Our Favourite Day Trips From La Paz, Bolivia

With its unique location close to the Andes mountains, the Altiplano and the jungle, there is an endless list of possible day trips to keep you busy around La Paz. Here are our favourite day trips that we enjoyed during our time in La Paz.

Camino del Muerte (Death Road)

Dressed in full helmets, elbow and knee pads, we were ready to tackle Camino del Meurte (Death Road). For many years this narrow gravel road was the only way people could get from La Paz to regions in the northeast. The road descends from the “La Cumbre” (summit) at 4,650 meters all the way down to the Yungas region at 1,200 m (3,900 ft). That’s a loss of 3,450 m in less than 70 km. This curvy, gravel road has a mountain wall on one side and an unprotected 1,000 m shear cliff on the other. In many places the road is barely wide enough for one vehicle and yet it is a two-way road. When it was used as a major thoroughfare 200 – 300 people died in motor vehicle accidents on it every year.

Finally in 2007 a new paved highway was opened with wider lanes, tunnels and guard rails. Since the new road opened, Camino del Muerte has been used by mountain bikers as a place to go for a fun downhill ride.

We started biking from La Cumbre. The first 8 km of the bike ride was on asphalt. The guides used this section to assess our riding skills and make sure we were all capable handling the upcoming ride. The disconcerting part was the number of witches we saw at La Cumbre. We tried not to upset them for fear of being cursed before descending Death Road.

After we proved our capabilities on the asphalt, we were ready to bike down the old gravel road. Hunched over on our mountain bikes we quickly gained speed on the initial straightaway section of the road. Just before reaching the first series of sharp corners we slowly applied the brakes as our tires spun out on the lose gravel. Since we do a lot of single track mountain biking at home maneuvering around the next 66 km of tight switchbacks wasn’t difficult, but our hands and shoulders were tired from the constant jarring of the uneven road.

As a bike ride, it’s not actually dangerous. There are still many sharp corners, steep drop-offs and thick gravel, so caution is needed, but what is narrow for a bus is plenty wide for a bicycle.

In total we biked down 3,450 m on a steep 66 km winding, gravel road. On the way we had a few stops so we could both enjoy the view and see the terrain that was coming next. Even though it wasn’t dangerous, it was still a fun and unique way to spend the day.

At the end of the ride we enjoyed a late lunch in the warm climate at 1,200 m (3,900 ft). The temperature in the jungle was much different than in La Paz where we began our day.

Tour Operators – There are many places in La Paz near Calle Sagarnaga that offer these bike trips. We went with the company No Fear and were very happy with their bikes and guides.

Tiwanaku

Not far from Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian Altiplano is a relatively unknown pre-Incan site. In approximately 110 AD the Tiwanaku people established a settlement that survived almost 1,000 years. Covered in sand for centuries, only 20 percent of the ancient ruins have been uncovered today.

The interesting part of visiting this site was learning about the large boulders and stones used to build the temple walls. Massive volcanic boulders weighing close to 100 tons were brought from the Kapia Volcano in Peru a staggering 65 km away. It is not known for sure, but researchers believe that the boulders were brought on reed rafts that were floated across Lake Titicaca. The rafts would have been similar to the ones used by the indigenous living on Lake Titicaca today. During the Tiwanaku civilization times, the city reached the edges of the lake and from there the boulders would have been floated through the city on canals.

These volcanic rocks were used as pillars in the construction of temple walls. Others were used as standing stone monoliths with important mythological creatures and ceremonial customs carved into them.

Between the large volcanic boulders were smaller red sandstone rocks cut into bricks. The original volcanic pillars remain standing today, but the red sandstone bricks had to be replaced with new ones. The originals were taken by the Spanish to build churches. We saw one of these churches in the nearby village of Tiwanaku.

Unlike the volcanic rock, the red sandstone was brought from the nearby mountains. Even though the mountains were relatively close, it would have been no easy feat to haul the giant sandstone slabs to the city. The heaviest ones remaining on the site are 130 – 180 tons.

The Tiwanaku carpenters were very skilled at cutting the stones. Exact cuts ensured the joints fit together perfectly. As well, perfect edges were made when engraving the Tiwanaku Cross. Even today, researches don’t know how they were able to make such precise cuts in the hard rock. Equally impressive is their technology to join the stones. They used interlocking patterns and metal keys to make their walls stable. These techniques were later copied and improved upon by the Incas.

An interesting part of the Tiwanaku culture is their shamans. The on-site museum has mummified remains of one of them. It is believed that the shamans were selected because they were breech babies. The hours old infant had a hole drilled in their skull and then their head was wrapped in tight bandages. This would cause their skull to elongate as they grew. There were always 14 active shamans at a time, divided equally between men and women.

Inside the museum a 24 foot tall monolith of a male shaman is the largest known Tiwanaku statue. It has been carved to have the physical features of a shaman dressed in ceremonial dress with images of important mythological creatures. Pictures weren’t allowed in the museum, but there were other, smaller monoliths in the outdoor temples.

There are three temples at the Tiwanku site. The first is a raised temple for the shamans (Akapana). Beside it is a submerged temple (Kantatallita) with 270 head carvings coming out of the walls. The third is a large temple (Kalasasaya) with a stone Sun Gate. Unfortunately not much of these temples remain.

Admittedly the remains that are left are a little underwhelming. Much of the ruins are still buried and those that have been uncovered were looted; first by the Incas and then the Spanish. If you do visit, it’s worth it to take a guide. Without one, you wouldn’t understand most of the site.

Finding a tour – It is quite difficult to get information about this tour in La Paz. Some hotels and hostels offer tours, or there is a kiosk at the Terminal de Buses that sells tickets for the tour. You are picked up at the bus station between 8 and 9 am.

Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon)

On the edge of La Paz is a small park with an interesting landscape. Looking as if it were a part of the moon, tall cliffs of clay have been eroded by wind and water making unusual looking pillars, craters, gullies and caves.

You’ll find all sorts of cacti in many shapes and thorny bushes growing in the harshest settings.

There are 2 walking routes in the park; a 15 minute trail and a 45 minute trail. We suggest taking the longer trail because you wouldn’t see much on the 15 minute trail. It is a small park and we recommend seeing it only if you’re not visiting other parts of Bolivia. There are similar landscapes in larger settings in other parts of the country.

Getting to Valle de la Luna – Take the Green Teleferico to its end and walk to Calle 8 where you can catch a shared minibus.

Coming Next – A Bolivian Safari

For pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca

To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.

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