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Sorata. Travel Guide of Sorata City, Bolivia

Welcome to our Travel Guide of Sorata City. You will find here a comprehensive information over Sorata, including Sorata hotels, Sorata history, Sorata climate, around Sorata, activities in Sorata, festivals and events, travel companies and hostels.

Sorata Travel Guide.

1. History of Sorata.

Sorata Travel Guide, Bolivia

Sorata wins many votes as the most relaxing spot in Bolivia for travelers. This laidback place preserves a crumbling colonial atmosphere in a spectacular natural setting, perched on a hillside in a valley beneath the towering snow-capped peaks of Illampu and Ancohuma. Though there is not much to do in town, it is a great spot to just chill for a few days, and a popular base camp for hikers and mountain-bikers.

In colonial days Sorata provided a link to the goldfields of Alto Beni and rubber plantations, and a gateway to the Amazon Basin. In 1791 it was the site of a distinctly unorthodox siege by indigenous leader Andrés Tupac Amaru and his 16,000 soldiers.

They constructed dykes above the town, and when these had filled with runoff from the slopes of Illampu, they opened the floodgates and the town was washed away.

2. Basic Information About Sorata.

Emergency Police at main plaza.

Immigration No immigration office in Sorata.

Internet Access Internet & Café Buho For slow and expensive internet access; on the south side of the plaza.

Laundry No laundry service.

Medical Services Emergency issue go to La Paz.

Money No ATMS at Sorata, one bank office at main plaza.

Post and Telephone Post and telephone service at main plaza.

Tourist Information No tourist information office at Sorata.

Electricity 110V.

3. Weather in Sorata.

Since La Paz is sky-high, warm clothing is desirable most of the year, at least in the evenings. In summer (November to April) the climate can be harsh: rain falls most afternoons, the canyon may fill with clouds and steep streets often become torrents of runoff. In winter (May to October) days can be slightly cooler, but the sun (and its UV rays) is strong and temperatures reach the high 60s; at night it often dips below freezing.

Temperature in Sorata, Bolivia Rainfall in Sorata, Bolivia

4. The City of Sorata.

a) Main Plaza

Sorata Travel Guide, Bolivia

There is not much of specific interest in Sorata itself – its main attractions are its historic ambience and its maze of steep stairways and narrow cobbled lanes. It is worth taking a look at Casa Günther, a rambling, historic mansion. It was built in 1895 as the home of the Richters, a quininetrading family, and was later taken over by the Günthers, who were involved in rubber extraction until 1955.

The main square, Plaza General Enrique Peñaranda, is showcase of Sorata. With the best view of the nevados from Sorata (snow-capped mountain peaks), it is graced by towering date palms and immaculate gardens.

Upstairs in the town hall on the plaza is the free Alcaldía Museum (8:00-12:00 and 14:00-17:00 Wed- Mon), containing a number of artifacts from the Inca Marka site near Laguna Chillata, and an exhibit of old festival clothing.

b) Gruta de San Pedro

Sorata Travel Guide, Bolivia

Although it is not the most spectacular of caves, a popular excursion is to the Gruta de San Pedro (San Pedro Cave, 8:00-17:00), 12km from town. The cave is approximately 400m deep with an enclosed lagoon, and though it is no longer possible to swim in it, it can be crossed with pedal boats.

It is a scenic 6km hike to the cave along a dirt road (two hours each way).Including waiting time, or else call the San Pedro Community (T. 2381695) which manages cave visits and might be able to arrange transportation.

The community has also set up two simple albergues to overnight in the community. There are a total of four rooms with a single bed in each and prices are negotiable.

Remember that all proceeds go to help the community, so be generous.

5. Around Sorata.

a) El Camino del Oro (Trail of Gold Diggers)

Sorata Travel Guide, Bolivia

For nearly 1000 years this Inca road has been used as a commerce and trade link between the Altiplano and the lowland goldfields. Indeed, the Tipuani and Mapiri valleys were major sources of the gold that once adorned the Inca capital, Cuzco.

Today, however, the fields are worked primarily by bulldozers and dredgers owned by mining cooperatives. They scour and scrape the landscape and dump the detritus, which is picked over by out-ofwork Aymará refugees from the highlands.

Fortunately, the upper part of the route remains magnificent, and almost everything between Ancoma and Chusi has been left alone, including some wonderfully exhausting Inca staircases and dilapidated ancient highway engineering.

This trek is more challenging than the Takesi and El Choro routes; if you want to get the most from it, plan on six or seven days to walk between Sorata and Llipi, less if you opt for a 4WD to Ancoma. At Llipi, find transportation to Tipuani or Guanay to avoid a walking-pace tour through the worst of the destruction.

Nearly everyone does the route from Sorata down the valley to Tipuani and Guanay, simply because it is generally downhill.

If you do not mind a climb, however, you might prefer to do it in reverse, thus leaving the prettiest bits to last. Whatever you choose to do, it is best with a guide.

There are three options for the route between Sorata and Ancoma. First, you can rent a 4WD in Sorata and cut two days off the trek. A challenging alternative is the steep route that begins near the cemetery in Sorata. The route roughly follows the Río Challasuyo, passing through the village of Chillkani and winding up on the road just below the Abra Chuchu (4658m) – this is also the access to the Mapiri trail, a four-hour walk from Ancoma. The third option, which is shorter and more scenic, is to follow the route through the village of Lakathiya and over the Abra de Illampu (4741m) to meet up with the road about 1½ hours above Ancoma.

Alternatively, continue a few kilometers on to Tushuaia where there is a flat terrace which makes for excellent camping.

Once you are in Ancoma, the route is fairly straightforward. Leave the 4WD track and follow the southern bank of the Río Quillapituni (which eventually becomes the Río Tipuani).

At a wide spot called Llallajta, 4½ hours from Ancoma, the route crosses a bridge and briefly follows the north bank before re-crossing the river and heading toward Sumata. Another Inca-engineered diversion to the north bank has been destroyed by bridge washouts, forcing a spontaneously constructed, but thankfully brief, detour above the southern bank.

Just past the detour is the village of Sumata; just beyond, a trail turns off to the north across the river and heads for Yani, which is the start of the Mapiri trail. A short distance further along from the trail junction is Ocara.

From here, the path goes up the slope – do not follow the river. After 1½ hours you will reach Lambromani. You can camp here in the schoolyard.

An hour past Lambromani you will reach Wainapata, where the vegetation grows thicker and more lush. Here, the route splits (to rejoin at Pampa Quillapituni); the upper route is very steep and dangerous, so the lower one is preferable. A short distance along, the lower route passes through an interesting tunnel drilled through the rock.

There is a popular myth that it dates from Inca times, but it was actually made with dynamite and likely blasted out early in the 20th century by the Aramayo mining company to improve the access to the Tipuani goldfields. At Pampa Quillapituni, 30 minutes beyond, is a favorable campsite. Just east of this, a trail branches off to the right toward Calzada Pass, several days away on the Illampu circuit.

Four hours after crossing the swinging bridge at the Río Coocó, you will reach the little settlement of Mina Yuna, where you can pick up basic supplies, and it is possible to camp on the soccer field.

An hour further down is Chusi, which is four hours before your first encounter with the road. There is no place to camp here, but you can stay in the school. Puente Nairapi, over the Río Grande de Yavia, is a good place for a swim to take the edge off the increasing heat.

Once you reach the road, the scene grows increasingly depressing. For a final look at relatively unaffected landscape, follow the shortcut trail, which begins with a steep Inca staircase and winds up at Baja Llipi and the Puente de Tora toll bridge over the Río Santa Ana.

After crossing the bridge, climb up the hill and hope for a camioneta or 4WD to take you to Tipuani and Guanay.

You can pick up basic supplies at Ancoma, Wainapata, Mina Yuna, Chusi and Llipi, as well as at all the lower settlements along the road. Spartan accommodations may be found in Unutuluni, Chima (rough-andready and not recommended), Tipuani and Guanay, all of which are along the road.

b) Mapiri Trail

Sorata Travel Guide, Bolivia

A longer and more adventurous alternative to the El Camino del Oro trek is the six- to seven-day pre-Hispanic Mapiri trail, which was upgraded 100 years ago by the Richter family in Sorata to connect their headquarters with the cinchona (quinine) plantations of the upper Amazon Basin.

It is a tough, demanding trek with a lot of physical exertion besides mere walking – expect to clamber over and under logs, hack at vegetation with a machete, get assaulted by insects and destroy formerly decent clothing! That said, it is an amazing experience; the nature is unspoiled, and for the large part you are out on your own miles from any roads or villages.

While the trailhead is technically at the village of Ingenio, you can also begin this unspoiled route by climbing from Sorata over the 4658m Abra Chuchu, then ascending and descending through the open grassy flanks of the Illampu massif to Ingenio. For the next three days it descends along one long ridge through grassland, dense cloud forest and pampa to the village of Mapiri.

With the Sorata approach, the entire route takes anywhere from six to eight days, depending on the weather, your fitness and whether you reach the trailhead at Ingenio on foot or by motor vehicle.

An excellent side-trip before you get started will take you from Ingenio up to the lovely and medieval, cloud-wrapped village of Yani, where there is a basic alojamiento.

Bolivia does not get much more enigmatic than this and adventurers will not regret a visit.

No maps are available for this route, due to government sensitivity on mining issues, and landslides often cause changes to the paths, which in some parts are heavily overgrown – a machete will be necessary.

Therefore, it is strongly recommended to take a guide from Sorata.

The Mapiri trail begins at the village of Ingenio, which has basic alojamientos. It can be reached either by 4WD from Sorata (three to four hours) or on foot over Abra Chuchu (4658m). For the latter, start at the cemetery in Sorata and follow the track up past the tiny settlements of Manzanani and Huaca Milluni to the larger village of Chillkani, about three hours beyond Sorata. From there you have five hours of fairly relentless climbing of the semiforested slopes to the Abra Chuchu. You will meet up with the road twisting 4km below the pass.

Shortly after the crest, take the left turn – the route straight on leads to Ancoma and El Camino del Oro trek – down toward a small lake. This route will take you over Paso Lechasani (4750m) and down past Mina Suerte to Ingenio and the start of the Mapiri trail at 3550m.

Past Ingenio you will cross the Río Yani. Here the trail starts downstream, but half an hour later it cuts uphill along a side stream; there is a good campsite where it crosses the stream. The path then twists uphill for 1½ hours over a 4000m pass. In the next two hours you will cross three more ridges, then descend past Cueva Cóndor, a cave that is also a good campsite, to a small lake. From the lake the route ascends to Paso Apacheta Nacional (3940m), then twists down El Tornillo, a corkscrew- like track that drops 150m. In under an hour you will cross the Río Mamarani, where a good campsite is protected by large rocks.

The next campsite lies three hours further along, beside a stream-crossing at the foot of the next big ascent. At the next stream, 30 minutes later (collect water here!), is another campsite. Here the trail climbs a long staircase, then descends into another valley before climbing to the next pass, Abra Nasacara (4000m). At this stage you are on the ridge that dominates most of the Mapiri trail route, with great views of the Illampu massif. For the next three days, you wll follow this ridge up and down, slowly losing altitude and passing through mostly lush jungle vegetation; fill your water bottles at every opportunity. The first water along this stretch is at Tolapampa, which also makes a good campsite.

The next stretch passes through thick forest and may require a bit of bush bashing with a machete; plan on getting good and wet from mud and the soaked vegetation.

Six hours beyond Abra Nasacara is a very pleasant ridge-top campsite, Koka Punku, with water in a shallow pond 50m away. About three hours later, just before a prominent landslide, watch for the water 3m off the track to the right. Four hours and three crests later is the last permanent water source and campsite at Lagunillas. An hour later you will find good (but dry) campsites on the hill, Alto Palmar.

From Alto Palmar, the trail tunnels through dense vegetation along the Cuesta de Amargura (Bitterness Ridge). After three hours the jungle gives way to merely thick bush. Six hours later you’ll reach Pararaní (1900m), where there is water (which needs to be purified) in a small pond near the ruins of an old house. An hour later there is a semi-permanent lake, and just beyond it the trail leaves the dense vegetation and issues onto a grassy ridge flanked by thick forest. It is then 4½ hours to Incapampa, with a semi-permanent marsh and a campsite.

Along this stretch, wildlife is rife – mainly in the form of bees, ants, ticks, flies and mosquitoes, as well as plenty of butterflies.

About three hours beyond Incapampa you will reach the hamlet of San José (1400m), where there is a campsite and a view over the village of Santiago. Water can sometimes be found 300m down to the right of the route.

After an open area that is actually an old cemetery, the left fork provides the faster track to Mapiri.

Four to five hours of walking from San José brings you to Mapiri, which is visible 1.5 hours before you arrive. Here you will find several decent alojamientos (avoid the Alojamiento Sorata) and motorized canoes that race the 80km downstream to Guanay, which will seem like a city after a week of isolation! Boats leave around 9am, but get there an hour earlier to get a place. Alternatively, catch a camioneta along the 4WD track first to Santa Rosa (do not attempt to walk as there are two large river crossings), which has a decent hostal with a swimming pool, and then 175km uphill back to Sorata (12 hours).

6. Tours and Activities in Sorata

a) Hiking

Sorata Travel Guide, Bolivia

Sorata is best known as a convenient base for hikers and climbers pursuing some of finest landscapes of Bolivia. The peak hiking season is May to September.

The most popular walk is the hike to Laguna Chillata, a pretty spot with great views of the surrounding sierra and Lake Titicaca.

It is a fairly stiff five-hour climb, ascending some 1500m, and, while you can get there and back in a day, it is a pleasant and popular spot to camp. It is worthwhile taking a guide, as it’s easy to get lost. If you are going to overnight there, a beast of burden is a sound investment; let the mule do the carrying while you enjoy the views.

An optional third day can be built into this hike. Leaving the tent and your gear at Laguna Chillata (it will get nicked if you have not brought a guide, who can detail someone to watch over it), a steep ascent takes you up to Laguna Glacial, a top spot where you can watch big chunks of ice cracking off into the water. It is at 5100m, so take it easy; the altitude can make it a tough climb.

Ambitious adventurers can do the sevenday El Camino del Oro trek, an ancient trading route between the Altiplano and the Río Tipuani goldfields. Otherwise there is the challenging Mapiri trail (five days) or the Illampu circuit (seven days). The latter was plagued with armed robberies for a while but things seemed to have calmed down since. However, we recommend that you do not attempt this route without a guide.

The ultimate hardcore challenge is the 20-day Trans Cordillera route: eight days gets you from Sorata to Lago Sistaña, with possible four-day (to Huayna Potosí) and eight-day (to Illimani) extensions.

Basic information on climbing some of the peaks of the region is included under Cordillera Real.

While it is possible to hike independently, it is best to hook up with a guide, mainly because of the need to be aware of local sensibilities and the difficulty of finding passable routes.

The most economical, authorized option is to hire an independent, Spanish-speaking guide from Sorata Guides and Porters Association (T./fax 2136672, Sucre # 302), which also rents equipment of varying quality and arranges many different treks.

b) Mountain Biking

Sorata Travel Guide, Bolivia

The Sorata area, with its thrillingly steep descents and spectacular mountain scenery, makes it a top two-wheel destination.

The Jacha Avalancha (Grande Avalanche) Mountain Bike race takes place in Sorata each year. This is the biggest downhill race course in South America based on the Mega Avalanche format. It is a 2000m descent using a mass start and draws riders from across Bolivia and the world.

7. Festivals and Events.

January 1: New Year 's Day.

February or March (changeable date): Carnival.

April (Changeable date): Easter.

Palm Sunday: The Saturday before Easter. People enter temples with branches which the clergy bless.
Holy Thursday: It is a tradition of the people to visit 12 temples of the city, one for each apostle, in this day.
Good Friday: Procession of the Holy Sepulchre.

June (Changeable date):

Corpus Christie: Commemoration of the Body of Christ.

June 21 and 24: Andean New Year and San Juan

Aymará New Year and San Juan The winter solstice is celebrated across the Altiplano around June 21, the longest and coldest night of the year. Festivities feature huge bonfires and fireworks in the streets, plus lots of drinking to stay warm.
San Juan (June 24) The Christian version of the solstice celebration. The solstice celebrations are most lively at Tiwanaku.

July 16: Anniversary of La Paz.

August 6: National Day.

Independence Day This lively public holiday sees lots of gunfire in the air, parades galore and mortar blasts around the city center.

September 21: Day of Spring. Youth and Students of Bolivia.

First Sunday in October: Feast of the Virgin of Merced.

Second Sunday in October: Feast of the Virgin of Rosario.

November 1: Todos Santos (All Saints Day).

This is a pre-columbian tradition when the people go to visit the Tombs prepared at home by the relatives of the deceased and where the friends are offered the same food and drink liked by him.

November 2: Difuntos (Day of the Deceased)

The tombs are dismantled and the people celebrate in the memory of the deceased.

November 3: Alma Cacharpaya (Soul of the Calypsobreakers)

Those in charge of dismantling the tombs show up in the home of the deceased with an orchestra so that the soul of the deceased will be happy.

December 24 and 25: Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

8. Travel Companies and Tour Operators in Sorata.

Somo tour operators offers hiking and biking

9. Hotels and Hostels in Sorata.

Altai Oasis (T. 71519856) This really does feel like an oasis, with a lush garden, hammocks, caged macaws, a pretty balcony cafe-restaurant and a range of accommodations options. Welcoming hosts Johny and Roxana run this beautiful riverside retreat, and offer grassy campsites, comfortable rooms, and romantic accommodations in appealingly rustic cabañas, each one intricately and fancifully painted. To get there, follow the downhill track past the soccer field to the river, climb back up to the road and turn left before reaching Café Illampu.

Residencial Sorata (T. 2793459) On the northeast corner of the plaza, this ultra-characterful colonial-style mansion makes a romantic place to stay. Do your eyes a favor and ask to see the old-style rooms; do your back a favor and ask to stay in one of the new ones (with private bathroom). There is a restaurant, laundry service, wild garden and a friendly welcome. Manager Louis Demers speaks several languages and is a mine of information on local trekking routes.

10. Restaurants and Bars in Sorata.

Café Illampu (closed Tue) A 15-minute down-and-up walk from town, this lovely relaxing spot is en route to the San Pedro cave. Leave it for the return journey, for if you stop here on the way to the cave, you might not make it as the place is exceedingly tranquil (views, garden, llamas), and there is good coffee, sandwiches on homemade bread and great cakes – the Swiss owner is a master baker.

El Ceibo (Muñecas # 339) This is one of a row of simple Bolivian eateries serving hearty portions of typical Bolivian dishes.

Place of Pete (Esquivel s/n) Serves big breakfasts that set you up for a day of hiking, as well as a large selection of well-prepared and presented vegetarian fare, chicken curry and tasty steaks, all in a cheerful, comfortable setting. Owner Pete keeps an extensive library of maps and guidebooks and provides up-to-date trekking information.

11. Getting There and Away.

Bus From the plaza in Sorata, La Paz–bound micros depart when full and flotas (long-distance buses) leave on the hour between 4am and 5pm. For Copacabana you must get off at the junction town of Huarina and wait for another, probably packed, bus. Similarly, for Charazani you should change at Achacachi, but you will need to start out from Sorata very early

  • Sorata-La Paz-Sorata: (150 Km paved and unpaved road) Trans Unificado Sorata (T. 2381693) and Perla del Illampu each leave hourly from Manuel Bustillos with Angel Babaia between 4am and 5:30pm.

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