Mount Chacaltaya + Valle de la Luna

We have loved our 2+ weeks in La Paz, Bolivia. Other travelers balk when we tell them we spent so much time there. “There’s nothing to do!” they say. And while it’s somewhat true, it’s just fine with us. We caught up on reading, enjoyed the privacy of a small, affordable apartment, walked around a lot, and ate a lot of local, cheap food.

But we did DO some things. Aside from spending an evening with the Wrestling Cholitas, we booked a short day tour of a local mountain, Chacaltaya, and the Valley of the Moon.

La Paz is a city to marvel at. It’s 1.5 million inhabitants in the city center live within a deep bowl surrounded by gorgeous, breath-taking snow capped mountains. We were eager for the chance to climb one of them!

Our tour group was 7 people including us, which was nice and small. I’m super wary of tours. I get claustrophobic. You realize quite quickly that people travel very differently and I worry that we’ll be stuck with high-maintenance people all day. But this was the only way to go, so we did it. Our tour turned out to have some interesting characters but didn’t affect our enjoyment too much.

Chacaltaya was once the highest ski resort in the world at 17,785 feet. Sadly, due to climate change, the glacier on top has melted quickly in the last few decades, which means the resort is now abandoned except for a few travelers who climb to the top each day. It was creepy to see the abandoned lodge and remnants of the ski lifts. Chacaltaya is the first extinct tropical glacier in South America. Having seen lots of glaciers in our last two months, we find this heartbreaking.


Abandoned lodge of Chacaltaya


Caught my reflection in the mirror inside the empty lodge.

The hike to the top from where our van dropped us at the lodge was very brief, but because of the altitude we couldn’t move very fast, even having acclimatized for two weeks! An Indian girl on our tour had never seen snow and was pretty nervous to step on it at such a steep incline, so I had the opportunity to coach her through it as a seasoned New Englander.


Nate on his way up!

Once we got to the top, the view was well worth it. We could even see Lake Titicaca and Peru, our destination a few days later. While at the top, the conversation somehow turned to brunch. I asked our bilingual guide if there was a similar word in Spanish: a meal you have on the weekends in the late morning with pancakes, eggs, bacon, etc. Desayunalmuerzo? He thought for a moment and said, “Oh! We have a hangover meal for the day after you drink too much. It’s lots of ham and juice.” Fits the bill.


Above the clouds on top of Mt Chacaltaya

It was freezing, so once we had enough of the mountain top we climbed down and drove for two hours across La Paz to our next destination: Valle de la Luna.


We got to walk through this truly unique landscape for about an hour, marveling at the stone formations and super deep crevasses. It was named by visitor Neil Armstrong who noted that it looked similar to the moon’s surface. If anyone would know, he would!


There are rock formations here that if you look closely, you can see images of animals or people. It’s kind of like doing a Magic Eye. Sometimes we saw them, and sometimes we didn’t. Apparently this area was once a mountain of sandstone and clay, but being battered by wind and rain over thousands of years led it to become this truly unique landscape.


We loved our time in Bolivia dearly but finally said goodbye to it yesterday as we made our way across the border and into Peru! Tomorrow we leave for a 3-day trek in Colca Canyon, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the US. We can’t wait to see that unique landscape, too.


One thought on “Mount Chacaltaya + Valle de la Luna

  1. Hi U2! Know I’m playing catch-up, but the Valle de la Luna reminded me of a place in New Mexico! Saw it on DVD of an episode of StarGate Universe (2nd spin-off). It’s not on my new atlas, but is south of Farmington and west of Nageezi and called the Bisti Badlands. There are these strange mushroom/penis-shaped formations called hoodoos, so maybe worth checking out when back here!
    Aunt Deb

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