Cochabamba and Torotoro

After finishing my four-day salt flats tour, I took a couple of buses to get from Uyuni to Cochabamba in central Bolivia. Since my first bus was at 3:00 AM, I was wiped out when I arrived in Cochabamba in the early afternoon. I felt so gross that I couldn’t even sit through dinner that night. Being under the weather gave me a good excuse to stay in bed for a couple of days.

After recovering, I took a bumpy and winding 4.5-hour van ride to Torotoro National Park. Rangers provide excellent and inexpensive tours, which are capped at six visitors. If you’re traveling solo or as a couple, you can wait at the guide office each morning and afternoon to find others who might be interested in a tour you want to join.

On my first afternoon in Torotoro, I joined five other visitors for a hike to Vergel Canyon. Torotoro contains a number of dinosaur footprints, and we passed a set of prints on our way to the canyon.

torotoro dinosaur footprints

We took a quick break at a viewpoint overlooking the canyon.

vergel canyon

At the bottom of the canyon was a waterfall. I didn’t bring a swimsuit with me, but I took full advantage of the shade after a sweaty hike down the canyon. I couldn’t get over how the water seemed to glow among the greenery.

vergel canyon

Am I in a Lord of the Rings movie?

The next day, I joined another five visitors for a full-day tour of Umajalanta Cave and Ciudad de Itas. The tour through Umajalanta involves crawling through tight spaces, sliding down a few muddy inclines, and scaling up slippery rocks. When we crawled belly-down through a puddle a few minutes after entering the cave, a German woman in our group had to tap out due to claustrophobia. My leggings were dirty and soaked by the end of our trek.

umajalanta

A blurry photo with a “tree” made of stalactites and stalagmites

Umajalanta may not be suitable for everyone, but it was a highlight of my trip to Torotoro. When we reached the deepest point of our trek, our guide Abram asked us to turn off our headlamps. We sat in complete darkness, hearing only distant dripping. It was both unsettling and really cool.

umajalanta

The exit of Umajalanta

After drying off, we hiked through Ciudad de Itas, a massive group of rock formations. The colors were spellbinding.

ciudad de itas

Before agreeing to the full-day tour, I had actually thought about skipping Ciudad de Itas. This would have been a mistake, as I ended up preferring it over Vergel Canyon. The hike through Ciudad de Itas was relatively easy (as opposed to the taxing ascent from Vergel Canyon), and the views were spectacular.


A few tips if you’re interested in visiting Torotoro:

  • Transport: Cochabamba serves as the main entry point to Torotoro. Colectivos (shared vans) leave from the city starting at around 8:00 AM, or whenever each van fills up with passengers. As there are no regular departure times, it’s best to catch a colectivo as early as possible in the morning if you want to try to catch a 2:00 PM tour at Torotoro.
    • Don’t expect to sleep during the colectivo ride, as most of the trip is on an unpaved road. I have only one superpower, and that’s the ability to sleep in any moving vehicle. However, even I jolted awake when I banged my head against the van window a few times.
  • Accommodations: my hostel in Cochabamba told me that I didn’t need to book accommodations in Torotoro in advance. Some backpackers are aces at haggling with hostel owners once they reach a location, but I’m not cool enough to pull this off. When I arrive somewhere, I need to know that I have a guaranteed bed for the night. I will gladly fork over a few extra dollars in exchange for being able to immediately dump my backpack in a room and collapse into bed. As a result, I ignored my hostel’s advice and made a reservation in Torotoro. However, my hostel in Cochabamba noted that accommodations in Torotoro are never fully booked, so you can easily negotiate pricing.
  • Attire: if you go to Umajalanta, wear long sleeves (rain jacket, sweater, trekking pants, leggings, etc.). Thank me later.

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