by Lawrence Rubey and Bennett Hennessey
Help protect Bolivian nature through World Land Trust and the new Barba Azul Nature Reserve.
At least a half dozen Pre-Hispanic or "Inca trails" link the altiplano with the sub-tropical Yungas. Constructed over 500 years ago as a vital transport and communication link, many are still in use today by local people. In the last few years, these "Inca trails" have also emerged as a major tourist draw. For the trekker, the Takesi trail has some of best preserved Hispanic stone paving, steps, and retaining walls in South America and offers great views of the flat-topped Nevado Mururata (5868m). For the birder, the 40 kilometer trail descends from 4600m to 2220m passing through a variety of interesting habitats, from puna grassland and high-altitude bogs to second-growth Yungas forests. As the trail descends into the Yungas the vegetation changes, subtlety at first, with the introduction of tall grasses and shrubs, gradually growing denser before finishing in the second growth cloud forest below the mining town of Chojlla. Try and do this hike during the week as weekends (especially holiday weekends) can be very crowded with Bolivian hikers. On average over 5,000 people trek the trail each year. Also, during the peak season, quite a bit of litter accumulates along the trail (follow the candy wrappers if you think you are lost!). Please pack out your all your garbage.
With a lift to the trailhead at Mina San Francisco, one can skip the long uphill slog through farmland from Ventilla, and the journey becomes a nice two day trek with plenty of birding time. If you decide to start walking at Ventilla, you may end up camping at or near the trailhead the first night (where it can be quite cold). The times below are for an acclimated but out-of-shape hiker carrying a pack without including rest stops.
From Ventilla town to the trailhead: Four hours. Due to limited transportation, trekkers often have to make the trip from the town of Ventilla to the trailhead through the dry Choquecota valley. If possible, try and arrange a lift from La Paz directly to the trailhead as the Choquecota valley is mostly shrubs and farm fields. Birds that may be seen include: Puna Hawk, Spot-winged Pigeon, Giant Hummingbird, Sparkling Violetear, White-browed Chat-Tyrant, White-winged Diuca-Finch and Black Siskin.
From the trailhead to cumbre: One hour. This section is only one of two significant uphill segments on the trail and passes some beautiful examples of stone paving. A signpost showing the route is found at the trailhead. From the trailhead, follow the branch to the right. Near the summit, the path becomes broader with excellent Inca stone paving. Reach the summit (cumbre) at 4600 meters and start downhill through more beautiful stone paved areas. Interesting high altitude birds here include Andean Hillstar, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Streak-throated Canastero, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, and Puna Canastero. The keen birder may choose to take three hours for this one hour climb! Just before the cumbre, encounter several small bogs that are worth a rest stop. Watch for Cinerous Ground-Tyrant, Andean Flicker, and Andean Swallow. Andean Condor can occasionally be seen soaring above.
From the cumbre to Takesi: Three hours. This section is relatively barren but a half hour or so below the cumbre lies a large lake which makes a nice stop for lunch. The boulders around this lake are good for Short-tailed Finch. However, be careful in identification, Short-tailed Finch can easily be confused with the abundant Plumbeous Sierra Finch. Andean Goose also likely in this area. Birdlife picks up considerably near the village Takesi as vegetation increases. The area just below Takesi village is good place to camp (3700m) with streams providing a water source (be sure to treat all water). The low shrubbery below Takesi village is also good for the endemic Black-hooded Sunbeam and the rare Stripe-headed Antpitta. Other birds of interest include Andean Tapaculo, Light-crowned Spinetail, Brown-bellied Swallow, White-browed Conebill, Red-crested Cotinga, Black-throated Flowerpiercer, and Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant. As the area below Takesi is one of the best birding sites on the trail, it is worth getting here in time to do some birding before dusk. Another option is to camp here and plan on spending a couple hours birding at first light before continuing down the trail.
From Takesi to Kacapi: Three hours. Just beyond the village of Takesi, the trail crosses the Takesi River and, with the river on the left, begins a gradual descent on smooth stone paving (which can be treacherous when wet). The trail then levels out and making a long sweep right turn around the Loma Palli Palli with the river far below. With the descent into Kacapi, the vegetation increases, although the area is fairly dry and, unless a rare foraging flock is encountered, this section of the trail has limited birdlife.
From Kacapi to Chojila: One hour. From Kacapi, where locals operate several modest restaurants, it is a brief yet steep descent to the Quimsa Chata river (2600m). Full of boulders, the stream-side is a wonderful place to soak your feet in the icy water and have a snack. Then there is a long uphill segment to the tiny, seemingly unpopulated village of Chojila. As this area is somewhat drier than the area near the Takesi area and somewhat more disturbed, birds along this section are rather scarce.
From Chojila to Chojlla: Two hours. From Chojila, the trail descends and re-crosses the Takesi River. After crossing the river, the trail parallels the left bank and enters quite good habitat. Birds likely to be encountered include: Andean Guan, Speckled Hummingbird, Scaled and Tyrian Metaltails, Blue-banded Toucanet, Highland Eleania, White-eared Solitaire, Rust-and-yellow Tanager, Collared Jay, and Dusky-green Oropendola. White-capped Dipper and even Torrent Duck can be found on the boulders in the river. As you approach the mining town of Chojlla (note the minor difference in spelling between the neighboring village of Chojila and mining town of Chojlla), a cement covered aqueduct begins. This acuaduct offers excellent birding and is dealt with under Site 12. From the acuaduct it is a short, but steep, uphill climb to the town of Chojlla, a filthy and unpleasant mining town. Best options are to camp near the acuaduct or continue down the dirt road from Chojlla to Yanachachi where there are a couple modest hotels (alojamientos).
Logistics: The Takesi trailhead is located near the San Francisco mine, though the poor condition of the road means most drivers stop well before reaching the trailhead. Public transportation goes daily to the nearby town of Ventilla, leaving from the market area above Calle Sagarnaga on the corner of Calles Rodriguez and Luis Lara in La Paz. It is about a three hour journey. Another option for larger groups (6 to 10 people) is to charter a minivan to the trailhead outside of the village of Choquekhota. Many of the tour agencies along Calle Sagarnaga can arrange transport or contact the Fundación Pueblo office in La Paz (tel: 413031). Fundación Pueblo, a Bolivian NGO, supports rural development projects in the Yanacachi/South Yungas region aimed at increasing economic opportunities for the local people through, among other things, developing tourism infrastructure along the trail. To return to La Paz after the trek, early morning buses leave from Chojlla (Site #12) and Yanachachi.
GPS reading at trail head of Takesi Trail (near Mina San Francisco): S 16 29.743' W 67 54.124'