Chile/Bolivia 1996 - practical hints
- Flight to Chile: It's worth to compare airfares of different
airlines and in different travel agencies. Our flight from Europe to Santiago was below 1000 DM (550 US$) round trip however, the date of the flight back was
fixed. A flight Stuttgart-Santiago / La Paz-Stuttgart would have cost twice that amount.
- Language: In Chile, hardly anyone speaks English, and it's always easier to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the national language. (That's Spanish, for all who really might not know that.)
- Airport of Santiago: Blue buses ("Centropuerto") leave towards the center in 30 minutes intervals (fare about 1.40 US$). Tickets at the counter in the airport building. In the opposite direction, they leave at the metro station Los Heroes (at Av. O'Higgins).
- Currency of Chile is the Chilean Peso ($), 1 US$ is about $ 400. The exchange rate had not changed since our last visit in 1996.
- Informations, maps: The most important information source are the
three volumes of "Turistel", issued by the telephone company CTC and available at the kiosks in the city center (and practically only there). Besides reasonably detailed road maps, they contain city maps, hints about things worth seeing, many and addresses, in particular accomodations. The northern part costs $ 5000; there's also an English translation of all three parts in one volume for $ 10000 which is, however, not updated every year. Therefore I would recommend the original, if one can read at least a bit of Spanish.
Topographic maps are available only in Santiago at Instituto Geográfico Militar IGM, Calle Dieciocho, that is south of Av. O'Higgins. A map 1:250 000 costs about $6000, the quality is reasonable and sufficient for orientation, but due to the big scale not suitable for the real mountaineering. Since many mountains in the north are not difficult (only difficult to find without map), that doesn't matter.
Postcards meanwhile are available at many places. Buy stamps at the post office ($ 260 to Europe).
- The shopping facilities are similar to Germany, even in small villages you find supermarkets. Except for really special articles like muesli bars and freeze-dried food, everything can be bought in Chile. Take care when buying beverages: returnable bottles must be brought back to where they were bought, usually with the bill (on which the amount of deposit that was paid is noted).
The deposit is very high ($500 per bottle). In case of doubt buy bottles labeled
"No Retornable" or "Desechable". That is ecologically nonsense, of course - but
environmental care is not made too easy in Chile up to now.
There are stores with camping equipment, but no mountaineering equipment.
- Travel: In Chile, infrastructure is very well developped along the long axes (Panamericana and the paved side roads), the long distance bus
connections much better than in Germany. As there is almost no railroad network, the bus lines have to replace that. The Chilean people often begin their trips in the evening (6 to 10 p.m.). One usually arrives the next morning and has saved an overnight stay, too. Take "semi-cama" whereever possible. This is only a bit more expensive than normal seats but a lot more comfortable. Real sleeper buses are about twice as expensive. Trips from Santiago should be booked a day in advance.
Bus terminals: Northbound from the (very new) Terminal de Buses Borja,
directly besides Estación Central (metro station of the same name). Southbound: the two bus terminals at the metro station Universidad de Santiago (a bit further to the east).
Bus connections on the secondary roads are normally less good; especially further
away from the tourist centers, proceeding without a car can be arduous or even impossible. Generally one doesn't find too many other tourists.
- Mountains: Volcano Licancábur near San Pedro is quite nice and recommendable as an acclimatization tour, the whole region offers many hiking possibilities at high altitude. Technically, the mountains are a bit boring, sometimes dangerous because of the loose scree. With a car, they can easily be reached and mostly possible as a day trip since the starting points are very high. So one can force altitude acclimatization quite fast. To rent a car is expensive, but necessary for individual planning. In San Pedro there are agencies
offering guided tours and/or transport to some of the surrounding mountains.
Also at Ojos del Salado one should consider to rent a car. Being well acclimatized, one can drive at least to the first camp. For that, however, a good 4WD car is necessary (e.g. Toyota Landcruiser), and good driving skills, otherwise you'd get stuck in the sand. If there's really no snow, one possibly could follow the road up to the second camp (5900 m). For sudden altitude problems, please dont blame me!
It is not recommendable to tackle the high 6000 m peaks Ojos del Salado or Aconcagua in May because of the low temperatures, storms and the danger of sudden snowfall.
In the south, the volcanoes are interesting destinations. For the steep summit slopes, you need crampons and eventually an ice axe. Also here, October to March is better than May.
Prices for renting a car are similar to Germany. Dont forget your credit card (for insurance reasons).
You need a permit for all mountains in the Chilean frontier zone. Apply for it at the corresponding province government, which then has to apply at the frontier administration in Santiago. See also frontier administration further below.
In addition, one has to register at the local carabineros. Rumours say that one can climb Parinacota from Lago Chungará illicitly.
- Season: May is late fall in Santiago, the national parks in the extreme south are more or less closed. From Santiago to the north, frequently there are clouds, but only few rain. In the north (Calama - Arica) we usually had good weather, in the Altiplano not as cold as in October (at night -5°/-10deg;), but there are also single days of bad weather.
In Lauca national park the weather is bad between December and March (Altiplano winter).
- Useful addresses
- Sernatur (national tourist board), Providencia 1550, Santiago. There you also get a reasonably good city map (for free), so don't buy one at a kiosk.
Sernatur operates offices in every redion. For climbing Ojos del Salado you need a permit. Sernatur in Copiapó is situated directly at the Plaza and very helpful.
- Federación de Andinismo, Simpson 77, Santiago (that is at the northern end of Av. Mackenna): Here some very kind elder gentlemen give you mountaineering information about the closer region, e.g. Cajón de Maipo; an equipment store, too. Evening after 7 p.m.
- Frontier administration: Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de la República de Chile, Dirección Nacional de Fronteral y Limites del Estado, Fax 02-6971909. This is the place where our climbing permit for Parinacota came from, but I don't know if one can apply directly to this place or if the province government has to formally apply for it for the mountaineers.
- Railroad Arica-La Paz: ENFE Bolivia, the station is close to the harbor, near the city center. Counter open 8.30-11.30 a.m. and 3-6.30 p.m. The railbus goes on Saturdays and Tuesdays at 9.30 a.m., the trip costs US$ 52 (including breakfast and lunch; pay in tidy U.S.dollar bills) and is very recommendable. The train is mostly used by tourists; the bus trip with the Bolivian bus company Litoral is cheaper ($ 10000). The buses, hwever, look a bit suspicious being used to Chilean buses.
- Language: Also here it makes sense if one is able to express the most important things in Spanish. In the countryside people often speak Quechua or Aimara, so even Spanish is a "foreign" language for the people there. Therefore one can hardly expect them to understand English, too. But, seeing it positively: As for us, Spanish is not the mother tongue of these people. Therefore (and since tourists are very frequent in Bolivia) people speak a very clearly accentuated Spanish which can easily be understood having attended a basic Spanish course in an adult education center, even far beyond the "Where can I get to XY"-level.
The tourist tours from La Paz are guided by people who usually speak English, too. Language knowledge is quite different, though. We also met tourists who spoke not a word of Spanish. It worked, but they were limited to the standard program that was offered for foreign tourists. A bit of Spanish for sure increases your flexibility enormously.
- Currency: 5 Bolivianos (Bs) correspond to one US$. Unlike the times of 12000% inflation rate per year, money has become stable meanwhile.
- Informations, maps: You can get touristic information at Secretariat Nacional de Turismo, 18th floor in Edifício Mariscal Ballivian. But no city map there. Topographic maps are available at Instituto Geográfico Militar, back entrance of Ed. Murillo, Calle Murillo. (Go up steeply Calle Rodríguez to come to the back entrance). Maps 1:50000 cost Bs. 35 and are partly on stock, partly available on order on the next day. No reasonable road maps there. For Illimani,
the map 0/9 of the German Alpine Club is better than the Bolivian map (buy it in Germany).
- Travel guides: There is nothing comparable to Turistel. For
addresses - especially accomodation - the Lonely Planet Guide about Bolivia
is a good thing to have. Very good: South America Handbook, especially when traveling to several countries. Buy these books already at home, you won't find a lot in Bolivia.
About the mountains, there's a German language guidebook "Die Königskordillere - Berg- und Skiwandern in Bolivien", by R. Pecher and W. Schiemann, ISBN 3-923666-01-2. It is not very new (1983) and has some errors. But apparently it is the only dedicated guidebook.
- Shopping facilities: Completely different than in Chile. For some things there are shops, but food is bought at the stands along the streets.
They usually offer a rather unstructured variety of articles of food, cosmetics and household articles. Sometimes it is rather laborious if searching for something very specific which is not within the standard articles. There is a
food market in the region of the streets Isaac Tamayo / Graneros, above the Illampu. There you get bread, vegetables, fruits, cheese, meat, fish as also
a variety of cans and packed lunch. Mayonnaise, sweets, stock cubes etc. can be found at the stands at Illampu. The first supermarket in the city center just was opened as we were there. We didn't get too many different things there. Beer is apparently sold only in some smaller food stores.
- Travel: Within the city there are minibuses, but the everything in the center is easily accessible on foot. Towards the airport, there are minibuses from Plaza San Francisco, or take a taxi. In between these two you find the offers of the tourism agencies in Calle Sagarnaga (they also pick you up at the hotel). For long distance travel: The railroad is in quite bad condition, as the station shows: One single track for a city of 1 1/2 million people. Buses with a bigger variety in quality than in Chile depart from the bus terminal about 500 m beyond the railroad station. To access the mountains, we booked just the transport to the starting point rather than the complete package with guide and porters, the first one being much cheaper. Who has enough time might find minibuses to Estancia Una as well as to Paso Zongo, but we had only 10 days in total for Bolivia.
- Mountains and mountaineering: Bolivia's highest mountain is Nevado Sajama (6540 m) close to the Chilean frontier. It is a glaciated volcano cone. Cordillera Real, stretching from northwest to southeast behind La Paz, is an alpine range without volcanism. Due to the rainforest nearby it is strongly glaciated and (except for the height) very similar to the Alps. Cordillera Real has six 6000 m peaks, out of which the relatively easy Huayna Potosí (6088 m) is the one most frequently climbed. Climbing takes two days with a high camp at 5400 m. Illimani (6460 m) is also quite often visited (3-4 days). Illampu and Ancohuma in the north require 6-7 days each, The two remaining 6000 m peaks are very far off the beaten track. Mururate (close to Illimani) and the Condoriri range are quite popular, too. All these mountains require the usual high tour equipment. During the day it sometimes becomes extremely hot.
- Weather and season: Mountaineering season is from middle of May to August/September. During this period, the weather is usually quite stable, bad weather lasts no more than a day. Before and after, there's rain season in the La Paz region.
Temperatures are generally higher than at comparable altitude in northern Chile, and there's more vegetation.
- Useful addresses:
- Tourism agencies: Most are in Calle Sagárnaga, that is close to the church San Francisco at the upper end of the main road Av. Mariscal Santa Cruz.
- Club Andino Boliviano: Calle México 1638. Quite a small club, but they can at least give some useful hints.
- Instituto Geográfico Militar, Secretariat Nacional de Turismo: see above
Places of our overnight stays
Here you find the places where we stayed for the night, for every day including the costs and the altitude. In the cities, we usually took the first reasonably cheap occasion. Prices refer to a double room.
|06.05.||(Hotel)||Hotel Ducado, Agustinas 1990, Santiago (US$ 50) |
|07.05.||(Bus)||Bus Santiago - Calama |
|08.05.||(Hotel)||Residencial Internacional, Gral. Velásquez 1976, Calama ($ 7500) H.2200 m |
|09.05.||(Tent)||Plain at Portezuelo Polques; 4465 m |
|10.05.||(Tent)||Plain at Portezuelo Polques; 4465 m |
|11.05.||(Tent)||old sulfur plant Saciel; 4400 m |
|12.05.||(Tent)||below Socompa Pass; 3600 m |
|13.05.||(Tent)||near Láscar at R. 23; 3840 m |
|14.05.||(Tent)||near Láscar at R. 23; 3840 m |
|15.05.||(Tent)||Baños de Puritama; 3600 m |
|16.05.||(Bus)||Bus Calama - Arica |
|17.05.||(Hotel)||Residencial Madrid, Baquedano 685, Arica ($ 4300); 5 m |
|18.05.||(Hotel)||Hostal Los Vicuñas, B. O' Higgins, Putre ($ 12000); 3600 m |
|19.05.||(Tent)||Plain below Cerro Taapacá 4940 m |
|20.05.||(Tent)||Plain below Cerro Taapacá 4940 m |
|21.05.||(private)||village school, Caquena; 4470 m |
|22.05.||(Tent)||camp at Payachata Volcannoes; 5230 m |
|23.05.||(Tent)||camp at Payachata Volcanoes; 5230 m |
|24.05.||(Hotel)||Residencial Paloma, Baquedano, Putre ($ 5000); 3600 m |
|25.05.||(Hotel)||Residencial Madrid, Baquedano 685, Arica ($ 4300); 5 m |
|26.05.||(Hotel)||Residencial Madrid, Baquedano 685, Arica ($ 4300); 5 m |
|27.05.||(Hotel)||Hotel Panamericano, Manko Kapac, La Paz (Bs 55); 3700 m |
|28.05.||(Hotel)||Hotel Panamericano, Manko Kapac, La Paz (Bs 55); 3700 m |
|29.05.||(Hotel)||Hotel Panamericano, Manko Kapac, La Paz (Bs 55); 3700 m |
|30.05.||(Tent)||Campamento Argentino, at Huayna Potosí; 5450 m |
|31.05.||(Hotel)||Hotel Panamericano, Manko Kapac, La Paz (Bs 55); 3700 m |
|01.06.||(Hotel)||Hotel Panamericano, Manko Kapac, La Paz (Bs 55); 3700 m |
|02.06.||(Tent)||meadow near Puente Roto, at Illimani; 4550 m |
|03.06.||(Tent)||Nido de Cóndores, at Illimani; 5550 m |
|04.06.||(Tent)||above Puente Roto, at Illimani; 4925 m |
|05.06.||(Hotel)||Hotel Panamericano, Manko Kapac, La Paz (Bs 55); 3700 m |
|06.06.||(Hotel)||Hotel Panamericano, Manko Kapac, La Paz (Bs 55); 3700 m |
|07.06.||(Hotel)||Hotel Ducado, Agustinas 1990, Santiago; US$ 50
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Information on this page is current June 1996.
Last updated February 24, 1998 by Hartmut Bielefeldt