We were in Sucre, planning how we would reach Chile. When we realized that Bolivia’s highest mountain, the Sajama volcano, was just a few kilometers from the Chilean border. After searching for some information, we learn that the region, although rather unknown, is in fact one of the most beautiful national parks in the country. Perfect!
Welcome to the land of the llamas, alpacas and other vicuñas who graze quietly on the altiplano with in the background volcanoes among the highest in South America. And all this far from the tourist hustle and bustle of La Paz or the salar of uyuni!
Sajama National Park: Bolivia
So, Sajama National Park is not only the Sajama volcano (6548m). It is also the twin volcanoes: Parinacota (6348m) and Pomerape (6282m) that are on the other side. But also magnificent lagoons, thermal springs, llamas – alpacas – vicuñas and above all absolute tranquility.
In short, nature lovers, hikers and climbers will be absolutely delighted in this park! The small village of Sajama (perhaps 250 inhabitants) will serve as a base for you to visit the surroundings. You will find simple accommodation, some small shops with the bare minimum (no fruit and vegetables for example) and information on things to do.
- Getting to Sajama : Fortunately, the international paved road between La Paz and Arica (Chile) passes right next to the park, making it much easier to access. To get directly to the village of Sajama, the easiest way is to stop in Patacamaya. A small village located between La Paz and Oruro. (ask the bus driver to drop you there). From Patacamaya, a direct minibus to Sajama village leaves every day between 10am and 1pm (the bus leaves when it is full and costs 25 bolivianos). Thus, make sure be early enough in Patacamaya.
- Park entrance fee : Once you arrive in Sajama, you will have to pay 40 bolivianos for the entrance to the national park and you will also receive a park map.
- Hôtel : There are several small and very simple hostals in the village. We recommend the “Pachamama” at the entrance of the village. We stayed 4 nights and the Mamita who runs the house is a pure blessing! In addition, she cooks super well! which is clearly a plus in a small village where there is no way to buy much.
Things to do in the Sajama National Park
Lago Huanakota :
This lake is located 12 km from the village of Sajama. It takes 2h30 – 3h on foot to reach it by continuing on the track that arrives at the village of Sajama. You can’t miss it. Frankly, this place is breathtaking! The majestic Sajama volcano is reflected in the water while pink flamingoes and other vicuñas quench their thirst there. Pfiouhhhh, just magic! Come on, a little panorama will give you a better idea of the beauty of the place.
The Geysers :
They are located 8km from the village of Sajama. To get there you have to follow the track that goes towards the Pomerape and that goes behind the village church. Allow about 2 hours to reach them. On the way, you will probably encounter about 1000 llamas/alpagas and some wild vicuñas. There are worse ways to go for a walk. If you are lucky, you will see the geysers explode/giculate! On our side, when we arrived on the site, we saw a muddy geyser explode from afar and then… nothing in 2 hours! It seems this is quite a matter of luck 😉
Thermal Baths in Bolivia
Halfway between the Huanakota lagoon and the village of Sajama, these hot springs are a pure delight. You will splash around in very hot water (according to Fabienne it was not that easy to get in…) with a breathtaking view of the Sajama. A little tip: if you sleep at our mamita’s house in the “Pachamama”, you can swim for free in her own thermal baths. Otherwise you will have to pay 30 bolivianos for the swim!
It is impossible to miss the path that starts absolutely straight from the village in the direction of Sajama…. There are actually two mirradors. You will reach the first one in just 1 hour and you will already have a beautiful panoramic view of the area. The 2nd one seemed much higher to me. I guess it takes two more hours to get there. But I can’t tell you for sure as we didn’t go there. I had another ascent waiting for me the next day and thus wanted to spare my legs a little. ;-).
High altitude Lagunas
These altitude lagoons are located above the geysers. It is a hike that takes 2 days from the village of Sajama or 1 day if a 4×4 takes you to the geysers (although I imagine that if you leave early in the morning, you can do the tour in 1 day). We heard it was a very nice walk. But be careful, have good equipment to camp around the lagoons which are almost at 5000m altitude . Cold temperatures are clearly to be expected! (expect anything between -10°C and -15°C)
The highest forest in the world:
This is not the most spectacular thing in the park for tourists, but it is the reason why there is a national park here. The Quenua forest, which grows between 4500m and 5200m, is the highest forest in the world. #YouMightHaveLearntSmth
Climbing on top of a volcano in Bolivia
That, on the other hand, is the main reason that tourists come to the national park. You can climb the volcanoes Sajama (6548m), Parinacota (6348m) and Pomerape (6282m). I will talk to you about this point again in the next article since I climbed on the Parinacota ;). But know that there is no equipment in the village of Sajama (only the agencies of La Paz have equipment). There are only guides in the village and since you will need crampons, ice axes and harnesses to climb the Sajama and Pomerape… Guess why I chose the Parinacota 😉
Lauca National Park (Chile)
He’s the Chilean brother from Sajama National Park. It is bordered to the south by the national reserve las vicunas, the Salar de Surire and is located to the east of the city of Arica, in the far north of Chile. Its main attraction is Lake Chungara, which serves as a refuge for hundreds of bird species and offers a spectacular panorama with the Parinacota volcano in the background.
- Getting to Lauca : To get to Lauca from Sajama, take the only 6:00 bus that will drop you off on the international asphalt road at the hamlet of Laguna. From there, there are buses that shuttle to the village of Tambo where you will be blocked until around 8:00. There, ask the bus or truck drivers if they can drop you off at the Lauca refuge (where you can camp by the lagoon) or in the village of Putre to find hotels. In the meantime, you will obviously have to cross the Chilean border. Be careful, all foods such as vegetables, meat, cheese are forbidden to be taken over the border! To get to Lauca from Arica or Putre, there are 1 or 2 day tours that will stop at the main attractions or you can also hitch a ride easily as there is only one road.
- Spending the night in Lauca : There is no way to find a hotel in the national park. So it is mandatory that you camp if you want to visit the park by yourself. You can camp at the refuge which is located on the shores of Lake Chungara, near the viewpoint, for 3000 Chilean pesos. But be careful, the lake is at an altitude of more than 4500m. We camped there in mid-September (spring in Chile) and it was -10°C at night with snow. Thus, adapted equipment was mandatory. If you want to find a hotel, you will have to go to the village of Putre which is located 1 hour by car from Lake Chungara.
Review of our stay in Sajama
So I’m not going to blab for hours for nothing. See for yourself why it’s worth stopping for more than 5 minutes in this park! (we didn’t have to force ourselves for the pictures ;-)). However, if you want to explore the “la vicunas” reserve and the Surire salar, you will need a 4×4 that is easily organized from Putre.
So that’s it, Bolivia is over… and the least we can say is that we will have finished beautifully for what will remain until now the most scenic country we have ever visited. The Uyuni salt flats are also particularly noteworthy for their supernatural landscapes and these two national parks for their volcanoes, lagoons, llama/alpaca herds and the tranquility found there.
We’ll see you soon for the ascent of the Parinacota volcano!