. At the most you get to see llama paths and the occasional shepherd. The Isla del Sol was a great place to spend a couple of days given all the Aymara and Inca cultural spots.

      Re: Aconcagua. It is described as a non-technical but still demanding trek given the high altitude. At 65 I think I hit my peak in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca with Tocllaraju at about 6050 meters and Ecuador’s Chimborazo at 6200 m. There is certainly no lack of mountaineering outfits ready to take you up Acancogua! If you are looking for high altitude treks and fairly non-technical climbs I’d say Ecuador and Peru represent better value – but of course, you won’t be climbing the single highest peak in the Americas!

      If by summer you mean June – September then Bolivia and the Cordillera Real would work since those months are prime time for trekking in Bolivia. Acancogua climbs take place from December to February so that wouldn’t fit in with your summer plans.

      In less than two months I will be down in Bariloche, Argentina doing some hikes in the Andes above Lago Nahuel Huapi (2000 m maximum) and perhaps climbing Tronador and Lanin volcanoes. Which reminds me, I better get outside for today’s aerobic workout!

      Buena Suerte in finding your next adventure!

  3. Gustavo says:

    Hey! First of all, congratulations on your writing and photos, they are both great! I think I’ll be around Peru and Bolivia around april-may looking for good treks. My plan was to do the Huayna Potosi climb and the Huayhuash but your blog made me question this.
    Should I just stay around cordillera real instead of the huayhuash? How would you compare those 2?

    Thanks and safe travels, greetings from Brazil!

    • true_north says:

      You’ve picked two great trekking and climbing destinations! No matter which one you choose – Peru or Bolivia – you will want to go back for more. To eliminate travel time by doing both in one trip, i would choose one this time and do the other one next year!

      Your April – May time frame is just before the prime June-September season. It will be less busy; it may be a bit more cloudy and wet – but who can say any more! If you want to climb Potosi make sure to give your body a week or so to acclimatize to La Paz’s 3300 meters. Ten days on a Cordillera Real trek would put you in excellent shape! It will help keep costs down if you have other people sharing the costs.

      Good luck with your adventure. There are no bad choices!

  4. Felix says:

    Dear true_north,

    I wanted to thank you very much for your comprehensive resource on the Transcordillera. I don’t know if your blog was written with this intention, but it is a great guide for anyone wishing to retrace your group’s steps.

    My girlfriend and I have just returned from doing almost the exact route you did, following your GPS waypoints. Actually, we did the first 5 days of the Illampu Circuit to avoid the Laguna San Francisco area and then followed your route from Paso Calzada all the way to the Condoriri base camp – unsupported, without mules or a guide. It took us 15 days in total.

    This would have been absolutely impossible to do without your GPS track and the detailed descriptions! Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to do this awesome hike on our own!

    Kind regards and best wishes from La Paz,
    Felix

    • true_north says:

      Felix, congratulations to the two of you for an incredible hike. To do the entire thing without any support – to carry all your food and your accommodation – wow! I am impressed! You noticed from my posts that I did it the deluxe easy way and still found it a physical challenge. Ah, to be like you and in my twenties again!

      I am glad to hear the GPS track was useful; you will have noticed that there are stretches where the device did not record a location for an hour or two! I really should have brought my Garmin Oregon 450 device for a 100% accurate GPS track of the route!

      Tell me- what did you do for food? Were you able to resupply en route or did you start off from Sorata with everything? Any hassles with local campesinos as you traversed their valleys? One more thing – I met a German hiker in his mid-to-late 20’s in Bariloche this February who wants to do the Cordillera Real hike on his own. I met him as he was hiking from Bariloche across the Andes to Chile! Would you mind if I forwarded him your email so he could get in contact with you? You would be able to give him advice on issues that my posts do not cover.

      Thanks for taking the time to write. I appreciate the positive review! Now you really must write an account of your experience. There are many hikers out there who can benefit from what your learned in your epic walk. As you noticed when you surfed the net for information, there is not much out there.

      Send me the link to your trip report when you upload it!

      Tschüss!

      • Felix says:

        Thank you very much for your reply! You are absolutely right, we need to share our experience so that others might also be able to experience this incredible hike. Please feel free to forward my email address, we are always glad to help!

        Although we often times did not find a trail at all your track was actually very spot on in the most important places. The only really difficult situation in our opinion was the pass following Cerro Wara Warani – difficult to find the way up and unbelievable from the top that straight down was actually the correct way! And we had about 10cm of snow cover that day… Luckily, some Cairns led the way.

        To answer your questions: We brought all the food we needed for 16 days with us from La Paz. Breakfast consisted of powdered coffee and milk and oatmeal with raisins. For lunch we actually were incredibly lucky to find peanut bars in La Paz – almost every woman on the sidewalk here sells them. From what we can make out, they consist of crushed peanuts held together by honey. They are by far the best trekking lunch I have ever had! Dinner was the only thing where we went very specialized – we had brought enough freeze dried meals for 2 from Germany for the entire trek. Needless to say, this was still not a whole lot of food – maybe 1500 kcal per person per day. I’m sure each of us lost at least 5-7kg of weight during the hike.

        The only place where we bought food during the trek was Cocoyo on the 3rd day of the Illampu circuit, but all we bought were a couple of sweets to make the evenings more enjoyable. Except for this, there are no places to restock (and all the tienda sells are sweets, pasta and canned tuna).

        Considering the locals we were actually very pleasantly surprised. We did avoid the Laguna San Francisco because of the history of robberies but everyone else we met was extremely nice. I think they were at least as suprised to see us as we were to see them. Only one person wanted to have money for camping, a herder on the first night just above Lakathiya. The more remote we got, the nicer the people became: Some came by just for a chat, others stopped what they were doing to show us where to best cross a stream and some construction workers on the Illampu circuit were so perplexed to see us they got out their smartphone to take a picture! Maybe this attitude changes in high season, but we only had great encounters with the locals!

        We will try to put down all the important info in the next couple of days to create a little “addendum” to your perfect description for people who would like to do this hike unsupported… I will keep you updated!

        Kind regards,
        Felix

  5. Cam says:

    Great write-up! A friend and I are heading to the Cordillera Real next month, and I was hoping to pick up a copy of the Liam O’Brien 1:135,000 map. I haven’t had much success finding one online, and I was wondering if you could tell me the name of the bookstore in La Paz where you bought it?
    Cheers,
    Cam

    • true_north says:

      Cam, The Spitting Llama on Linares 947 may have a copy of the Liam O’Brien 1:135,000 map available. It is getting a bit old! Here is a review of the bookstore from a recent Rough Guide –

      Spitting Llama review

  6. Birgit says:

    Hi True North,
    i read your description of this trek and would like to do it with a friend of mine in the middle of august. we’d like to make it a little shorter though (like around 7 days). do you think this might be possible? and where can i download the gpx file you made from your route? i just borrowed a garmin etrex 20 from another friend.
    or maybe Felix has some suggestions…
    greetings from amsterdam

    Birgit

    • true_north says:

      Birgit, August is a good time to do this trek. You would have to shorten it considerably in order to get it done in seven days, using a starting point that is accessible by vehicle. Note that Felix and his friend took 15 days! We took 14.

      You will need to arrange a shuttle to drop you off at the start and then pick you up at the end of your trek. A better plan might be to find a few extra days so you are under less pressure to keep moving when it might not be the best to do so.

      I would get in touch with one of the La Paz agencies I mentioned in my post for more information on possible shuttles and other information and advice. Javier at Andean Summits is very knowledgeable about the area and the issues you will face. Your safety and security should be key factors to consider in any plan you make. Make sure you also include a week’s worth of acclimitization time before you set off on your walk and include a day or two for unforeseen things happening!

      Re: GPS tracks. Unfortunately, I left my Garmin Oregon at home for this trek and only brought my SPOT Connect along. It only records a location every ten minutes and sometimes it did not record a location for an hour or more. The result – not 100% accurate! Here is the track in kml format which you can view in Google Earth. The last morning’s walk down to Botijlaca was not recorded.

      https://www.dropbox.com/s/866amkjzzx7vmhp/Bolivia%202015%20-%20Spot%20Connect%20Tracks.kml?dl=0

      And here is the file converted into a GPS file that your Etrex 20 can read. (My brother has the same Garmin device which we use on our canoe trips! Make sure you practise using it before you set off!)

      https://www.dropbox.com/s/yaegfs9x4pp27ue/Bolivia%20Cordilllera%20Real%20Sept-11-23.gpx?dl=0

      Let me know if the GPX file works! Good luck with your adventure. It is a fantastic hike!

      • Birgit says:

        thank you for the fast reaction! i downloaded the map onto our gps, but i can’t open it/don’t see it on the device itself. we wanted to only do half the route and were wondering which part you might recommend to do…
        this also depends on the fact that we’ll need an accessible starting and end point. i’ll get some info with the agencies in la paz you mentioned.
        we’re off to peru now, so we’ll have plenty of acclimatization 🙂
        thank you so much for your information again!

      • true_north says:

        Birgit, Days 9 to 14 might be your best bet for a shorter hike. Whoever arranges your ride to the start point will be able to tell you the options.

        Re: the GPX file. Garmin devices require a special file format for maps on their devices. You have to import them by using their Basecamp app in Windows or mac OS. It is all a bit awkward!

        If you have a smart phone you might try the wikiloc app. I used it in Argentina when doing some hiking in the bariloche area a few months ago. I was impressed.

        Here is one Cordillera Real file I found at wikiloc –

        https://es.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=1638745

        You just need to buy the app to have complete access. You might be able to use it for Peru too!

Your comments and questions are always appreciated, as are any suggestions on how to make this post more useful to future travellers. Just drop me a line or two!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s