From casual strolls to adventurous treks, day hikes around La Paz offer phenomenal views of natural landscapes.
Some travel to La Paz for the fascinating indigenous culture, while others come for the booze-fueled fiestas. Outdoorsy types, however, may have a different objective in mind: to hike the marvelous landscapes of the Andes. Rather than jumping straight into a multi-day trek or a demanding mountain climbing foray, it’s wise to undertake a few easy acclimatization hikes first. Here are the best around town.
To ease into things as you adjust to the altitude, take a leisurely hour-long stroll around the lunar-like landscapes of the aptly named Moon Valley. We wouldn’t classify this tiny trail as “hiking” per se, but the scenery is spectacular nonetheless. Eons of wind and rain have caused its clay and sandstone surface to erode into a series of strange pointy spires, which creates a striking and surreal effect.
Independent travelers can grab any southbound bus (3 BOB / US$0.50) from the Prado in the center of La Paz marked “Mallasa” or “Calacoto.” If taking the latter, disembark at Calle Ocho de Calacoto and change to a Mallasa bus. Alternatively, a taxi should set you back 35 BOB (US$5) each way.
Meandering through the tranquil green meadows of Palca and into its dramatic sandstone canyon is a quintessential La Paz day trip. Natural splendor aside, the journey provides a fascinating glimpse into rural Bolivian life. The gentle five-hour downhill excursion can be enjoyed both independently or as part of a tour. If going without a guide, grab any minibus from the center marked Uni and jump out at the village. Next, head downhill back towards the way you came and into the gaping mouth of the canyon. From here, cruise through the biggest canyon corridor along the river until you pop out at the other side. A short hike past the exit is the mystical Valle de las Animas (Spirit Valley), a mind-boggling labyrinth of tapered sandstone spires. You’ll inevitably get lost, so head back downhill when you’re done in order to escape the maze.
Perched on a hill overlooking the Zona Sur (South Area), this pointy tooth-like rock formation is a popular spot for locals looking to escape the city for an hour or two.
To get there, either take a taxi (80 BOB / US$11 one-way) to Pedregal or a minibus combo. By bus, make your way to Mallasa (see above) and look for a connection to Pedregal. From there, it’s a steep one-hour uphill hike to the Muela.
Ever dreamed of climbing a sky-high mountain even though you’re no athlete? Well, at Chacaltaya you can do just that. This 17,700-foot (5,395-meter) peak requires minimal physical effort to summit. There’s no public transport, so grab a tour with a local agent that will drop you off near the top. From there, it’s a brief uphill walk to the peak, at which point you’ll be struggling to breathe only due to the thin mountain air. A sad fact: Chacaltaya was the world’s highest ski resort until its glacier fully melted due to climate change back in 2009. Visitors can still view the remnants of Bolivia’s only snowfield today.
For the best possible vantage point of the Cordillera Real, nowhere within a day trip of La Paz beats the stunning 360-degree panorama of Pico Austria. Again, it’s remote so you’ll need a tour (see below) to get there. At 17,454 feet (5,320 meters), Pico Austria falls just short of Chacaltaya, but that doesn’t mean it’s a cinch to reach. Hikers must tackle a steep four-hour ascent from the trailhead, entailing around 3,000 feet (1,000 meters) of altitude gain. Pro tip: Ensure you’ve acclimatized before giving this a try. It’ll all be worth it at the top, though, as the views of the majestic mountain range are – literally and figuratively – breathtaking.