By: Rubén Mamani-Paco

One the most amazing views when arriving to La Paz is the magnificent Andes Mountains.  On a clear day one can see Illimani, Mururata and Huayna Potosi!  All of them are covered in perpetual snow and a challenge for high mountain enthusiasts.  Another option and site worth visiting for the average person not wanting to put on crampons and climb up ice, is Mount Chacaltaya.

Mount Chacaltaya offers not just plenty of breathtaking views but also an awareness of how humanity is changing the planet, especially the disappearance of the Andean glaciers. One feels like being on top of the world when standing on the peak and gazing out over the horizon. Chacaltaya used to hold the title of the highest ski resort in the world, but because of climate change, most of the snow is gone today.  The old ski lodge still lies next to the void where inside, one can still appreciate photographs of the good old days.

Still, at 17,785 feet (5420 meters) above sea level, on a clear day one can see Mount Huayna Potosi to the North, Lake Titicaca to the Northwest, the vast Altiplano and Mount Sajama to the Southwest (the highest mountain in Bolivia), the canyon where La Paz lays, and Mounts Illimani and Mururata to the Southeast.

Ski Resort and Lodge at Chacaltaya in La Paz

The old ski lodge at Chacaltaya (Photo by Rubén Mamani-Paco)

Mount Chacaltaya is at the edge of the Andes and the beginning of the Amazon basin. From the Amazon, winds carrying clouds can be seen creeping up the slopes of the Andes. They bring much-needed water to the dams providing water to the city of La Paz. In 2016, a shortage of such humid air produced one of the worst droughts in La Paz history.  Many residents were left for weeks without access to any water! The burning of forest and crop fields in the lowlands is exacerbating the effects of climate change. Much of the smoke carried to the mountains is accelerating the melting of the glaciers because of the change in the albedo (reflectance) of the snow. The smoke produced from vehicles in the city and transported to the mountain peaks could also be making an impact on the glaciers.

Located on a slope near the top of Chacaltaya there is the Global Atmospheric Watch (GAW) research station which studies climate and air pollutant transport and it is operated by a consortium of international universities (http://www.chacaltaya.edu.bo/about-us.html).

To visit Chacaltaya, one needs to arrange a tour from La Paz since there is no public transport. Many of the tour agencies on Sagarnaga Street offer daily tours. Visitors need to be prepared for high altitude sickness or “sorojche”.  It is good to drink plenty of water and if one feels dizzy, better to rest.

Huayna Potosi view from Chacaltaya in La Paz

The view of Huayna Potosi Peak from Chacaltaya (Photo by Rubén Mamani-Paco).

 

 

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