Stretching for about 160km along the northeastern edge of the Altiplano, the Cordillera Real (Royal Range) is the loftiest and most dramatic section of the Cordillera Oriental in Bolivia. With six peaks over 6000m high and many more over 5000m, it forms a jagged wall of soaring, ice-bound peaks that separates the Altiplano from the Amazon basin. Easily accessible from La Paz, the mountains are perfect for climbing and trekking. Populated by isolated Aymara communities, the cordillera is a largely pristine natural environment: the Andean condor is still a common sight, and other birds like eagles, caracaras and hawks are also frequently seen; though rarely spotted, pumas still prowl the upper reaches, while the elusive Andean spectacled bear roams the high cloudforest that fringes the mountains’ upper eastern slopes.
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Some 55km north of Achacachi, enclosed in a deep, fertile valley at the foot of the mighty 6400m Illampu massif, SORATA has a beautiful setting. Hemmed in by steep mountain slopes and often shrouded in cloud, it has a Shangri-la feel – early Spanish explorers even compared the valley to the Garden of Eden. At an altitude of 2695m, it is significantly warmer than La Paz, but is still cool at night compared to the Yungas. Though there’s little to do in Sorata, it’s a pleasant place to hang out while preparing for or recovering from some hard trekking or climbing, as well as a good base for less strenuous walks in the surrounding countryside.
During the colonial era Sorata was an important trade and gold-mining centre with a large Spanish population. In 1781, at the time of the Great Rebellion, it was successfully besieged by supporters of neo-Inca rebel Tupac Amaru, who dammed rivers above the town and then released a torrent that swept it away. Sorata later enjoyed considerable prosperity as one of the main routes into the Yungas from the Altiplano, generating fortunes for the German merchants who dominated the town in the nineteenth century. Sorata was back in the headlines in 2003, when local solidarity with the El Alto-centred “gas war” resulted in several deaths. Its popularity was understandably dented, and today it is still struggling to regain its former appeal. Many businesses (including restaurants) close on Tuesdays.