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The undiscovered jewel of Central Bolivia
The bus is not brimming with tourists as the area of the Parque Nacional Torotoro still remains one of Bolivia’s best hidden secrets. Squashed between the sugarcane and bundles of food, your bag safely resting in-between the wardrobes, bed posts and occasional coffin that precariously balance on the top of the bus, you will be lead to a magical place that you have only met in your wildest dreams.
The reason this destination is short of tourists is due to the rocky road the guidebooks describe as an “uncomfortable ten hour journey”. The word “uncomfortable” however is a little easily used. It should be described more as an exhilarating, eye-opening enlightening voyage united with amazing, indescribable views that will surpass the thrill factor of Bolivia’s Coroico Death Road.
This trip is definitely more for the traveller who prefers integrating with the locals, tasting real almuerzo (chicken feet and all) and doesn’t mind the occasional piece of missing road.
One of the most incredible sights on the drive up, apart from the velvet coated mountains and tabletop flat terrain, are the colours that pigment the scenery. The oxidised iron in the minerals produce shades of scarlet red, pink and orange which contrast with the minty greens from the bronzed countryside. Everything is transformed into a multi-coloured pandemonium that is beyond belief.
Parque National Torotoro was declared a protected area in 1989 and became Bolivia’s smallest national park covering just 16 570 hectares. The park contains thousands of dinosaur footprints that pepper the landscape, dark mysterious caves, a tortoise cemetery and even a spectacular canyon.
The story of Torotoro’s nationalisation and discovery along with all the tales that surround this town are both magical and intriguing. During the turbulent time of the 1960s and 1970s when much of South America was in turmoil and revolutionary groups were establishing themselves throughout the continent, a group of anti-establishment students from Cochabamba went in search of a place where they could hide from the law.
They headed to the town of Torotoro where they had heard there were many caves and canyons. Although they could not find a good place to hide they were seduced by the enchanted land. Fascinated and enticed they spread stories about its immense beauty and breathtaking landscape, canyons, caves, waterfalls and ruins. In the spirit of most traditional tales, an eavesdropper was sitting near by. Upon hearing of these geographical wonders he ventured off to investigate and found dinosaurs prints, fossils and many other relics that time had left behind. He claimed that this was an important archaeological site, which led towards its recognition and eventually towards it becoming a national park years later in 1989.
Dinosaur prints may not be your thing, but they exceed any science lesson or Jurassic Park experience that you might have had before. Many of them have been discovered to date back to the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic periods, some 130 to 350 million years ago. From the tiny delicate fossil prints on the dried out riverbed, to the giant prints of the Ankylosauraus (giant spiky tortoise) and the haunting twists of the fated dinosaur as he staggers to his death. Not only is a new story revealed with each imprint, but you are literally able to retrace the steps of these fascinating creatures.
These stories and discoveries only add to the all-encumbering spirit that surrounds Torotoro. Each discovery has a sense of being your own.
The next spectacle on the map is the cave of Humajalanta, translated as ‘the lost waters’. As with all Torotoro attractions, this is no comfortable, relaxed stroll in the park expedition: This is where you get your hands dirty. The Humajalant
a cave is no exception to the rule, the light from outside will guide you for your first five minutes, but after that you are left to embrace the dark, like the blind fish that can only be found in Torotoro. From now on your eyes are no use to you. Slipping down slimy rocks through tiny crevices and sliding on your belly through shallow spaces, the cold chill and high-pitched screeches of the bats will greet you with a palace of stalactites and stalagmites
As your eyes play tricks on you in the darkness underground, things are not quite what they seem. The madness of the dark can get to you so much that you think you see the Virgin Mary, a Christmas tree and even the Beatles’ own yellow submarine floating in the dark.
Visiting Torotoro in the dry season can be a very different experience from seeing it in the rainy months of November to January. Walking through the dried out, thirsty riverbeds you can discover the natural theatres that when alive are gushing waterfalls. Walk over the natural bridges, fragile structures that have stood the test of time and simply explore this magical environment.
The greatest landmark in Torotoro has to be the magnificent canyon that literally takes your breath away. Unlike other legendary landmarks in Bolivia, pictures of Torotoro do not splatter the guidebooks or dominate the travel agency walls. This is an advantage, as it really does come as a surprise as you stagger across the gaping gorge, bringing back memories of that childhood excitement you get as the opportunity arises to explore more.
Follow the sounds of the gushing waterfall and you will not be disappointed as after an hour of downhill staggering you will literally think you have discovered paradise.
Torotoro really is a must see when in Bolivia. As there are no other tourists around to disturb the scenery, you can be left to embrace the silence and landscape and really soak up what Bolivia is about. You do need a few days as the buses only run twice a week, but if you have the time then you have to experience the enchanting land that time has left behind.