UMSA Botanical Gardens
by Lawrence Rubey
Located in the southern suburb of Cotacota, the Botanical Gardens are a "work in progress" by the Ecological Institute located on the campus of the Universidad Mayor de San Andres (UMSA). The garden is divided into five (poorly marked) sections: a small ornamental garden, a greenhouse and office, a study area for plants with special "economic interest," and two sections with semi-wild examples of the dry valles habitat. The small ornamental garden is often alive with feeding Black and Yellow-bellied Siskins and a Giant Hummingbird or two watching over the flowering plants. White-tipped Plantcutter, Band-tailed Seedeater, Andean Flicker and Tufted Tit-Tyrant are common. A pair of Alpomado Falcons occasionally may be found perched high in the eucalyptus trees that border the garden. Recently, a rather large flock of Chopi Blackbirds have become established in the area. Since Chopi Blackbirds are a lowland pampas species usually found at below 1,000 meters, their origins have been subject to much debate.
Logistics: From downtown La Paz, head towards the Zona Sur (southern suburbs of La Paz). From the Prado, Avenida Arce winds down to Obrajes where it becomes Avenida Hernando Siles. After crossing a small bridge that marks the beginning of the Zona Sur and the trendy neighborhood of Calacoto (complete with invading exotics such as Burger King and McDonalds), watch the numbered cross streets that begin with Calle 8. Follow the main drag (now named Avenida Ballivian) into Cotacota, where the street changes names yet again, becoming Avenida Muñoz Reyes. At Calle 27 in the neighborhood of Cotacota, turn left and proceed one block to a small gate that marks the entrance to the university. Enter the gate and follow the path a few dozen meters towards the Chemistry Department (Ciencias Quimicas). The most interesting part of the garden are to the left. The semi-wild examples of dry valle habitat are to the north of the ornamental garden. A taxi from downtown La Paz to "Calle 27 en Cotacota" should not be more than $4.
The garden staff are around only from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday to Friday, but early morning and weekend entry is not usually a problem as there is usually a guard around to open the gate if it is closed. You may need to explain that you are a bird-watching tourist. Telephone numbers are 792582 and 792416.
GPS reading at gate to UMSA Botanical Gardens: S 16° 32.399 W 68° 04.034