Southwest of La Paz, the road to Chile passes through some of the Altiplano’s starkest scenery, a desert plain virtually devoid of vegetation presided over by the perfect snowcapped cone of Volcán Sajama. At 6542m, Sajama is Bolivia’s highest mountain, and the first in a chain of icebound volcanic peaks known as the Cordillera Occidental that straddle the Chilean border and mark the edge of the Altiplano – although Sajama stands alone, separated from the rest of the range. Sajama is also the centre of Bolivia’s oldest national park, the PARQUE NACIONAL SAJAMA, established in 1939 to protect the local population of vicuñas, a wild relative of the llama that had been hunted to the verge of extinction for its wool. The animals have since made a dramatic recovery, and large herds can be found grazing 25km or so north of the village at the area known as Patoca.

The park covers roughly one thousand square kilometres, encompassing the entire mountain and a large area of the surrounding desert, where pumas, Andean deer and rheas are also found – though rarely seen. Sajama’s slopes also support the world’s highest forest, a patch of queñua trees that survive up to 5200m. The records don’t stop there: in 2001 the highest football match in the world was played in the crater at the top of Sajama.

Most visitors are climbers, drawn by the chance to ascend a peak of over 6000m that requires relatively little technical expertise. However, the mountain’s lower slopes make for excellent hiking, and there are bubbling geysers and hot springs to be explored in the plain below. West of the park on the Chilean border, the two volcanic peaks of Parinacota (6132m) and Pomerata (6222m) provide a stunning backdrop. Known as the payachatas (“twins”), and considered the female consorts of Sajama, these mountains can also be scaled.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Bolivia features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

That ever-growing travel wish list might be putting some pressure on your pocket – but there are plenty of destinations where you'll get more bang for your b…

11 Oct 2017 • Emma Gibbs camera_alt Gallery
Bolivia: make time for South America’s most misunderstood country

Bolivia: make time for South America’s most misunderstood country

Bolivia brims with unique and barely-visited landscapes and cultures. It offers everything from the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats, to the Par…

28 Dec 2016 • Steph Dyson insert_drive_file Article
15 things everyone learns backpacking South America

15 things everyone learns backpacking South America

South America has become a favoured destination for the intrepid backpacker, and while it’s impressive in the astounding diversity of its nations, there are a…

02 Mar 2016 • Steph Dyson insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook