A popular day trip for visitors to La Paz includes two nearby areas of natural beauty – Chacaltaya, a mountain that stands 5450m high, and Valle de la Luna, a unique landscape that astronaut Neil Armstrong said looks exactly like the moon.
I joined an organized tour and paid 70bs for the transportation along with 15bs each for the entrance fees to both sites. I was also advised to bring snacks and water because we would not be stopping for lunch during the tour.
A very rickety old bus picked me up at my hotel at 8am. I was expecting the bus to pick up more passengers, but I wasn’t expecting it to take over two hours and to pass by my hotel a second time. That’s exactly what happened – they pick someone up from the hotel across the street. I would’ve enjoyed the extra sleep! By the time we had picked everyone up, it was quite a multinational group. The other passengers were from England, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, and Slovenia. We all got along quite well and had some good laughs.
Getting to Chacaltaya
The bus chugged along the road to Chacaltaya, just 30km outside of La Paz. The landscape outside the city was bare and rocky and we had a stop to get a nice view of Chacaltaya and its sister mountain, the snowcapped 6000m Huayna Potosí.
We all hopped back onto the bus and continued down an extremely narrow one-way dirt road. Hairpin turn after hairpin turn, we made our way up the mountain. Looking out the window at the wrong moment was hazardous to everyone’s health. The drop was straight down and the wheels of the bus were just inches from the edge! At that moment, we christened the vehicle as “The Death Bus”.
Finally, we reached an old ski lodge near the summit of the mountain. There was a beautiful glacier that used to cover the mountain but by 2009 it was completely gone. The ski lodge is still in business but not year-round as it was in the past. Now they have to wait for snow.
The group was given an hour to climb up to the summit of the mountain, just a short 150m up a gradual slope. The altitude slowed everyone down, and eventually everyone who chose to climb made it up after about 30 minutes. Anyone who developed a headache or dizziness was advised to make their way down to the ski lodge immediately.
At the top, the views were breathtaking. On one side were snow capped mountains and Huayna Potosí. On the other side was the slope of the mountain and bare fields.
Everyone climbed back down to the ski lodge and hopped onto the Death Bus for another harrowing ride down the mountain and an hour drive to the complete other end of La Paz.
Valle de la Luna
After our time at Chacaltaya, our next stop was Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). This small park is a natural phenomenon that was created when erosion wore away part of a mountain and left tall rock formations. To me, it looked like a smaller version of the fairy chimneys at Cappadocia.
Unfortunately, after having been to Cappadocia, Valle de la Luna wasn’t all that spectacular. For the other passengers, it was much more amazing.
Once we finished at Valle de la Luna, we were dropped off in central La Paz. In my opinion, it was a fun and interesting day and allowed me a chance to see some of the diverse natural wonders around La Paz. It was also dirt cheap and well worth the price! My only complaint is that I would’ve liked a t-shirt saying “I Survived the Death Bus!”.