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Royal Cordillera

North of La Paz

The Royal Range of the Andes (Cordillera Real)

Your journey across the Bolivian Andes may lead you towards the north of La Paz (e.g. Condoriri Massif, Apolobamba Mountain Range...) or east into the subtropical valleys of the Yungas region.

In this page we'll discuss the North Andean Region.

For trips east of La Paz, please refer to the Yungas section in this website.


Among Bolivia’s protected areas, the Royal Mountain Range (Cordillera Real de los Andes) is remarkably accessible thanks to its proximity to La Paz, yet its seemingly limitless number of nooks and crannies, often uninhabited, or if not, populated by rugged llama herders who carve out a unique life at an obscene altitude, offer a wealth of options for the traveler.

Hiking and trekking opportunities abound. Trips to more remote places such as the Kallawaya ethnic group –at the foot of Apolobamba mountain range– offer astonishing landscapes and several alternatives for hikes and treks.

Populated by isolated Aymara communities who cultivate the lower slopes and valleys and raise llamas and alpacas on the high pastures, the cordillera is a largely pristine natural environment.

 
A brief Andean Panorama

Check for Condoriri Nature Reserve —the nearest protected area around La Paz, providing excellent opportunities for excursions into the heart of the Andes—, Lake Milluni, Lake Tuni, Zongo subtropical valleys, or the mountain slopes of Chacaltaya or Charquini... and the steep peaks of Condoriri, landmarks which preside over valuable natural resources and breathtaking beauty.

Easily accessible from the city of La Paz, these mountains are perfect for climbing and trekking. Indeed, spending a few days walking above the tree line amongst the lofty peaks or down the steep eastern slopes into the tropical valleys of the Yungas is the only way to really appreciate the overwhelming splendor of the Andean landscape.

The mighty Andean condor is still a common sight here, circling on thermal currents above deep ravines or nesting amongst lonely mountain spires, and other birds like eagles, caracaras and hawks are also frequently seen. Though rarely spotted, pumas still prowl the upper reaches, while the elusive Andean spectacled bear roams the high cloudforest that fringes the mountains' upper eastern slopes.

The Andes are not only the beautiful snow-covered peaks described in tourist guides. The region also includes the immense Altiplano, mesothermic valleys like Sorata (see below), at the foot of Illampu, and also the eastern slopes that bend through the narrow green gorges of the Yungas (see East of La Paz in this website) on their way to the Amazon Basin, setting the stage for a number of adventurous excursions.

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Peaks of the Bolivian Andes

The Royal Range

The Royal Range stretches for about 160 km along the northeastern edge of the Altiplano, just east of Lake Titicaca, and is the loftiest and most dramatic section of the Cordillera Oriental—the eastern branch of the Andes. With six peaks over 6,000 metres high and many more over 5,000 metres, it forms a jagged wall of soaring, ice-bound peaks that separates the Altiplano from the tropical lowlands of the Amazon basin.

With so many high peaks, the Cordillera Real is obviously an excellent place for mountain climbing. While serious climbers should bring all their own equipment from home, less experienced climbers can also scale some of these high peaks with help from our team of associated specialists and professional mountain guides here.

Huayna Potosí / Condoriri Massif

For instance, Huayna Potosí (6,088 metres), just about 25 km north of La Paz in the Cordillera Real, is one of the few peaks in South America over 6,000 metres that can be climbed by people with no mountaineering experience.

The Condoriri Massif is a group of 13 equally attractive peaks requiring different abilities to climb them, and where the Nevado Condoriri (5,648 m) is the highest and most imposing mountain in the group.

For most people the Condoriri glacial area is simply the scene of a true escape from the world as we know it into the heart of the Royal Cordillera, in areas rarely touched by human beings.

Native Aymaras see in this mountain the figure of a giant condor with its extended wings (Condoriri = "head of the condor" in Aymara). Standing out among the surrounding peaks, Mount Condoriri spreads like a bird ready to take off and is truly one of the most beautiful snow-covered sceneries of the Cordillera Real. The area was declared a national park 1942.

Although the peaks of the Condoriri complex are not the highest of the region, they are no less impressive and easy access allows the traveler to make a short and pleasing intrusion into nature at its purest.

Condoriri group offers a wide array of excursions/expeditions. Depending on your skills and interests, choose from a day long hike along the mountain slopes (no experience required) or a 5-day guided ascent to the summits (experienced mountaineers).

Illampu Massif and Sorata Valley

Some 150 km north of La Paz, you will find a deep, fertile valley, patchworked with green fields at the foot of the mighty 6,424-metre Illampu massif. The small town of Sorata (from the Aymara word “shuru ahta” or “shining mountain”) has a beautiful setting and Mount Illampu is one of the most elegant peaks of the Royal Cordillera.

Hemmed in on all sides by steep mountain slopes and often shrouded in cloud, the eternal spring inter-Andean valley of Sorata has a real Shangri-la feel — the contrast with the harsh Altiplano is so striking that early Spanish explorers compared the valley to the Garden of Eden. Set at an altitude of 2,695m, it also enjoys a significantly warmer climate than La Paz, but is still cool and fresh at night compared to the Yungas.

Sorata

Sorata’s subtropical climate and lush scenic beauty has been the inspiration of poets and romantics, as well as foreign expatriates who arrive there for a temporary stay and then decide to never leave.

Sorata offers several possibilities for dramatic but mellow footpath excursions, including a fascinating bat cave which involves a 24-kilometer round trip from town with a high road panoramic path or a low-road riverside path as alternatives.

The trip itself from La Paz is particularly attractive for its great diversity of scenery, from Lake Titicaca, chugging up the semi-arid puna, over a pass at the foot of the highest peaks of the Andes, and then winding down the hairpin turns into the semi-tropic green gorge where the colonial town of Sorata is perched in a natural ledge. Consider two or three days for a memorable excursion to Sorata.

Cordillera de Apolobamba

North of Lake Titicaca, flush with the Peruvian border, rises the Cordillera Apolobamba, the remote northern extension of the Cordillera Oriental. The splendour of the high mountain scenery in this isolated range equals or even exceeds that of the Cordillera Real, and the environment is even more pristine. The region is now protected by Apolobamba National Park, which covers nearly 5,000 square kilometres and is home to a small number of mostly Quechua- and Aymara-speaking farmers and herders.

The range is still rich in Andean wildlife which is only rarely seen elsewhere: condors, caracaras and other big birds are frequently seen; pumas and spectacled bears still roam the most isolated regions; and large herds of vicuña can be seen from the road which crosses the plain of Ulla Ulla, a high plateau that runs along the western side of the range.

The Cordillera Apolobamba is also home to Bolivia's most mysterious indigenous culture, the Kallawayas, itinerant herbalists, famous throughout the Andes, who preserve secret healing techniques handed down over generations and still speak an arcane language that may have come to them from the Incas.

click here to openKallawaya Medicine Men

This is a pilgrimage up to the andean sources of wisdom and natural health.

Northwest of sacred Lake Titicaca live the Kallawayas, healers and masters of natural medicine. The Kallawayas know how to treat the body and the mind. Kallawayas legend says that their healing powers come from Achachila, the soul of one of the snowcapped peaks of the Andes, the sacred Akamani.

The Kallawayas of Bolivia are famous all over South America for their expertise in herbal medicine and white magic.

Before the Egyptians were doing brain surgery, the Kallawaya shamans performed these delicate operations, had discovered antibiotics, and were truly the Medicine Men of South America, traveling the length of the continent in search of plants and herbs for healing body and mind.

The Kallawayas were among the first to use penicillin, streptomycin and quinine and they knew more than 200 plants and natural products to aid in healing.

Driven underground by the Spanish, the shamanic, Kallawaya traditions continued to exist over the centuries, although practically unknown to the non-Indian world. Join us on an exploration of the fascinating medicinal and cultural world of these shamans, visit villages where they lived, and talk to their descendants.

They also believe that you first have to heal the soul in order to heal the body. Today modern medicine also uses this approach, which recognizes that healthy mind and spirit are essential in physical health and well-being. The mysterious Coca leave has been used by the natural medicine for thousand of years: it has vitamins and minerals and a unique effect on hunger control or potent skin treatment elements. The Kallawayas were also among the earliest healers to adopt preventive medicine techniques focusing on spiritual health and strength through mysticism and ancient methods.

In Bolivia natural medicine is legally recognized and these natural medicine doctors are authorized by law to practice medicine like any other MD. Due to their wisdom of nature's secrets, Bolivia was declared the cradle of natural medicine (Natural Medicine World Congress, Mexico, 1988). Most of all the Andean Cosmovision of the Kallawaya was inscribed in 2008 on the UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Plan a 3-day or 4-day trip for best initiatic experience.

Tourist infrastructure is virtually nonexistent in this isolated region, but for the adventurous it offers perhaps the best high-mountain trekking in Bolivia. The only real villages are Pelechucho and Charazani, both of which can be reached by tough but spectacular overland journeys from La Paz. Between the two runs the fabulous four- or five-day Trans-Apolobamba Trek, which takes you through the heart of the range, past glacier-covered peaks and through traditional indigenous hamlets. Ask us for this trek.

 

The Royal Range is accessible from La Paz.

La Paz

Through our intimate, small-group tours and private expeditions in this area you will be able to visit sites most tourists, even seasoned travelers, never find.

Join us on a discovery of a lifetime in La Paz.

Check our selected excursions in this area:

ESSENTIAL LA PAZ — 4 days

La Paz & Lake Titicaca
{ short bolivia excursion - fully customizable }

The following packages also include this area
among other destinations.

ESSENTIAL BOLIVIA — 5 days

La Paz / Tiwanaku / Lake Titicaca / La Paz
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

DISCOVER CULTURAL BOLIVIA — 8 days

Santa Cruz / Sucre / Potosí / La Paz
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

BOLIVIA's NATURE RESERVES — 8 days

La Paz / Sajama & Lauca National Parks / Rurrenabaque / Madidi & Pilon Lajas National Parks / La Paz
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

BOLIVIA CROSSING — 8 days

From Peru to La Paz via Lake Titicaca / Uyuni Salt Flats & Sud Lípez / to Northern Chile or Argentina
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

GENESIS OF THE ANDEAN CULTURE — 10 days

La Paz / Tiwanaku / Lake Titicaca / Puno / Cuzco / Machu Picchu
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

ARTS & CRAFTS OF BOLIVIA — 13 days

Santa Cruz / Cochabamba / Sucre / La Paz
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

BOLIVIA EXPLORER — 15 days

Santa Cruz / Sucre / Potosí / Uyuni / Sud Lípez / La Paz / Lake Titicaca
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

BOLIVIA ANDES & AMAZONIA — 15 days

La Paz / Cochabamba / Trinidad / Santa Cruz
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }

BOLIVIA SPECIAL DEPARTURES — 13 days

Santa Cruz / Sucre / Potosí / Uyuni / La Paz
{ special itinerary - small group travel }

Feel free to customize any travel package according to your own personal interests and the specific activities you expect...

Join us on one of our Natural History Tours or a Cultural Exploration into the heart of South America. Our programs are offered throughout the year, on a (very) small group basis and mostly in private.

You may also want to make an enquiry or design your own program of activities in this area.

Plan A Trip

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Go back to our Trip Selection Page or design your own special itinerary using our Bolivia Travel Planner.

Bolivia Group Tour & Fixed Departures

Call us to help you plan the best active, outdoor exploration to meet your interests, time, budget and abilities. You will be accompanied by expert local guides specializing in each region.

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Speak to a member of our team. We'll answer your questions, provide advice, help you book your Bolivia Trip, and most of all we'll help you customize your tours for people who don't like tours in Bolivia.

You may also check other Special Interest Travel and unusual tours or expeditions around Bolivia, including:

• La Paz, Tiwanaku, Lake Titicaca
• Uyuni Salt Flats & Sud Lípez Red & Green Lagoons
• Colonial Cities of Sucre and Potosí
• Central, Inter-Andean Valleys of Cochabamba
• Santa Cruz - the Lowlands & Jesuit Missions
• Bolivian Rainforests & Amazon Basin
• Cuzco & Machu Picchu Extensions

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