Hiking the Incan Trail of Yunga Cruz

Illimani from the mountain pass

After returning from biking the death road, Guillaume and I decided that it was time to start hiking. We decided to start with a hike called Yunga Cruz. It started in Chuñawi in the mountains and it finished in the jungle in Chulumani.
Cairns at the mountain pass
To catch the bus, we went at 6am to the meeting point which was north of Plaza San Pedro in La Paz. After waiting around 30 minutes our mini-bus was full and we started the VERY bumpy 4 hour ride to Chuñawi. Upon arrival, there was a sign welcoming us to the Trek of Yunga Cruz. We walked for about 15 minutes and then decided to break for some breakfast since we didn’t eat before leaving La Paz. The trail was pretty easy to follow to start but one watch out is make sure you follow the trail and not the road. We almost made this mistake until a woman told us we were heading the wrong direction. After an hour or two, we made it to a divide where we could either take the shorter, straighter route or we could trek a little longer and camp near some mountain lakes. We decided to extend the hike a little and enjoy the lakes. Luckily we made this decision because it was beautiful!
Trail and heavy cloud cover as we walked through the mountains
Most of the day we hiked in the clouds and the trail was definitely harder to find at times on this portion. This was especially true when we first left the original path (aka we ended up off the path and extended our hiking time by about 30-45 minutes.) Once we found the trail again we continued without incident to the first camping spot. We decided, however, to continue onto the second camping spot which was on a bigger laguna and higher up. Upon leaving the first campsite, we lost the trail again. There was a trail lower down on the mountain but the actual trail to the next laguna climbed the side of the mountain instead of staying down lower. After breaking for lunch, we found the trail and this time continued without incident. Upon arriving to the campsite, we pitched the tent and then decided to take a nap because we were exhausted due to the 4:30am wake-up that morning. Once we woke up from our nap, the clouds had cleared and we could see Illimani in the distance. The view was absolutely amazing!
The next day, we packed up and left camp around 10am. We started the day by climbing to the only mountain pass in the trek and arrived after an hour and a half of hiking. We were very lucky and had a clear day were we could still see Illimani and the other snow-capped mountains in the distance. After enjoying the view for a while, we started our “descent”. However, there was definitely a lot of uphill, downhill, uphill, on this portion of the hike. The clouds were heavier on this side of the mountain but we were able to stay on the path almost the entire time without any problems. Most of this portion of the trail were actually steps made of rocks and for me it was amazing to see how much work the Incans had done and how it has lasted. There was definitely something magical about walking through the mountains in the middle of heavy cloud cover on a trail that is thousands of years old. Around 3 that afternoon we arrived to the start of the jungle. We had been warned (by the only 2 people we had seen on the trail) that this portion was rather challenging.
Incan trail through the mountains and clouds
When we started trekking in the jungle, there was a lot of water and it was very slippery. The going was slow because there were a lot of low lying branches and sometimes we were walking in the middle of a stream. Part of this was due to the fact that it was the end of the rainy season I’m sure.
Misty jungle trail
After fighting our way through the jungle we arrived at the third of four camps that were in the jungle portion of the hike at 6pm. Of course when we arrived, the heavens opened and a torrential rainstorm started. We did get the tent pitched without incidence but needless to say everything was really wet and of course our shoes and clothes were wet already from hiking.
Trail leading into the jungle
On day 3 we decided to get an earlier start. We left camp around 9am, in the rain, and started off again. Luckily, this portion of the jungle was slightly easier and around 11 we made it to a giant pine tree where we again had two trekking options. One of the people working in the tourism office had told us that the option to the left was slightly longer but more beautiful and still led to Chulumani while the straight option was more direct but less beautiful. We, obviously, decided to take the longer route but unfortunately, it wasn’t the route the guy had mentioned.
Guillaume hiking through the jungle
We ended up on a VERY overgrown trail with a ton of fallen trees. After hiking for a couple more hours, we finally made it out of the forest and we stopped for lunch. We could tell from our map that we were on the wrong side of the mountain from Chulumani but we were in fact heading towards some towns so we decided to keep going because it that point it would’ve been very difficult to turn around. We followed the winding trail for 3-4 more hours and finally arrived in the town of Chirca exhausted but fine.
Guillaume scaling one of the many fallen trees
The town of Chirca in the distance
We stopped for a snack and soda (which I never drink but definitely made an exception) and we also found out some information on how to get to Chulumani. The nicest woman told us that we needed to hike down to the main road and from there we could find a taxi or a bus to Chulumani. I changed out of my wet boots into sandals (hello multiple blisters from two days of wet boots) and we started the 45 minute walk to the main road. We were very lucky because right as we got to the main road a taxi passed. We paid 20 bolivianos to go directly to where we wanted to stay. We decided on Country House which was located 10 minutes outside of town. The cost was $150 bolivianos per person (definitely not worth that much) but we were exhausted. We ate dinner there which was reasonably priced because we couldn’t motivate ourselves to walk back into town…Also, while it was mentioned as a bed and breakfast the breakfast was not included in the price which I found a little strange and a bit misleading. The owner was very nice but I wouldn’t stay here again given what we received for the price.
One of the many beautiful views as we exited the jungle
Overall, the hike of Yunga Cruz was amazing. While we had some bad weather at times and ended up lost more than once, I thought the views were amazing and the trail definitely wasn’t that bad to follow (we just decided to take alternative routes that proved more challenging and decided to hike it in 3 days versus 4.) I would definitely recommend this hike to someone who it looking for a multi-day hike that incorporates some of the Incan history and doesn’t involve too much uphill!
Sunset as we hiked down from Chirca

Author: jordansjourneys92

Hi! My name is Jordan Gurkin and I am currently living in Steamboat Springs, CO after traveling around the U.S.(for 6 months) and South America (for a year). While in South America I lived in Argentina for 5 months and taught English and then I spent 6 months traveling through Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru. I'm a blogger focused on bringing you budget travel advice, travel tips, storytelling and some of my recommendations on places to visit!

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