After nearly five months living at high altitude, I was parched. I needed a bit of tropical air and a weekend in Coroico was the remedy. We stayed at El Jiri Ecolodge, which sits halfway up the side of the valley, across from Coroico town.
View across the valley from El Jiri
Created and run by Mario Burgoa, El Jiri sits on the site of a former Jewish farmstead (grab a copy of the excellent book Hotel Bolivia, for more info about Jewish migration to Bolivia during World War Two). Mario explained that at the beginning it was tough because they had no electricity, but eight years on and they have ensuite cabins for guests and some very big fridges in the outdoor kitchen.
Our two-day, one-night stay was full-board and included a program of guided walks and activities (although there was plenty of time for lazing in hammocks too). By far my favourite was the chocolate making.
Roasting, grinding and making hot chocolate
The agricultural products from El Jiri are all produced on a small-scale by hand. We helped shell and grind the roasted cocoa beans, before making a delicious vat of hot chocolate from the pure cocoa butter.
The cocoa butter is sold to NamasTe for use in their restaurant and the coffee produced at El Jiri goes to Alexander’s (a Bolivian cafe chain). We saw the pre-roasted beans and learned that most coffee manufacturers don’t bother with removing the outer layer of the bean since it doesn’t impair the flavour and actually bulks out the weight of the product. But the highest quality coffee, sometimes called ‘green gold’, goes through this extra step and thus can be sold for a much higher price.
With the help of a machete, our young guide took us on jungle walks to a waterfall, Incan terraces, agricultural fields and a lovely mirador.
Coca seedlings and young plants
We learnt about the local flora and traditional agriculture techniques, as well as spotting lots of different kinds of birds (which were impossible to photograph).
On return, there was always a filling meal waiting for us. The food may not have been the most exciting (this is Bolivia after all), but it was always heartily received and the outdoor setting was a lovely place to dine.
At night we went to sleep early, listening to buzzing insects and whooping birds. The weather was not too hot at the end of September (although we were dripping with sweat after hiking along the jungle paths). I imagine in the rainy season it would be hard to get through all the mud and vegetation.
And you do need to walk a bit, no matter what, as El Jiri is only accessible on foot or by quad bike. From the La Paz-Coroico road you should get off the bus at Yolosita and get a taxi to Charobamba village, where it’s a 20 minute walk up hill. Or like us you could get all confused and get a taxi to the Charobamba foot bridge and end up walking all the way up the hillside for an hour and a half. It’s a nice walk either way.
Once you see this sign, just follow the path across the river and up the hill.
We booked our trip through Classic Travel Bolivia for 382Bs per person. You can also book direct with El Jiri. A bus to Yolosita from Miraflores in La Paz costs 20Bs, and a taxi from there to Charobamba is about 120Bs return trip.