The Camino del Oro, or Gold Diggersâ€™ Trail as itâ€™s often known in English, follows a thousand-year-old trail from the heights of the Altiplano to the gold mining villages of the semi-tropical Yungas. In pre-colonial times, it acted as a trade route between the high plains and the gold fields of the low valleys. During the reign of the Incas, the area was an important source of gold for the empire. The landscape on the trail varies dramatically from meadows to waterfalls to canyons to tropical forest.
The trail begins in Sorata, from where it is an uphill trek past maize and potato fields to the village of Lakatia at the foot of Mount Illampu. Then you climb up to the Illampu pass (4,741 meters), which provides spectacular views of Mount Illampu, and then weave down to the villages of Ancoma and Tushuaya. From here, the descent to the mining valleys begins, affording panoramic views of the surroundings. The trail osculates steeply along the river and the valley walls as the surrounding vegetation gets thicker and more tropical. It normally ends in the village of Chusi.
The trek normally takes between five and seven days, but itâ€™s possible to get a lift to Ancoma from Sorata, cutting out the first two days of uphill trekking and bringing the hike down to three or four days. Itâ€™s recommended to take a guide with you, either from Sorata or La Paz. Otherwise, you could consider hiring a mule and handler, to help you with your gear, especially on the first part of the trek. The handler can also make sure you follow the correct path. Mules can normally be hired in Sorata and Ancoma.
From Sorata, you head southeast of the main plaza, upwards towards Quilambaya (3,200 meters). The trail continues up from behind the church in Quilambaya, before it heads right to cross the bridge across the river and then along the eastern bank. The village of Lakatia (4,000 meters) is a 30-minute trek up from the waterâ€™s edge. A small trail winds to the right of the village, across a bridge and the trail continues to the left, above the bridge. About two hours up the valley, just before where you cross the stream, is the most popular camping spot. The first part of the trail is quite hard to follow as there are a number of different pathways. It will take about six hours.
You can top up with water at the stream and from here the trail ascends to the Abra Illampu (4, 800 meters) from where youâ€™ll have amazing views of Mount Illampu. The trail then heads downhill for about an hour and a half through arid mountains until you reach a road. From here, follow the road to the right, until you reach the village of Ancoma. From the campsite to Ancoma will take between four and five hours, or you can continue for another one and half hours and camp at Tushuaya. You can buy basic supplies in Ancoma.
From Ancoma, you follow the steep trail east out of the community and take the lower track downhill when the road folks. The trail then rises above the river, passing Tushuaya, then entering a large meadow with stunning views of the Illampu and Ancohuma massifs. It continues through the narrow valley, encountering more vegetation as it goes, then coming to a stone staircase, before arriving at the RĂo Tipuani and crossing the bridge. Keep your eye out for bird life and tropical plants such as epiphytic orchids.
From here, the steep track hugs the river before crossing it again and continuing down the southern bank. There are several openings in the scenery along this stretch, with some good views of the valley. In a clearing before the river is the settlement of Sumata, where itâ€™s possible to camp. Ancoma to Sumata is about six hours, or you can continue another hour to Ocara.
The trail then follows a stone staircase as you enter the main mining area, and the river turns a dirty grey color. About an hour after Sumata youâ€™ll reach the mining village of Ocara, where you can camp and buy supplies. Unfortunately, the gold mining has resulted in a lot of uncontrolled logging, leaving some of the hills badly scarce. Be sure to fill up with water in Ocara, but ask before taking it from the river because some of the streams are contaminated with mercury. From Ocara, the trail climbs above the river and continues upwards to the settlement of Lambramani, with occasional dips in the track. From here, youâ€™ll start to see banana plantations and lemon trees. About an hour from Lambramani, youâ€™ll reach Wainapata. About half an hour further along, the track splits and you follow the trail downhill towards the river and through the tunnel in the rock. Just on from here are the beautiful grasslands at Pampa Quillapituni, the perfect camping site. This part of the trek is a hot one and will take you about five hours.
After you pass through a clearing, the trail crosses a suspension bridge before ascending up a steep stone staircase. You continue on the main trail, passing over a bridge, gradually edging upwards but with some steep descents down the mountainside or down stone staircases. You pass some mines and settlements before reaching Chusi. Most people finish the trail here, but there is no public transport, so you will need to arrange a lift back to Sorata. Pampa Quillapituni to Chusi is about five hours. There is no camping but trekkers can normally stay in the school and there are plenty of supplies. The nearest town with public transport is Llipi, about five to six hours trek from Chusi.
Relative price: Free
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