Awe inspiring. There is no other way to describe the journey from La Paz to Coroico. The road winds out of La Paz to the mountain pass of La Cumbre; it snakes between snow-capped mountains at a breathless 4800 metres in altitude; it plunges 3600m downwards, taking in a series of hairpin bends and tunnels, before reaching the crystal clear waters of Rio Huarinilla in the valley floor. It then climbs several hundred metres upwards to reach Coroico.
If the small, sleepy village of Coroico defies logic by balancing impossibly on the side of a mountain, the change of landscape, flora and fauna from the high altiplano to the Yungas is even more dramatic. You literally go from ice-capped mountains outside La Paz to the humid, sub-tropical forested hills with colourful birds and butterflies surrounding Coroico…in less than two and a half hours. Its an amazing journey.
The road we travelled is famous because it was built to replace the World’s Most Dangerous Road, which runs along the mountainside on the opposing side of the valley. While the World’s Most Dangerous Road is now largely the preserve of cyclists and the morons from Top Gear, the new road takes most of the traffic but is no less dramatic – and is a remarkable feat of engineering.
Despite the engineering, landslides still occur. We had to divert off the road onto a dirt track to avoid a partially cleared landslide. Travelling in a minibus on a narrow dirt track without safety barriers, zig-zagging around hairpin bends down a mountainside with 2000m drops, and, at one point, performing a three point turn to get round a particularly vicious corner, is a terrifying introduction to this mesmerising region.
Once you arrive, Coroico is a really lovely village with a mild climate and spectacular views of the mountains and road we’d just travelled down. At weekends it gets busy with people from La Paz, during the week, when we were there, its a quiet place to spend a few days reading, relaxing, walking local trails and swimming. Coroico probably has more swimming pools per head than anywhere else in Bolivia.
The village itself isn’t very pretty, but it has a nice central plaza which is the focal point for local life. From the plaza there are a number of walking routes that take you out of the village and either up mountains or down to beautiful rivers with natural swimming holes. I decided to climb Cerro Uchumachi, a 2500m mountain that has unbelievable views of the village and surrounding mountains.
It was a hard walk straight up the mountainside, and you pass through densely wooded areas that are very humid. By the time I reached the top I was soaked in sweat. When I started, the top of Uchumanchi was covered in low cloud, but by the time I got to the summit the cloud had cleared and there were wonderful views reaching all the way to the mountains of the Cordillera Real.
The sign at the summit says Uchumanchi is 2480m in altitude, but I met an Argentinian woman at the top who had an altimeter saying it was 2517m. I could definitely feel those extra 37m in my legs!
Coroico had one more surprise for us before we headed back to La Paz, a spectacular sunset that set the sky alight in oranges, pinks and reds…all with the mountains of the Yungas and Cordillera Real as a backdrop.