Hiking With Condors in Bolivia
I know in my heart of hearts that I’m not a camping kind of girl. I want to see Machu Picchu, but hiking the Inca Trail to get there?
…eeehhh, not so much.
But sometimes, I get these flares of insanity, the ones that make me think “Heck, yeah, let’s go to the Amazon!” or “Maybe I could handle Kilimanjaro.”
A flare like the one I had in Tarija, when I read The Travel Chica’s post about the Valle de los Condores in Bolivia. She described a 2-day condor-spotting hike up into the mountains of southern Bolivia, and I was convinced.
Tarija hadn’t blown us away – a faux pas at the dinosaur museum, a less-than-friendly reception at our hotel, and unhappy tummies (We drank the water at the hotel after being assured it was okay. Only ourselves to blame.) had left us wanting more. So we booked ourselves a hike through Valle de los Condores, a non-profit who has rights to lead treks in the valley.
Since there were only two of us, the cost of the trek was 800 Bolivianos ($115 USD) each. It felt expensive, but this is what we got:
- 2 nights’ accommodation & camping gear
- Six meals (incredible, organic meals)
- guided trek to the condors
- transfers between Tarija and Rosillas (about a 40-minute drive)
And then there were the things you couldn’t put a price tag on. As soon as we arrived in Rosillas, we looked at the setting, looked at each other, and went, “Oh my god.”
We were met by Sophie, a lovely Bolivian woman, who showed us to our accommodation – a lofted apartment with beautiful mountain views and an enormous squishy bed.
We met the dogs.
We were warned about the espinas that littered the property and surrounds.
And at five o’clock sharp, Sophie led us to the barn for some ambrosia. Here’s how you make ambrosia: pour some Bolivian singani brandy in a glass, add a mixture of sugar and cinnamon, then fill the rest with hot milk, straight from the cow.
YES. I got to milk a cow.
Actually, I sort of molested the cow in a pathetic attempt to produce some milk, but a little trickle came out so I consider it successful.
That night we had fresh chicken pasta and slept peacefully in anticipation of the morning. It started well, with an enormous breakfast of eggs, bread, homemade peach yogurt, muesli, peach juice, tea and coffee.
“You need energy,” Sophie said. “For the hike.”
I’d have eaten every last drop even if my plans consisted solely of laying on the couch. It was delicious.
Our guide, Miguel, didn’t speak much English. We still don’t speak much Spanish. But it worked. Loaded up with our tents and sleeping bags, the three of us hit the road.
We hiked for about three hours, stopping occasionally to admire the views on the gorgeous clear day.
And it was a hike, my first ever with a backpack. As I said, I’m not really a hiking/camping kind of girl. Once we hit the clearing where we’d set up camp, I helped by taking photos while Jared and Miguel prepared the tents.
Later I tried to scare off the cows, with weak results.
After lunch, I wasn’t sure what we would do, but Miguel pointed upwards.
“Los condores,” he said. “Vamos.”
We hiked for another hour or so, condors swooping above us. Every time I thought we’d hit the highest peak, Miguel showed us another, higher one. I employed my “I am a mountain goat” mantra and miraculously kept enjoying myself.
Finally, we hit the ridge of the Valley of the Condors itself. Several of the giant birds were circling over the valley, while one perched on the edge, allowing us to observe it.
We sat on the lip of the valley as the condors soared, dipping closer and closer to us, the only three people in sight. I thought they were scoping us out for food but then realized I was thinking of vultures.
Each time a bird passed, we could hear a whistled woosh as it cut through the air. It was incredible.
Even Miguel was impressed with the show the condors put on, and he’s done this a few times before. After 30 minutes of watching, stunned, we reluctantly headed back to camp. Miguel cooked a veggie/pasta soup, we sipped some white wine, and watched the sun disappear.
It was an experience I’d never had anywhere else.
In the morning, we took a slightly different path down the valley, via a much-needed waterfall. Then we clambered down a steep (really steep) slope, eventually reaching flat ground, and retraced our steps back to home base.
When I finally shed my sweat-encrusted clothes and stepped into the shower, dirt ran off me in rivulets. I was wiped out. I was not sure I’d be able to do a trek like this again.
But I was happy.
For some reason, people just don’t seem to know about this place – I was only the second visitor they’d ever had from the United States. If you’re in Bolivia, I’d strongly encourage you to give it a try.
Even if you’re not that into camping.
For more information, see the Valle de los Condores website, or, if in Tarija, walk into EcoSol on Plaza Sucré. We booked our hike in person two days before we departed. If you have three or more people in your group, the price drops considerably.