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Parque Nacional Sajama - National Park Oruro - Bolivia

Hosting the highest mountain in Bolivia, plus natural geysers and hot springs, impressive flora and fauna, and the remains of pre-hispanic burial buildings, Parque Nacional Sajama is an untapped gem. Possibly because of it’s off-the-beaten track location, or maybe the intimidating peaks or harsh, arid climate, but the national park is not known as a traveler hot spot. This reputation has been changing in recent years, as more and more adventurers dare to tackle the peaks and the community itself is growing a foundation for tourism.

 

In 1939 Sajama National Park was declared a national reserve due to the growth of a kheñua (or queñua) forest that grows on the high altitude hillsides of Volcán Sajama, making for the highest forest in the world. A bit anticlimactic however, this “highest forest in the world” is more or less a cluster of bushes. Years later, in 2001, the volcano itself brought the park into the spotlight again when it hosted what is recorded as the world’s highest soccer game. The two teams were made up of all Bolivians, one side from the village of Sajama, and the others were members of the La Paz Mountain and Trekking Guides Association. The peak is so high that two of the players didn’t even make the climb up, having to head back down due to altitude sickness! The rest played on, however, and made their 40 minutes of fame into a record breaking feat.

 

Volcán Sajama’s 21,463 foot (6,542 m) peak has not just served for an epic fútbol match, but as a challenging goal to climbers and hikers from all around the world. The peak is an awesome site, covered in snow and ominously towering over the national park. The technical climb demands a guide (check with agencies in La Paz), and even then it is only recommended for climbers who have experience at high altitudes and in icy conditions. If you want to tackle the beast but aren’t sure the peak is for you, try the three hour walk to base camp (from the village of Sajama to Río Aychuta), or some of the lower slopes which are tough in their own right.

 

While there are hikes and climbs galore in Parque Nacional Sajama, you’re welcome to do a bit of relaxing there as well. There are some easy to find hot, hot, hot springs (95 degrees Fahrenheit) located just seven kilometers north of the village. As the sites are awe-inspiring you are likely to spend most of your daylight outdoors, so whether to relax your muscles after a hike or get in a cheeky warm-up soak, the hot springs here should make the agenda for sure! If you have enough Spanish skills, ask a local to point you in the right direction, either to the springs or to nearby geysers, equally as awesome.

 

Before you start to explore, you might want to set up a spot to stay for the night. Sajama has a really unique way of accommodating visitors, in that there is a Junta de Vecinos, or Committee of Neighbors, set up to evenly allocate homestays with local families. Upon arrival you can head to the organization on Calle Cruz (Tel: 591-2-513-5535), and they will place you with in a house according to the organized rotation. The other option for an indoor stay, though pricier, is to head 12 kilometers north of Sajama to the eco-community of Tomarapi, and contact the Albergue EcoturĂ­stico Tomparapi (Prices: Doubles $78 / 550 Bs., Triples $93 / 650 Bs. and Singles 457 / 400 Bs., all meals included. Tel/Fax: 591-2-241-147-53, E-mail: operaciones@boliviamilenaria.com). The thatched building is set up as an ecolodge, employing workers from the neighboring village and encouraging involvement in ecological tourism projects. Camping is of course a possibility, but it gets freezing when the sun goes down, and you will need to be properly equipped--some hard core backpackers even suggest that here are some of the most frigid temperatures they have ever camped in.

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