Connecting Chuñavi, at the foot of the mighty Mount Illimani, with Chulumani in the Yungas, the three to four-day Yunga Cruz Trail (see map) is at once the toughest, most scenic and most pristine of the three Inca trails that link the Altiplano with the tropical valleys. Instead of following a river, like most Bolivian trails, the path leads along the spine of a giant ridge nearly all the way, giving trekkers a condor’s-eye view of the dramatic landscape. Water is scarce and the weather unpredictable, with heavy rain a possibility even during the dry season: carry at least two one-litre water bottles per person and take waterproof clothing. Route-finding is fairly difficult, so ideally go with a guide, and take a machete, as stretches of the trail may be overgrown.
Chuñavi to Cerro Yunga Cruz
The trail starts in Chuñavi, a small village on the northeast slopes of Mount Illimani, six hours by road from La Paz. From here a path with Inca stonework heads east to a small lake about ninety minutes away, before curving left along a broad ridge with plenty of decent places to camp, but no good source of water. The path then continues for about two hours along the ridge and around the side of the 4378m Cerro Khala Ciudad (Stone City Mountain) – look out for the condors that nest amidst its soaring towers. After a sharp turn to the right, the Inca stonework suddenly stops and Illimani disappears from view. Look out for the faded white arrow painted on the rock and turn uphill – after a few big steps, you should be climbing an impressive stone staircase. Another two hours further on, the path curves to the right, leading along the top of a broad green valley. Half an hour later, a stream crosses the path. Fill up with enough water for the night and continue for another hour until you reach a soggy campsite, just below the summit of Cerro Yunga Cruz, the last place to pitch a tent for several hours.
Cerro Yunga Cruz to Chulumani
Soon after leaving the campsite, the trail is crossed by a stream which is the last reliable water source before Chulumani. From here, the trail descends some 2000m through dense cloudforest. After two hours, the trail splits in two; take the right fork. Half an hour later, you’ll reach a clearing. Go to the end of it, then turn right, leaving the peak of Cerro Duraznuni behind you to the left. Chulumani should be visible in the distance to the northeast, perched on the edge of the ridge across the valley on your left. From here it’s another three to four hours to the main road just southeast of Chulumani, past deforested hillsides patchworked with bright-green coca plantations.