Chacaltaya is in the La Paz Department of Bolivia. This mountain, at an altitude of 5486 metres, is equipped with beautiful views and the world’s highest ski area. Because of its proximity to La Paz and the easy access, it is a popular place to acclimatise before climbing higher peaks. The ski lift is said to be the oldest in the world and almost never operates.
The refugio and ski lift is run by the Club Andino Boliviano, founded in 1939 by a group of enthusiasts. The current ski lift and the skis available for rent date from the seventies and the guys running the refugio are even older. But, as the glacier retreated, and was finally gone in 2009, this is no longer an operational ski resort. Check this link for more info about the glacial retreat and ski resort.
“Skiers came from all over the world for the chance, the honour, of skiing at the world’s highest resort. But they had to earn it. Not everyone can ski at an altitude of 5,300 metres, hypoxia is a major factor. To take skiers to the top, in 1943 the resort’s founders invented the first “funicular” in South America. How did it work? Someone sat at the wheel of a military truck, which was parked permanently at Chacaltaya and maintained as a relic of more glorious days, and pressed the accelerator. The Ford engine reeled in a cable which ran over a system of pulleys to work the lift. Skilful footwork with the accelerator was necessary to enable the clients to mount the steep glacier.”
Going up to the mountain you’ll see the earth change to every color imaginable, with the towering peaks of Huayna Potosi, Illimani and Mururata seemingly within reach. This is a mining area and the many different metals in the ground makes for the colorful scenery. In the distance you’ll see El Alto and La Paz and, on clear days, even Volcan Sajama.
Winter is dry and sunny, although it turns very cold as soon as the sun is obscured by the odd cloud or mountain. Summer is wet season with snow and clouds lowering the daytime temperature.
From the parking lot at 5300 metres you’ll see the first slightly lower peak, home to the ski lift. It takes about 15 minutes to scale. 15 minutes more takes you to the real summit. Since this is “the beaten track” you will not need specific hiking boots for walking to the top. If you looking for alternative adventures, try ex. mountainbiking downhill from Chacaltaya to La Paz. Agencies like Topas Bolivia can help you arrange this.
Trail to the summit of Chacaltaya
You get out of breath fast at this altitude…
Surrounding peaks (6000m+)
Be sure to check out my article from North Yungas road aka. Bolivian Road of death. You can ride it with a bicycle from La Paz to the rainforest below.