After four hours on an unpaved bumpy road through Bolivian countryside we arrive at the sleepy little village of Toro Toro.
The landscape that greets us is captivating…dramatic!
The hills that surround us look like razor sharp teeth of some prehistoric monster, ripping their way through the ground.
There aren’t many people in town, dogs nap in the shades of little rustic houses.
Time seems to runs on a different schedule here.
We walk the dirt roads and the locals welcome us not just with smiles but with words as well, “bienvenidos!“.
We’re surprised, up till now Bolivia has been many things, but definitely not welcoming.
Ciudad de Itas
It’s a long drive in a 4×4 up to a plateau where our trek starts.
The weather doesn’t look good, heavy mist rolls in blocking our view and soon enough it starts to rain.
We go down a little ravine that the local population used to hide their livestock in from the spaniards.
They had to give away a part of their herds like tax. The best animals they would hide and the old or sick ones they would present to the invaders. The name “city of itas” comes from the insects (itas) that used to bother the livestock in the ravine.
To get out of the ravine we start climbing vertical rock walls on a long metal ladder, water runs down between my hands and feet and my vertigo is getting the best of me.
I’m seriously starting to chant a mantra to get through this part Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner…
This amazing lady from Austria is one of the best female mountaineers in the world and would probably laugh if she could see the short part we’ve climbed, but it helps me to repeat her name when things get rough :).
We’re out and most importantly we’re alive, and proceed over some unique rock formations that to me look like fossilized corals, but could have been eroded by rain as well, and I’m sad that we can’t experience this place in better weather.After driving down a bit and a quick lunch, we’ve put helmets on and start for the mouth of the cave.
The water stream that runs down into the cave has augmented significantly due to the rain and I’m thinking to myself
how the hell are we supposed to go in there?
It’s no walk in the park, we climb over huge boulders, squeeze through narrow spaces near the walls, and cross the water one, two, three times in zig zags. Balancing, jumping and help from our friendly group members is required. Fear of falling into the racing, murky waters is my constant companion. Imagine how easy it all might have been in better weather.As we approach another difficult part where even the guys look a little overwehelmed with jumping over the water on slippery stones yet again, I realize that we haven’t really entered the cave and decide that for me the time has come to abort this adventurous undertaking.
I’ll stay behind and wait for the group to emerge from the darkness again – oh the relief!
The guide tells me to trek back up a little, cause if the water swells some more it might carry me away.
Now that makes me feel much better!
I watch Heli and the others disappear into darkness and hope for the best.
The other girl in our group has also had enough and joins me at my
hiding waiting spot.
We spend the time chatting and listening to the roaring sounds of the water making it’s way deeper down.
After a while the others finally emerge and I don’t see any smiley faces.
Heli is wet to his waist and our Swiss friends are making jokes about “safety first”; apparently another
pleasant tour experince the couple has had traveling. The full report of the events in the cave made me shiver.
The day is done, and so am I. Tired but happy to have listened to my instincts I do not regret sitting this one out!
On the next day, the emotional wounds have healed some and the same group from yesterday is ready for the second highlight of Toro Toro. This tour includes dinosaur footprints and trekking down a canyon to see a beautiful waterfall.
Our guide is fit, oldish, uncommunicative and reminds me of a shepherd steering his herd through the countryside.
He never provides any info and when I press him on it the answers are short and he is not amused.
We reach the view point and the canyon looks amazing in the midday sun. There are parrots living in the canyon walls. Occasionally they reward us with a flight and their cheerful chatter. We haven’t visited many canyons and can’t help but contemplate the forces that crafted this place a long time ago.
Then follows a long way down. Once at the bottom we start climbing over huge boulders and crossing the river one too many times. It feels like yesterday’s visit to the cave all over again – maybe I’m still traumatized after all.
It definitely doesn’t help that our
friendly guide runs like a madman and never lends a helping hand.
We finally reach the waterfall and it’s breathtaking! Water flows and drips over lush vegetation along the canyon wall.
The natural pool formed by the giant rocks is inviting and Heli decides to take a dip in the water, while I take a million pictures. It’s nice and peaceful with very few other tourists around.
The way back is a lot harder, I’m the only one in the group having a hard time keeping up. I have to rest several times on the way up because I still feel weak after puking my guts out in Salar de Uyuni (more about that another time).
When I finally emerge from the canyon the rest of the group is sitting around bored, waiting to finally get back to the village and I start to feel embarassed. Most of them are continuing tomorrow, but we decide to stick around for another day because this place feels so unreal.
On our last day we finally have a young friendly guide with whom we make our way out of the village right through the teeth shaped hills of Toro Toro. He is talkative and determined to explain all that he knows about the different rock formations. The colors come from different minerals and he even shows us traces of sea waves on one of the uncovered layers. Geology class included in the tour, this rocks!
Some are laying around free and look intact, others are embedded in the rocks. There are tiny ones, but also normal size shells that you might find at the beach yourself. I’m a geek for this sort of thing and it was fun pointing out all the fossil laden rocks on our way back, now that we knew what to look for.
The tour wasn’t the best or the most exciting of the three we did, but it was nice getting nearer to the tooth shaped hills and seeing all the layers from up close.
To say that we loved this place, would be an understatement. We fell hard for Toro Toro for various reasons.
There were enough hostels to stay in, it was small, cute and rural.
The landscape was gorgeous and we thoroughly enjoyed exploring it – I just wish we had better weather.
People were friendly and that made all the difference!
What made the goodbye easier was the lack of fresh food. We bought the last bell pepper on the market.
The food stalls only served meat and after being offered rice and an egg far too many times I caved in and had some chicken. I felt defeated; the traveling broke me and I decided to call myself “predominantly vegetarian” from then on.
Locals were saying how finally a proper road to the village will be built and an ATM will soon be installed (this year!).
Others laughed – this has been mentioned too many times for them to believe it might happen any time soon.
Fact is, if you visit Bolivia this place is a must! It charmed and welcomed us like no place else in the country.
Make sure to visit soon before the masses start pouring in, while it’s still genuine and unspoilt.
Where to stay
- Hotel Vergel: one block from plaza, at the end of the forked street [60BOB for a double with private bathroom].
Good value for money, friendly owners, but no shared kitchen. No Wifi – we went to a bar where our host also works to surf the internet.
Also check out: Alojamiento Charcas, Hostal Wilma, Las Hermanas.
Where to eat
- The market and around: a lunch menu costs 10BOB; be there before 13:00 otherwise they sell out.
- Café del Pueblo: we wanted to try it, but there was nobody there although it should have been open.
What to see and do
Just show up at the tourism office at plaza principal around 7:30am and ask for the tour you want. The tours have fixed prices and the guides speak only spanish. You can split the cost with other travellers, the maximum group size is 6-7 people. The park entrance fee is an additional 50BOB and is valid for four days.
- Ciudad de Itas and Caverna de Umajalanta – 600BOB split amongst 6.
- Cañón de Toro Toro and El Vergel – 100BOB split amongst 6.
- 7 Vueltas – 100BOB split amongst 2. That day we were the only ones to do the tour so we payed more.
Other tours that we haven’t done:
- Cementario de Tortugas: fossilized turtle shells.
- Llama Chaqui: a 19km hike to an Inka ruin.
- There is no ATM and you will have to bring the money you might need in cash.
- No WiFi in the hostels so you might want to get your own SIM card or surf in the cafes.
- From Cochabamba: collectivos for 35BOB leave from the crossing Av. Republica and Calle Mairana when full.
Have you been to Toro Toro in Bolivia?
Was your adventure any different?
If you have any questions or want to share your experience hit us up in the comment section, we’d love to hear from you!