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Centuries ago, the Incas built hundreds of kilometres of trails, paths and roads to link the various parts of their mountain empire. Today, with Peru’s celebrated “Inca Trail” to Machu Picchu groaning under the weight of thousands of trekkers, savvy adventurers are searching for alternative Inca paths to explore. Bolivia offers several such Inca trails, of which the route through the Cordillera Apolobamba is arguably the most scenic and fascinating, and certainly one of the least trekked.

 

 

High, wild and remote, the Apolobamba trek offers breathtaking Andean wilderness, a glimpse into the heart of ancient cultures and guaranteed sightings of wildlife including alpacas, vicuñas and rare, majestic condors. The trail begins in Curva, the home of the Kallawayas, a group of mystical healers and fortune tellers who treated Inca aristocracy, and whose vibrant way of life survives today. Passing sacred sites where Kallawayas still sacrifice llamas, the trail climbs towards Akhamani, the Kallawayas’ most sacred summit. Along the way, you can hand-catch trout from a tiny stream for supper.

 

 

Trout or no trout, continue up the trail where you’ll scramble over dark, steep rocks to a succession of high passes. As is the local custom, place white stones on the summits to ask for good luck and strength. If your requests are answered, you might be lucky enough to see condors soaring magnificently overhead at the passes.A camp high up on a steep path called “Mil Curvas” (“thousand curves”) promises a bitterly cold morning, but also the incredible sight of Akhamani bathed in brilliant morning sunshine against the backdrop of a cloudless blue sky and possibly a late-rising moon. From the 5,100 m (16,700 feet) Sunchulli Pass, the snow-covered Apolobamba peaks stretch into the distance to your left. To your right, the Sunchulli glacier towers above the calm turquoise Laguna Verde, beyond which scowls a dark, brooding ridge protected at its base by an impossibly steep screen. Most Apolobamba treks end at the misty stone town of Pelechuco, but those in search of even finer scenery should continue north for one more day.

 

 

Those who continue on to summit the Katantika Pass are amply rewarded with some of the most stunning scenery in the Andes: glaciers and crevasses glinting as the sun plunges towards the valley far below, illuminating a tranquil, trout-filled lake bordered by Inca paving, and possibly another condor perched not far above your head.

 

A stone cross marks the most sacred point of the pass, the landscape beyond mellowing markedly from jagged, icy summits to endless rolling pampas and eventually Peru. You’ll probably want to lay a stone at the cross, most likely more in gratitude for this spellbinding vista than to ask for any more good fortune.



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