Some 130km south of Cochabamba, PARQUE NACIONAL TOROTORO protects a remote and sparsely inhabited stretch of the arid, scrubby landscape that is characteristic of the eastern foothills and valleys of the Andes. Covering just 164 square kilometres around the village of the same name, Torotoro is Bolivia’s smallest national park, but what it lacks in size it makes up for with its powerful scenery and varied attractions. The park encompasses a high, hanging valley and deep eroded canyons, ringed by low mountains whose twisted geological formations are strewn with fossils, dinosaur footprints and labyrinthine limestone cave complexes. In addition, the park’s woodland supports considerable wildlife – including flocks of parakeets and the rare and beautiful red-fronted macaw, found only in this particular region of Bolivia – while ancient rock paintings and pre-Inca ruins reveal a long-standing human presence. The main attractions are the limestone caves of Umajallanta, the beautiful, waterfall-filled Torotoro Canyon, and hiking expeditions to the pre-Inca ruined fortress of Llama Chaqui. Two days are generally enough to see the main attractions though it’s worth taking longer if you want to explore the area more fully.
Though reached from Cochabamba, Parque Nacional Torotoro actually lies within Northern Potosí department. Before the Spanish conquest this was the core territory of the Charcas Confederation, a powerful collection of different ethnic groups subject to Inca rule. Following the conquest, the different Quechua- and Aymara-speaking groups that made up the confederation retained their distinct identities, each as separate ayllus (extended kinship groups, similar to clans or tribes). The ayllus of Northern Potosí mostly live in the higher-altitude lands to the west of the region, where they grow potatoes and raise livestock, but they maintain islands of territory in the dry valleys such as Torotoro, where they cultivate maize, wheat and other lower-altitude crops. This system ensures each group has access to the produce of different altitudes, and represents a distinctly Andean form of organization that has long fascinated anthropologists.
Throughout the colonial era and long after independence, Northern Potosí was the focus of frequent indigenous uprisings. As recently as 1958, during the upheaval following the 1952 revolution, Torotoro village – which was formed in the late colonial period by mestizo migrants from Cochabamba – was ransacked by armed ayllu members, who seized the lands of the haciendas that had been established on their traditional valley territories.