Encompassing a wide variety of landscapes – including subtropical valleys, expansive plains and soaring Andean peaks – the beautiful high-altitude region surrounding La Paz can seem like a microcosm of the country as a whole, and is sometimes known as “Little Bolivia” because of it. Its focal point is the stunning, shimmering blue of Lago Titicaca, held sacred by the Incas and venerated to this day by local indigenous communities. The nearby Cordillera Real, Cordillera Apolobamba and the Yungas are dotted with tranquil towns, many with balmy temperatures and stunning views, which make them perfect places to relax or to escape the chill of the Altiplano. There are also innumerable options for exploring the diverse countryside on hiking, mountain-biking or climbing excursions. Moreover, with regular transport links to both La Paz and across the border to Peru, the area is easy to access and incorporate into a wider trip.
Lying some 75km northwest of La Paz, Lago Titicaca is a vast, high-altitude lake. Straddling the border with Peru it dominates the northern section of the Altiplano, the rolling, 3800m-high plateau that stretches between the eastern and western chains of the Andes – the cordilleras Oriental and Occidental – as they march south through Bolivia. The best base from which to explore the Bolivian side of the lake is Copacabana, which is home to the country’s most revered religious image, as well as the jumping-off point for boat trips to Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna, two idyllic islands dotted with Inca ruins.
Further north, on the Peruvian border, the isolated Cordillera Apolobamba (also part of the Cordillera Oriental) offers great trekking and climbing opportunities in a far more remote setting. South of here and just east of Lago Titicaca is the Cordillera Real, the highest and most spectacular section of the Cordillera Oriental within Bolivia. Stretching some 160km along the edge of the Altiplano, from Mount Illimani (6439m), southeast of La Paz, to the Illampu massif (6370m), which towers over the eastern side of Lago Titicaca, the Cordillera Real can easily be explored from La Paz or the town of Sorata, at the northwestern end of the range.
The Yungas’ rugged, forest-covered mountains, rivers and warm, fertile valleys offer a stark contrast to the nearby Cordillera and arid Altiplano. With a new highway inaugurated in 2006, the old hair-raising route down to the Yungas from La Paz – dubbed the most dangerous in the world – is now largely the domain of mountain bikers. The most popular Yungas destination is Coroico, a resort town set amid beautiful scenery. Within easy striking distance of Coroico are the diverse ecosystems of Parque Nacional Cotapata, through which the rewarding Choro Trail passes. The Takesi Trail, which also follows a pre-Hispanic paved path, is one of the most popular treks in the region. Chulumani, a peaceful town, is less touristy than Coroico but boasts equally good views, while the Yunga Cruz Trail is the region’s most scenic trek.