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A gorgeous little mountain town about 3 hours from La Paz, it proved to be an inspired option for a long weekend.  The town has a charming central plaza,  narrow little stone streets and views in most directions.

We ended up doing a 3-day hike into the mountains that took in a couple of glaciers and lagunas. After asking about prices at the official guide’s office and gathering what information we could we decided to find a map and go it alone. ( he was charging about 100 dollars for the 3 days – a fortune in Bolivia). We figured we could find our way and carry our own bags though the route involved leaving our tent and large packs for a day for the hike up to the glacier at 5200m- without the guide to organise a minder for our stuff we’d heard there was a high chance of robbery.

We took a cab to a remote little town where we had heard you could access the lakes with a bit of luck and creativity.  The trip was spectacular and we headed into the sticks on a very small dirt track on the side of a mountain. Within half an hour, we realised we’d taken a wrong turn and started staggering up a steep hill over spinifex grass with our large packs in search of the path. We must have looked very comical to the local shepherd and his family that spotted us and asked if we wanted to pay for him to take us to Laguna Chillata.  At first we declined but when he told us his price was only 50 Bolivianos (about 7 US dollars) for the day, we accepted gratefully. Good thing too- despite our map, we would have struggled badly to find the place. He took us through narrow rocky passes and around two mountains where the path was anything but clear. Ricardo turned out to be a complete legend and we chatted away throughout the day, arriving in good time at the beautiful highland lake. Once there, we negotiated with one of the guides (there were two small tours that arrived at the lake just after us) to mind our gear the next day for a very small fee.

He was also a lovely guy and when we told him the price the guiding office had quoted he was very annoyed. – it was twice the official price, the other guide pocketed the excess and honest guides like him ended up losing out on income they needed to support their families. Once back in town, we went with him to talk to the boss and explain what had happened to help him out.

The next day was very hard, and we were thankful we could leave our tent and packs at the Laguna- a 900m ascent over rivers, highland grasses and rocky outcrops. Before long we were above the clouds and could see Lake Titicaca in the distance. We were heading towards Mt Illampu (6400m) and could feel the altitude beginning to bite. Laguna Glacial was a welcome reward and we collapsed on a rock for lunch.  Luckily it was all downhill from there (literally). When we awoke the next morning at the same laguna we were greeted with a full moon and a beautiful sunrise over a surreal blanket of cloud.

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