One of the great joys of living in Cochabamba is the ease of access to its surrounding mountains which abound with great hiking trails. The lofty peaks of the olive-colored Tunari Range of the eastward-reaching Andes awakened my inner rambler and I headed to the hills on many weekends. Here are some highlights:
My first weekend in Cochabamba I rose early, grabbed some bananas and chocolate and my filled water bottle, and hoofed it from my apartment to the gate of the Parque Tunari. This is the closest and most accessible areas for hiking and soon I was rising high above Cochabamba. The city’s iconic Cristo de la Concordia with his monumental outstretched hands quickly faded to a mere spec far below. I was surrounded by the smell of eucalyptus and the spectacle of spring bloom.
I encountered very few people on the trail, just a couple families out for a picnic and one dedicated student, his nose diligently in his textbook at a particularly inspired lookout above Cochabamba. Eventually I reached an abandoned campground I and goofed around in the children’s playground:
I kept ascending and finally stopped high above the Cochabamba valley at around 3700 m (over 12,100 feet). I took in the beautiful vista s of the valley below and the towering Mount Tunari (the highest peak in the region at over 5000 m) covered in clouds to the west.
It was a satisfying hike from house to hilltop, I’ve never had this luxury before. All my previous hikes required some sort of transport from my home… this was fueled by just my own two feet.
This was a great walk at the western end of the valley from Sipi Sipi (I love these Quechua village names!). The way follows a stone path to a 15th-century imperial administrative center of the newly-arrived Incas. They had recognized the fertile Cochabamba Valley as a breadbasket for the Incan armies as they aggressively expanded their empire throughout the Andean region and beyond.
The ruins themselves consist of a dozen or so buildings with characteristic Incan features (trapezoidal doors and windows, and walls slanting slightly inwards to protect against earthquakes) but unfortunately are in fairly poor condition. Yet the views of the broad valley below with the Tunari Range to the north are stunning.
As in most parts of the developing world, the amount of trash on trails is disheartening. Decades ago most of this garbage would have been biodegradable but today it’s nearly 100% plastic. To do my part to respect the Pachamama (the Mother Earth) I collected hundreds of pieces litter on the way down. I finished the hike with a stuffed bag of assorted refuse but I felt good that the trail now looked much improved for future walkers.
Parque Ecoturístico Pairumani
This was a great half-day walk through a number of great sights. The Pairumari Eco-Tourist Park is located directly beneath the soaring Cerro Tunari, the highest peak in the region. On land donated by Simón Patiño, the Bolivian tin baron who a hundred years ago was one of the world’s the richest men, the eco-tourism park features pleasant picnic areas and campgrounds for cochabambinos wanting to escape the hectic pace of the city.
En route to the waterfalls further up the canyon, I met a group of young Brazilian medical students (many study in Cochabamba since the tuition and costs are much lower) who chatted with me as we passed the many colorful flower farms that dot this part of the valley. Eventually we reached the canyon and walked along the narrow footpath (with vertiginous drops off the side) to reach the waterfall which was barely flowing due to the late start of the rainy season this year.
On my return, I inspected the experimental dairy and vegetable farms that are part of the Simón Patiño Foundation’s agricultural research center. They are doing admirable work in such areas as organic dairy farming, sustainable agriculture, and a non-GMO seed center for developing hybrid cropsthat are better suited for the changing climate and environment in the region.
Great walks in all directions… thank you, Cochabamba, for being so hiker friendly!