High up in the Andes far removed from the hustle and bustle of La Paz is a beautiful yet eerie ski resort, once famed for being the highest operating ski slope in the world.
What used to be a buzzing attraction for ski enthusiasts, Chacaltaya is now a ghost town, a result of the meltdown of the 18,000 year-old glacier upon which the resort rests. The only evidence that remains of this once thriving tourist hot-spot is the Bolivian Andean Club, an abandoned hut still looked after by its guardians Adolfo and Samuel Mendoza.
Today, the 5,421m-high (17,785ft) ski resort is visited primarily by aspiring mountaineers looking to acclimatise before tackling La Paz’s more challenging peaks. The mountain is reached via a one hour drive along a very narrow, bumpy, single-lane road, stopping a mere 660 feet from the top. It’s then a short 15 minute walk to the summit where impressive views of the Corillera Real await.
During winter (May to October), a handful of tour agencies in La Paz offer combined trips of Chacaltaya and Valle de la Luna, costing around Bs 50 – 75 ($7-10 US) for the experience. For those who prefer to travel on their own, it’s possible to take a taxi from La Paz (1.5 hour drive and costs around Bs 200) or from El Alto (1 hour drive and costs around Bs 100). Taxi drivers will wait up to three hours while you wander around and take photos at the top.
Because of the high elevations, it’s highly recommend to spend at least a day acclimatising in La Paz before making your way to Chacaltaya. Also keep in mind that the weather at the top of the mountain is very chilly so make sure to wear warm layers and bring a good windbreaker.