When I first read about the El Choro Trek I immediately wanted to hike the length. It’s a three day trek which starts an hour out of La Paz, and coincidently where the Death Road tours begin. Starting at 4600 metres, you actually hike up to 4800 and then the rest is mostly down hill traversing from the white mountain tops into the jungle below and finishing at 1300 metres, which I have to point out again is still higher than the lowest point in the UK.
Now if you’ve read my blog about Upclose Bolivia you will know that I chickened out of Death Road, despite even paying for a ticket. It’s actually a decision I stand by and I’m glad I didn’t do it. If you are considering it I’ve met a lot of people who have sown death road and they are all fine, but I think this makes a better alternative. Firstly you are not on a bike travelling at speed trying not to fall off the edge the entire time. So that means you can take photos when you want and look at and enjoy the scenery. Secondly, from the little I’ve seen of the death road valley I think this is more beautiful and lastly there is no one else there. I must have seen less than 20 people over the three days and it’s mostly the sound of the wind, river and yourself walking. If you have three days to spare then do it and if not make three days to spare.
Above is the map of the route. It’s 54 kilometres but it’s not a hurling hike. I’ve split this post over three days due to the amount of photos I took, which is unusual especially as I did Torres del Paine on one post and that was a nine day hike but I do things differently sometimes.
Anyways I booked the hike through Inca tours, having paid 900bs. At the time of booking no one else at any agency had booked the hike and this was the cheapest. Plus I had used the agency before and it was all fine. So I got up stupidly early again for a taxi, and this was the night after Pippa’s leaving party, so I cut back on the drink and made sure I had had at least five hours sleep. I arrived at the offices at 8:30, was given a chance to buy more supplies and was in the taxi with the guide at 9am. We drove out of La Paz and at one point when the Traffic’s was heavy my guide, who only said his name once and I have forgotten what it was, jumped out and brought some supplies. It was actually a police check and soon we were high up in the mountains.
The taxi actually drove the first 2km of the trek and we overtook a girl, who I would later find out I’d met before on the Glacier Exploradoras hike. Her name is Sara and she was a much better and faster hiker than me and she did the trek alone. So in terms of doing the trek alone it is possible. It’s very quiet and I only met 4 other hikers during the three days but the path is really clear. I probably would have done this but I sold my camping equipment back in Ushuaia and I took a tour because I wasn’t confident of doing it alone. In hindsight I’d probably had rented equipment and tried to go alone but I did really struggle with my backpack. I think six weeks of staying out in La Paz has made me weak to carrying my bags and also is topped everything up so they were heavy. I had left a lot of things in La Paz but wasn’t travelling light as I had decided to stay in Corico for a few days before returning to La Paz. So it was heavy and I was glad not to have to carry the food and a tent as well. I don’t think I would have been able to do that. Also you need to bring cold clothes for the first day and then it gets warmer until it’s tropical. It is a jungle after all.
Instead I felt like an Englishman in colonial times as I was the only person there with a guide who did everything for me, from putting up my tent, cooking me dinner, carrying all the camping stuff and brushing my teeth. I made the last one up.
So we jumped out the taxi and I immediately went to take pictures. It was much colder than I thought it was going to be and was pleased to have my winter clothes. And these are the views from the top.
After a bit of rearranging we started hiking. Straight away I could see the valley far below and before lunchtime I would have reached the end of the paths you can see in the pictures. It’s stunning and this was my favourite part of the journey. There is a river here which you will follow for the duration of the trek and see it getting bigger and bigger. Also if you want to do this without a guide you can follow the train on Maps.me
As I got closer to the valley floor I could see the Inca ruins of Tambo an old inn on the path. I should have mentioned this already but this is an old Inca Trail.
I love mountains and took lots of photos, and you can see that we are getting closer to the valley floor.
After around an hour we had passed Tambo and were walking along the valley floor. I had left the bare rocks behind and was now walking in a lush green valley.
A little further along, maybe another 30 minutes we spotted beards of llamas.
It was around this time that we reached the part of the paths that were in the distance on the previous photos.
The path took a long turn to the right and we stopped for lunch at Estancia Samaña Pampa which is a little shop selling basic supplies. You have to sign in here and as I was eating lunch in the back room Sara overtook so when I came to sign the book there were four Germans ahead of me and many many Bolivians who had started the trail the day before-if was a three day weekend. There are quite a few places where you can by supplies but I’d suggest brining a water filter. I didn’t buy water, I thought it was provided for the second and third day but turned out to only be the second. I’ll talk about this later.
After lunch the sky became more cloudy which is a shame but probably ultimately a good thing as I took less photos. It’s true the the sky generally becomes more cloudy as the day goes on so the advice is to start early. The first day was the worst and we didn’t start hiking until after 10am. The path contributed downhill, the first day is relentless with downhill, still following the valley.
After another 90 minutes you reach a small town. The guidebook says you can camp and buy things here but it doesn’t seem to be the case from what I saw. You do have to pay an entrance fee for the park and sign another book.
We continued hiking downhill and you can see that the jungle is starting to appear on the mountains. There are a few bridges to cross as the streams meet one another.
The guidebook says there is a suspension bridge across the river at Choro. You will instead find a landslide and a very small bridge which are in th Day 2 post. We camped here for the first night and I found the four Germans who were ahead of me. Sara, and three other girls who were together. They left before I awoke he next morning and I didn’t see them again.
The campsite was basic, and when I say basic I mean there was a a covering to cook under and the toilet was a pipe with rubbing water that you had to squat over. Luckily there was a puppy to play with and I chatted with Sarah as the guide brought me my dinner. It was dark a little after 6pm and got cold quickly on the first night so we went to our beds and I had a pretty cold night but nothing Like I experienced in Patagonia.