Situated just 30km from the vibrant and city of La Paz, Chacaltaya Mountain is a must-see attraction for active travellers who want to experience more than just the traditional tourist trails that Bolivia has to offer.
Cerro Chacaltaya stands an impressive 5,421m above sea-level, and from 1939 to 2009, it held the title of the highest ski resort in the world. While its facilities were somewhat rustic when compared to the ski resorts of Europe, the United States, and New Zealand, its 18,000-year-old glaciers attracted both Bolivia’s elite and skiing enthusiasts from across the world, and it would have still been open today if it were not for global warming.
In the early 1980s, scientists warned that the glaciers on Chacaltaya were melting at such an alarming rate, that the mountain would be snow free by 2015. Sadly, their calculations were out by a whopping six years, and in 2009 the world’s highest ski resort closed due to a complete lack of snow.
While it is sad that one can no longer ski on Mount Chacaltaya, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit! One can still hike to the top of its impressive peak, and if you’re worried that you might not manage to hike to 5,421m in just a few hours, you’ll be pleased to know that you can drive all the way up to 5,200m, and so you only have just over 200m to reach the peak.
It’s relatively steep, but most definitely doable, and the views from the top of Chacaltaya are quite simply stunning. On a clear day, you can see both Lake Titicaca and several of Bolivia’s highest mountains including Huayana Potosi from the top of the mountain, along with spectacular vistas of La Paz. While the journey on the way up should be described as ‘bumpy’, it passes beautiful lakes and pristine Andean landscapes dotted with wildlife, so don’t forget to take your camera!
While the restaurant on Chacaltaya no longer serves food, it is possible to get a hot chocolate or a Mate de Coca (Coca Tea) most days (if they decide to open that day!), so take a few Bolivianos with you. Mate de Coca is especially good if you are feeling the effects of altitude, and as the café is almost as high as Everest Base Camp, it’s not uncommon for travellers to feel a bit light-headed!
Cerro Chacaltaya is well worth a visit during your trip to Bolivia, and if you are planning on trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or climbing Mount Aconcagua, this is a great way to acclimatise for your next adventure.