On top of Chacaltaya, Aymara for “cold road”, there once sat a glacier. With the accompanying snow, it was Bolivia’s only ski resort, and at roughly 5,400 meters above sea level, the highest lift-operated resort in the world. With global climate change in conjunction with El Niño, what was left of the glacier finally disappeared in 2009. Besides the loss of skiing, a more serious problem is that the people of La Paz and El Alto depend on the melting snow for their water supply. Only a few scattered patches of snow can still be seen.
We booked a tour to the old resort. A two hour hike took us a short distance to the peak of Chacaltaya. Even though we were accustomed to the height of La Paz, it was slow going at this altitude. But every time we stopped to take a breath, we took in the 360 degree views of misty peaks, sheer cliffs, and fantastical lagoons; so fantastical that I thought a dragon might fly over them. When it’s totally clear, which it wasn’t, La Paz and El Alto are also visible.
The green lagoons contain copper, the orange and red iron and the dark blue lead. Algae mixes with some of these, giving the palate an even richer green.
Much of the terrain is covered in loose slate, giving the impression that a massive explosion has just gone off.
Huayna Potosí is also visible from Chacaltaya and the road leading to it. Despite our guide’s boast, it is not the model for the Paramount Pictures logo.
How to get there: Several agencies in La Paz, along Sagarnaga and Illampu, offer day trips to Chacaltaya and Valle de la Luna for between 75-85 Bs.