The six-to-seven day Mapiri trail will challenge you in ways you thought were not possible. Anyone harboring fantasies of Indina Jones will have a field day; the trek involves having to hack through thick vegetation, fight off persistent insects and scramble under fallen trees.
The trail starts at Ingenio (3,550 meters), a small village about four hours from La Paz, and ends in Mapiri (613 meters), a small gold mining village on the RĂo Mapiri. The trail was built in the 19th century to transport quinine out of Mapiri, but was barely used for this purpose as the Bolivian quinine industry collapsed around the same time as its completion. It found a new lease of life where rubber was found in the area, and was again used in the late 20th century by miners hunting for gold. Itâ€™s recommended to bring a stick or machete to clear vegetation and plenty of water. Guides can be hired at the AsociaciĂłn de GuĂas TurĂsticas y Porteadores in Sorata and should be able to advise you on ways to avoid the numerous insects that will try to attack you and what gear you should bring, as well as assist in showing you the way. Be especially aware of ants that eat your tent and clothes, and inhospitable cows. You can also organize trips from La Paz.
To get to Ingenio, you should be able to get a jeep from Sorata in the morning. The paved trail begins along the right hand side of the village, about 50 meters down. Follow the track down to the RĂo Yani, cross over and continue down the trail for an hour, until you reach the campsite just before the RĂo Ticata.
Once youâ€™ve crossed the river, the trail continues up over Mount Ticata (3,900 meters) then drops down, crosses a ridge and goes through Huilapata. Here youâ€™ll cross another river before heading up over a ridge and a second ridge, which divides the two valleys. The trail passes the Condor Cueva (3,850 meters), where there is a good campsite, then the Apacheta Nacional a little further down. The trail then joins the Tornillo, a zig-zag downhill track that was built by a German family in the 19th century. You cross another stream before reaching another good campsite at Mamarani (3,650 meters). This stretch is about five hours.
From here, itâ€™s about an hour and a quarter until you reach a lake. Further down youâ€™ll pass through an area called Kalapampa and another river. After half an hour thereâ€™s a stream, some stone steps, then another stream where youâ€™ll reach the top of the ridge (Nasacara, 3,950 meters) and have great views of the surrounding valley. The trail then continues along the ridge for a couple of hours, before passing a cave and arriving at a campsite next to the river.
Tolapampa is half an hour further along the trail and there is good camping here too. The trail follows the ridge and begins to dip into the tropics, before arriving at a point on the ridge with great camping, after about three hours. From here on in you will be entering the jungle; youâ€™ll be down on your hands and knees, are sure to get wet and will probably encounter many insects. There are some great views though, and the opportunity to see a wealth of wildlife and tropical plants.
Bear right and continue following the trail for two hours until you reach a clearing. As you go along the track you will pass three hill tops before reaching Lagunillas, the last guaranteed water supply and a good campsite. There is also a more popular campsite at Alto Palmar (2,700 meters), which is an hour further along. This part takes about five and a half hours.
The next day youâ€™ll be trekking through the cloud forest without a potential water supply, past a cave, and the San Lorenzo hilltop (2, 000 meters). This stretch is about five hours. The trail then heads downwards through Pararani and finally arrives at the next water supply, a lake, after three hours. There is also a good place to camp.
From here the trail leaves the jungle and heads to Incapampa and a marsh, after about four hours. Camping is possible, but thereâ€™s a better site three hours away at San Jose and also a water supply. There is a lot of long grass in this area, than can conceal snakes, ticks and other menacing creatures.An hour after San Jose, youâ€™ll reach a junction. Stay to the left following the track towards La Florida, which will arrive in Mapiri in about four hours. From here there are daily buses back to La Paz and it is possible to get back to Sorata from nearby Santa Rosa.
This piece has been adapted from the Cordillera Real Chapter, Trek 7. Mapiri Trail, Trekking in Bolivia A Travelerâ€™s Guide by Yossi Brain, Andrew North and Isobel Stoddart, published by Cordee.