After spending another day in La Paz to recuperate from the Huayna Potosi trip I decide it’s time for me to start venturing southward.
La Paz – Cochabamba
Parque Nacional Toro Toro was not originally on my itinerary but after hearing great reviews from other travelers I figured I had to pay it a visit. Plus, it’s on the way to Sucre and Uyuni (more or less)- both locked places on my hit list.
To get to the park you need to go to the town of Toro Toro. The only buses that go there depart from Cochabamba. I took a night bus from La Paz to Cochabamba (I only booked it a few hours prior to departure but there are so many buses leaving every hour so I’m sure that buying it once you get there wouldn’t be a problem at all). So here’s where things start getting very, very entertaining.
Unfortunately, as I had already entered my personal bubble à la night bus style (aka crept inside my sleeping bag with my hat pulled down over my face and ALL my valuables under three layers of clothing making me look like I’m 2 weeks overdue giving birth to twins) I missed it all. BUT my friend was more than happy to recount the events:
First of all, the ticket-seat-numbering system had completely fallen out of commission. Seats were mixed up left and right and passengers ended up having to play musical chairs in the wee hours of the night. Some were left standing as the bus was overbooked. The police was called to resolve the issue. Not much happened. Then, the bus driver asked one of my friends to come outside and have a look at something. He did. The driver gently pushed him toward the bus letting him know that they had found him a great alternative seat he could have all to himself- the luggage storage. For obvious reasons he declined this very generous offer.
Cochabamba- Toro Toro
The bus from Cochabamba takes between 4-7 hours and costs 20 Bs. per person. It doesn’t run on set schedule but departs whenever it’s filled.
I included the bus schedule below. Note that there are no buses leaving Cochabamba on Mondays.
- Thursdays and Sundays at 6.00 am.
- Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 6.00 pm.
The plan was to go straight to Parque Nacional Toro Toro once we got to Cochabamba and instead see this town on the way to Sucre. The earliest buses to the park left at 06:00 (these were the smaller ones that are a little too ambitious in pushing their maximum capacity). There is also a larger bus leaving at 09:00 and noon, though it is a bit more expensive. As we aimed to get to the town of Toro Toro as quickly as possible, we opted for the smaller option. After 4 hours of my knees being jammed into the seat in front with every bump in the road we get to Toro Toro. Mind you, this is a very small town and I am immediately reminded of how much I prefer traveling through smaller towns rather than big cities. They feel more untouched, unique and definitely offer more surprises.
Here are 4 things that make Toro Toro an interesting place to visit:
- Actually entering your hostel room. The hostel options in Toro Toro are not plenty. But I managed to find an extremely cheap option in Hotel Los Chocos (20 Bs, or $3 USD). Only problem here: the hang locks on the door don’t work. Neither do the doors open completely. I found myself having to squeeze through the crack.
- Dinosaurs upon dinosaurs upon dinosaurs. Seriously, they’re everywhere: decorating benches, restaurant signs and shops. Dinosaur overload.
- Limited food. Being a vegetarian is already challenging in a place like Bolivia, but Toro Toro definitely made it even more tricky. In the evening, I found that all places I went to (about three as there are not too many restaurants there), all served spaghetti bolognese for dinner. Nothing but spaghetti bolognese. And after 1900 they started running out of food completely. Pro tip: eat early.
- Limited water. Again, get your supplies early. I found myself without water one evening. The stores are not open late and there are not too many to begin with.
- There are no ATMs. Cash is king.
So, about the actual park…
As a national park, Toro Toro comes with certain restrictions. Here I have compiled some useful tips/ facts about entering Parque Nacional Toro Toro:
- Bring sunscreen, snacks and water on your tours!
- You must hire a guide to enter. This can be done at the oficina de guía in la Plaza Principal. Note that the open hours are a bit funky, with a two-hour closing for lunch.
- You must pay a park entrance fee of 50 Bs at the Tourism Office in the main plaza. This is valid for 4 days.
- There are two main routes for exploring the park and both make for great day trips:
- Vergel tour. This tour is 4-5 hours long and starts from the central plaza in Toro Toro. You walk the whole way (Toro Toro is literally located in the midst of the park itself). The sites here include El Vergel (a waterfall in a canyon), Cañon de Toro Toro (magnificent, lion king looking canyon) and dinosaur footprints that you will stumble upon on your way to the sites. When hiking through the canyon you’re also able to take a dip in the natural pools. Cost is around 100 Bs per group (up to 6 people).
2. Ciudad de Itas. This 7-9 hour tour includes caverns de Umajalanta, cave drawings and Sitio De Huacasenqa ( a cave system). In short, cave overload. Really. For this tour you meet in the plaza before taking a one hour bus drive to the first site. Now, the elevation here is much higher so make sure to bring some snuggly clothes to retain some warmth. The cave was definitely a highlight! It’s supposed to be one of the deepest ones in Bolivia- and it offers quite the challenge in squeezing through narrow passages and sliding down rocks. The whole tour ranges between 500 to 700 Bs per group (maximum 7 people).
- Tours typically leave in the morning. The longer tour only leaves in the morning whereas the shorter 4-hour canyon tour leaves up until early afternoon (14:00 at the latest).
Awesome possum. Now what were some of the highlights form this park?
- Standing at the edge of then canyon with my pet dinosaur Oscar.
- Laying down on a rock bed in the Toro Toro canyon, seeing waterfalls, canyon walls all at once. Silence. All you could hear were the sounds of the water.
- Spotting condors
- Climbing around the rock formations pretending to be a par cour pro.
- Silently playing dinosaur footprint bingo in my head… they’re everywhere!
- The spectacular views at Ciudad de Itas reminding me of some kind of Super Mario World (?).I’m not very well-versed on video games…
- Playing hide and seek in the cave sysems
- Crawling through narrow cave pathways… all of sudden it seemed as though I had more limbs than usual. A lot to keep track of.
Also, more pamphlets of Toro Toro can be found here: http://www.sernap.gob.bo/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=81&Itemid=286
“Cool story bro, but how much did it cost?”
Entrance to park (valid for two days): 40Bs
Tour 1: 17Bs
Tour 2: 100Bs
Hostel Los Chocos: 2x20Bs
La Paz- Cochabamba bus: 60Bs
Cochabamba- Toro Toro bus: 20Bs