The Cordillera Apolobamba circuit trek is one of South America’s best long distance hikes.

You will walk in two stunning national parks during this two-week guided tour in Bolivia.

Our expert guides take you well off-the-beaten-path in the heart of the remote mountain area of the Cordillera Apolobamba.

This is a fully supported circuit walk, one for hikers who dream of having mountain ranges all to themselves.

More on Cordillera Apolobamba Circuit trek

The first part of the trek is in part of the Madidi National Park, the largest and most important protected wilderness area that spans Bolivian highlands and Bolivian Amazon.

This seven-day circuit is in the north-eastern part of the Apolobamba mountain range through largely uninhabited countryside.

The second part of the trek takes us into the Apolobamba National Park, high into the remote Andes and the largest vicuña reservation in Bolivia.

We walk into the heart of the southern Apolobamba mountains towards the village of Curva. This is the home of the Kallawaya Indians, the shamans of the Andes.

On this guided tour in Bolivia you will see remote mountain areas, far off the beaten track.

 

Apolobamba National Park

The word Apolobamba, originally Apullu Pampa (several plateaus), is the ancient name for the Ulla Ulla plains.

Nowadays, these plains constitute the Apolobamba National Park (Area Nacional de Manejo Integrado Apolobamba), the largest Vicuña reserve in Bolivia.

Ulla Ulla boasts a swelling population of 2,500 vicuñas and healthy numbers of black ibises, Chilean flamingos, Andean geese and viscachas. The wild vicuña herds can be observed at close range.

During the day, the vicuñas graze with the alpaca. Towards evening, when their domesticated brothers and sisters head home to their stone-wall corrals, the vicuñas head off to more isolated pastures.

 

Kallawaya Indians

The land here has been home to many different peoples through the centuries. Some still survive in the lower mountain valleys.

The Kallawaya Indians, who are the most well known, are the traditional healers of the area. Highly respected throughout South America (they journey as far as Patagonia and Panama), they are expert in the use of herbal medicine.

Their art is making diagnoses by ‘reading’ a llama’s entrails or scattered coca leaves. The Kallawayas also work as arrieros on the trek.

 

Madidi National Park

The park started as a very small area between the shores of the lower Tuichi River and the Madidi River. As a result of the success of the conservation and tourism development programs more land has been brought into the protected area.

Madidi Park adjoins the Ulla Ulla wild life reservation and together they form the largest protected land area in Bolivia.



Trip Highlights

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  • Two incredible circuit treks in the heart of remote Bolivian Andes.

  • Views of soaring snow-capped mountains to accompany you.

  • Visit the shamans of the Andes, the Kallawaya Indians, in their village of Curva.

  • One of South America's top high altitude treks.

You have a great team down there in La Paz. Very organised and well equipped. I really enjoyed it. The scenery is phenomenal!!

L. Macintosh, Bolivia trekking

Full Itinerary

Day 1: Drive along south-eastern shores of Lake Titicaca, then to Pelechuco (L,D)

Today we drive along the south-eastern shores of Lake Titicaca before entering the mountain valleys that lead to the village of Escoma, an ancient indigenous settlement, and then inland towards the Ulla Ulla plains and the mountains of the Muñecas and Apolobamba ranges. It takes about 10-12 hours to reach the small town of Pelechuco (meaning foggy corner).

Pelechuco experienced an economic boom at the time of the Spanish occupation – fuelled by their lust for gold – and its streets and houses reflect this.

No Spanish remain, but there is a thriving indigenous population.

Day 2 to 8: Trek Apolobamba range, camping, return to Pelechuco, hostel (7 x B,L,D)

For 7 days, we make a circuit in the north-eastern area of the Apolobamba mountain range.

Our route will take us first up to the Sanches pass at 4,770m/15,650ft, the highest point on this first circuit.

We will trek down as low as 2,500m/8,202ft at the Chullu river.

Finally, we return back up to Pelechuco at 3,200m/10,499ft, crossing several valleys and mountain passes along the way.

The landscapes along the route, with the huge glaciers of the Apolobamba mountains on one side and the sea of clouds lying over the Amazon basin on the other side, are among the most impressive in the Bolivian cordilleras.

The biodiversity is impressive also – from the high and very cold Andean valleys to the lower lying hot and humid forests a vast array of life forms are supported.

Because of this biodiversity and the remoteness of the area, there is a great opportunity to spot all sorts of wildlife.

In addition to many species of birds (including the Andean condor), we are likely to encounter vicuña, viscacha, deer, and hopefully the Andean black bears known locally as Jucumaris.

We camp on the trek and then spend the last night in a basic hostel in Pelechuco.

Day 9: Return to La Paz or continue on to next trek (B)

Return to La Paz or continue on to next trek.

Day 10: Start trek, cross Keani pass 4,800m, camp at Piedra Grande (B,L,D)

We cross the Keani pass 4,800m/15,748ft and then drop into the Ilo Ilo valley. Our knees feel the steep descent.

We follow the stream down to the village of Palca. There are many Palcas in Bolivia, the word, in Aymara language means Y shape (the confluence of two rivers or valleys).

Our second camp will be at Piedra Grande, a fabulous spot surrounded by soaring mountains.

Day 11: Trek highest pass at 5,100m, trek to Sunchilli valley, camp (B,L,D)

Today is our greatest challenge with a long climb up to the highest pass of the trek at 5,100m/16,732ft.

On the way we head up through a valley planted with potato crops until we find ourselves beside glaciers, and enter the very heart of the cordillera.

Within 5 to 6 hours walk we reach Sunchilli valley, a gold-rich valley that has been exploited since time immemorial.

When the Spanish arrived they took over the mines, and the Incas cursed them for this. The Spanish established a village at the base of the mountains but an earthquake loosened masses of ice from the surrounding glaciers and the ensuing avalanche of ice, mud and rocks completely destroyed the settlement.

These days there are still many small mining operations in the area.

We camp at the ruins of a mine at 4,500m/14,764ft.

Day 12: Climb to pass and trek to base of Akamani (5,880m), camp (B,L,D)

We begin the day with a climb to the pass.

Following llama paths and a secondary road on and off, we then continue walking over rolling hills approaching the sacred mountain of the Callawayas.

Called Akamani, it stands at 5,880m/19,291ft, an impressive sight.

Today we set up our camp on a grassy plain bordered by two glacial streams.

Day 13: Trek to Curva 3,600m, camp (B,L,D)

Today is our last day of trekking, which means the last pass to cross.

After a long climb a walk through vegetable and medicinal plant plots brings us to Curva at 3,600m/11,811ft, were we set up camp.

Day 14: Return to La Paz (B)

Today we head back to La Paz.


Prices From $3,880 / £3,104 per person

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What's Included?

English-speaking trek guide, kit transport, cook and dining tent, all group camping equipment, and private transport to and from the trek, meals and water from lunch day 1 to lunch day 14, park entry fees.

What's Not Included?

International flights (we can look for prices for you), travel insurance, sleeping bag, items of a personal nature, sleeping bag, tips.


Accommodation

Camping we use top quality two-man tents on all treks, with a dining tent for meals.

Toilets are a mix of pit latrines and toilet tents.

Tour Staff

All guides are certified, bilingual, English-speaking guides who have worked with us for many years.

Cooks, mule drivers and additional staff are all from the local, nearby community of Kallawaya Indians and we have worked with them for a long time.


Meals

Vegetarians and many other dietary requirements are catered for without problems. Please let us know in advance of any requirements you have.

You wake early, usually around 07.00. Breakfast is served in a dining tent, and consists of hot drinks, porridge, toast, jams and bread, and your guide will explain the day’s trekking plans.

Lunch is usually around 13.00 and can feature soups, meats, salads and fish, with vegetarian options and hot drinks too.

The campsites are comfortable and around 17.00 hot drinks, popcorn and other snacks are served to help you recover energy.

Dinner is served around 19.30, and will feature pasta, quinoa, mashed potatoes, meat, fish or vegetarian options, followed by hot drinks and a pudding.

Activity Level

We have classified this as a strenuous trek, and you need to be in good physical shape and very well acclimatised before starting the trek.

You will walk 6-8 hours for almost two weeks including over high passes – the highest is at 5,100m/16,732ft – and we walk and sleep at high altitude throughout this trip.

Pre-trip preparation should include challenging cardiovascular exercise (including regular hikes on varied terrain) and a healthy, balanced diet.

Well-worn hiking boots are highly recommended.

All guests are encouraged to hike at their own pace, taking breaks whenever needed, to ensure a successful and enjoyable trek for all.

Most people go to bed fairly early after a long day trekking, to recover energy for the morning.

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Practical Information

An introduction to Bolivia

Land-locked Bolivia is a country of dramatic landscapes and fascinating native cultures and traditions.

The Altiplano or “High Plain”, averaging 3,800m, is its most populous region. The vast, luminous plateau is flanked to east and west by parallel Andean ranges.

La Paz, the world’s highest capital, lies in a deep canyon at the edge of the Altiplano, and at the foot of Illimani (6,400m). It is a striking city for its dramatic setting and its strong Indian character.

Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake. It was sacred to the Incas; according to legend, their founding emperor-gods rose from these waters to give birth to their empire. Just south of the lake stands the sacred pre-Inca site of Tiahuanaco.

Geography of Bolivia

On the south-western Altiplano are the Uyuni Salt Flats, the largest in the world. Here, the shimmering white salt pan and deep blue sky combine to create a truly magical spectacle.

The stunning Cordillera Real is a mountain range dominated by huge snow peaks, including Illimani and Illampu (6,380m). The Real divides the northern Altiplano from the tropical forests to the east. The Cordillera Real’s eastern slopes are characterized by the deep, sub-tropical Yungas gorges.

Further south, the tropical Chapare is the agricultural heart of Bolivia. East of this band of high forests and plantations lies Bolivia’s Oriente, a vast swathe of Amazonian jungle and savanna accounting for 2/3 of the country and featuring some of the last untouched wilderness on earth.

In the north-eastern Department of Beni, some 50% of the country’s mammals and birds reside. Below, and in no special order, we outline some of the top places to go and things to do.

Kit list

Good kit is vital for every trip.

Book with Andean Trails and get 15% off Páramo’s fantastic ethical and high performance outdoor gear.

 

Overview

When planning for the varied climatic conditions encountered, layering is the most practical and versatile clothing system.  It’s worth remembering that our clothing keeps us warm by retaining and isolating the heat we ourselves create.

To best maintain body heat, several layers of lightweight, warm and quick-drying clothing are far more efficient than one or two thick layers. Layers should have the following qualities:

 

  1. Breathability (able to wick away the humidity produced by sweat):
  2. Isolation (able to keep in the warm air our body produces); and
  3. Impermeability (able to impede the passing of wind and water).

 

First (base) layer: This layer wicks the sweat away from our skin, thus helping keep the body dry and warm. To this end, synthetic fabrics such as polypropylene should be used.

Mid layers: These isolating layers should also be synthetic (e.g. the known polar linings such as polartec or windblock, which are light and insulate twice as well as wool). Very important layers for retaining body heat.

Outer layer / shell: Finally, the vital layer which protects us from climatic adversities. A breathable, wind-proof and waterproof anorak, such as Goretex.

Give plenty of thought to kit selection, and try to keep weight down.

We also carry an extensive first aid kit & oxygen on all trips, but these are generally for emergencies only.

Below is a more detailed kit list.

 

Detailed kit list

  • 2 pairs synthetic inner socks (e.g. polypropylene, thermastat, coolmax) and 2 pairs thick loop-stitch/wool socks for cold.
  • Trekking boots – should be well broken-in, waterproof and provide good ankle support.
  • Trainers/sandals for city-wear, evenings at lower camps & river crossings.
  • Base layer leggings (1 pair).
  • Thick fleece leggings (or salopettes) (1 pair).
  • Goretex-type over-trousers (or salopettes) (1 pair).
  • Trekking trousers (2 pairs).
  • Shorts – wear sparingly in early stages at altitude, as sun burns.
  • Thermal base layer shirts (2).
  • Microfleece mid-layer shirt (1).
  • Shirt/t-shirt 1 or 2 for lower altitudes. Long-sleeved, collared shirt protects against sun
  • Fleece jacket or similar (1).
  • Warm jacket (down or synthetic). For camp and upper slopes.
  • Waterproof Goretex-type jacket.
  • Broad-brimmed sunhat, essential.
  • Warm hat, fleece or wool. (N.B. Up to 30% of body heat can be lost through the head).
  • Sunglasses with UV filter.
  • Scarf for cold.
  • Bandanna – to protect neck from strong sun.
  • Light inner gloves
  • Warm gloves, e.g. fleece, and outer waterproof gloves or mittens (1 pair)
  • Mittens allow you to keep the fingers together, and better conserve heat (though they also make it difficult to perform certain tasks).
  • Daypack (at least 30 litres). Comfortable and with waterproof lining or cover.
  • Large rucksack or suitcase.
  • Pair of telescopic trekking poles (can be rented).
  • Duffel bag or large rucksack for extra clothing, carried by horse/mule/porter while you are trekking.
  • Sleeping bag (3-4 season, can be rented).
  • Water bottle (2 litres approx.) & purification tablets.
  • Personal first-aid kit to include: painkillers, plasters (band-aids), moleskin, anti-biotic cream, general antibiotics (ask your GP), after-bite (tiger balm), anti-diarrhoea tablets, throat lozenges, re-hydration salts & personal medication.
  • Insect repellent.
  • Towel & wash-kit.
  • Wet Wipes/antiseptic hand-wash cream.
  • Toilet paper (1)
  • Sunscreen (factor 30+) and lip salve.
  • Head-lamp (plus spare bulb and batteries).
  • Penknife.
  • Travel alarm clock.
  • Plastic bags – ‘Zip-loc’ & tough bin liners.
  • Camera and film / memory cards (take at least twice the amount you think you will need!). Print & slide film is available locally. Polarising filter is recommended for SLR cameras.
  • Book, e-book, mp3 player/ipod or other for free time.
  • Binoculars.
  • Spanish/English phrasebook.
  • Extra snacks i.e. cereal bars or favourite chocolate bars.

All other non-personal trekking camping gear e.g. tents, cutlery etc is provided.

 

Miscellaneous others

  • Money belt.
  • Passport.
  • U.S. dollars cash, mixed-denomination notes, undamaged and unmarked.
  • ATM cash/credit card.
  • Any inoculation certificates.
  • Personal & medical insurance certificates.
  • Presents e.g. Postcards from home.
  • Comfortable clothes for travel, smart clothes for night life.

ATOL holiday protection

Andean Trails has two decades of experience of dealing with South America holidays.

We pay a fee to the CAA for every licensable passenger we book since we hold an Air Travel Organiser’s Licence granted by the Civil Aviation Authority. In the unlikely event of our insolvency, the CAA will ensure that you are not stranded abroad and will arrange to refund any money you have paid to us for an advance booking.

We also offer ATOL (Civil Aviation Authority) protected holidays to give our customers peace of mind when booking and travelling.

When you buy an ATOL protected air holiday package from Andean Trails Ltd you will receive a Confirmation Invoice from us confirming your arrangements and your protection under our Air Travel Organiser’s Licence number 6275.

You can read more about ATOL, who is covered and what protections you have if not ATOL-covered, on our ATOL page.

 

What is ATOL?

The CAA’s ATOL scheme offers protection to your money and your holiday if you book with us. Not everybody is covered (see ‘Who is covered?’ for more), as you must purchase an ‘air package holiday’ with Andean Trails to be protected.

And  ‘air package holiday’ is defined as including a flight and some ground services (hotel, transfer, trek etc). This is also known as an ‘ATOL-protected holiday’.

 

Who is covered?

To be covered by ATOL, you must book a flight and some ground services with us and be from the UK. If you are from the UK and only book ground services and no flights, you are not covered by ATOL (see below for more on how non-ATOL clients are covered).

If you are outside the UK and buy flights with us, you will be ATOL protected IF any of the flights booked with Andean Trails touches/stops in the UK at any point during your holiday package booked with us.

If you buy your flights elsewhere, please check with that agent if you are ATOL protected. Be careful with online flight purchases and make sure you know what protection you have, if any, before paying for flights.

Not all holiday or travel services offered and sold by us will be protected by the ATOL scheme. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking.

For land only holidays not involving any air travel, in accordance with “The Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992”, all UK passengers booking with Andean Trails Ltd. are fully protected for the initial deposit and subsequently the balance of all money paid to us, arising from cancellation or curtailment of travel arrangements due to the insolvency of Andean Trails.

 

I’m not ATOL covered, what protection do I have?

If you are not ATOL covered, any payments you make to us go to a Trust account.

We can only access this money once your tour has been completed, meaning that if anything happens to Andean Trails Limited while you are on holiday, then your money is secure and you can either complete the trip or be able to make it home.

If you pay for your holiday with a credit card, some offer payment protection – please check with your cardholder.

You also should have cancellation protection written into your insurance (which we recommend you have at the time of booking) in case you need to cancel.

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