Although these two treks can be done independently, hiring a guide through a travel agency simplifies the process immeasurably. A knowledgeable local guide will take care of the navigation and camping logistics as well as carry most of the weight.
On the downside, such a service can be prohibitively expensive for budget backpackers, particularly those who travel alone.
Independent trekkers will need to rent gear to tackle either route. Even on Takesi, where refugios (shelters) are available, you’ll still need a sleeping bag to keep warm at night. Check out GEO-Trek Bolivia or Climbing South America for affordable rentals.
May to October is the dry season and the ideal time to hike. Both trails are possible outside of this period, but expect to get wet. It’s highly recommended to postpone your plans if the forecast is for torrential rain.
On both routes, you’ll be at high altitude for a brief period, so pack a light jacket and sweater.
Standard hiking and camping equipment is essential.
Bring water purification tablets or a filtration system, as farm animals render the river water unsafe to drink straight from the source.
A well-preserved portion of the expansive Capac Ñan Inca highway network, El Choro is the region’s flagship trail for both its stunning scenery and historical significance.
Throughout the trek, these lush subtropical valleys become increasingly humid as the altitude declines. Dipping from 16,076 to 4,429 feet (4,900 to 1,350 meters), this unrelenting descent is notoriously tough on the knees. Consider renting a pair of trekking poles to ease the pain.
Nevertheless, its dense cloud forest vistas complete with gushing rivers and technicolored butterflies make any discomfort entirely worthwhile.
Travelers start the epic three-day hike at a snow-capped mountain peak known as La Cumbre, before descending down into the temperate Yungas below.
After a six-hour downhill walk along the ancient cobblestoned path, hikers arrive at Challapampa, a traditional indigenous community who call this remote region home. Featuring a roofed camping ground and the chance to purchase some hot food, it’s an idyllic spot to spend the night.
The second day is the toughest of the trip, thanks to an eight-hour descent on rugged terrain. On the second night, most hikers pitch a tent under the thatched roofs of the San Francisco camping ground. Alternatively, some soldier on to sleep in Sandillani, the former countryside estate of a deceased Japanese recluse.
On day three, it’s another four to six hours to the final destination, the laid-back Yungas town of Chairo.
Gradient: Steep downhill almost the whole way.
Length: 37 mi (60 km)
Standard timeframe: three days (two for strong hikers / four for a relaxed pace).
Where to camp: Challapampa (covered campground), San Francisco (covered campground), Sandillani (open-air campground).
Food en route: Locals at Challapampa and San Francisco can prepare simple meals.
Getting back: Public transport is scarce in Chairo, so expect to pay as much as 200 BOB (US$30) for a taxi to Coroico, which has regular onward connections to La Paz.
Fee: 20 BOB (US$3) paid at Chucura
The other great trek near La Paz is Takesi, a shorter and less strenuous route that most complete in two days.
Much like El Choro, hikers plod along a mountainous stone-clad Inca trail before plunging down into the dense Yungas cloud forest below.
The trailhead starts at the remote village of Ventilla, from where a steep three-hour climb leads to the trail’s highest point, the disused San Francisco mine.
After conquering this desolate high Andean pass, travelers will enjoy sweeping valley views before traversing along lonely llama pastures and pristine glacial lakes.
The first sign of civilization is the endearing stone-brick town of Takesi, which offers indoor accommodation during busy periods. Alternatively, a little further down the trail is a picturesque camping ground wedged between the fork of a roaring river.
However, the high altitude here equates to frigid nights, which is why those on a two-day trip prefer to push on. Deep in the subtropical Yungas, about four hours on from Takesi, lies the warmer settlement of Kapaci. Here, a hostel provides indoor shelter and an attached camping ground with basic facilities.
A steep hour-long descent from Kapaci sees weary travelers arriving at the gushing Quimsa Chata River, the perfect spot for a swim to soothe those aching muscles. From there, the trail bobs up and down as it passes an old aqueduct before climbing to the working gold mining town of Chojlla.
Gradient: A steep climb at the beginning and a relatively gentle decline the rest of the way.
Length: 25 mi (40 km)
Standard timeframe: two days (three for a more relaxed trek)
Shelter en route: Indoor shelter at Takesi and Kapaci (more likely to be available during busy periods).
Food en route: Dinner/breakfast available at Kapaci and sometimes in Takesi.
Getting there: Take a 7am minibus from the corner of Rodriguez and Lara to the village of Ventilla (3 hours / US$2).
Getting back: Public transport from Chojlla is not always available. It may be necessary to get a taxi or hike 3.7 mi (6 km) to Yanacachi, which has better onward connections.
Although both treks are striking, they’re also fairly similar, which means it’s not necessary to hike the two if you just want a taste of the Yungas life.
El Choro takes in more of the Yungas, but can be fairly demanding on the knees. Conversely, Takesi is relatively easy although perhaps a little too short for some hikers.