Cerro Chacaltaya is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 5.260m (17,257ft) above the sea level, located in the Cordillera Real of the Bolivian Andes. The road still remains an adrenaline-pumping journey and is definitely not for the faint of lungs, heart, or legs. It's one of the highest mountain roads of the country.
The road to the summit, also known as simply Chacaltaya, is extreme, only for 4x4. Starting from Nuestra Señora de La Paz, the departmental capital of the La Paz Department, the road is 22km long. On the summit it was a ski station, which was closed in 2009. When we think about where the highest ski resort on Earth lies, visions of Switzerland, Austria, France, & Colorado fill our minds. Reality is strikingly different. Elevation profile can easily be divided in three parts: Close after El Alto the graveled road leads slowly up towards Zongo valley and to base camp of Mt. Huayna Potosi. After five kilometers the side road to Chacaltaya diverts. Profile becomes there a little more flat but subsequently very steep on the final five kilometers with an average grade of some 10%.
The road to the ruined ski station was built in the 1930’s. It climbs up the steep rocky slopes to the lift area. Not a journey for the weak hearted ...... or a vehicle with poor steering or brakes! On reaching the end of the road at the resort, if you still have the energy when you make it to the ski station you can climb up on a path the 100m or so to the top of Cerro Chacaltaya. For the well acclimatized, this is a long, but not overly strenuous day trip on unloaded bikes.
Near the summit there’s a weather station built in 1942. A quick glance at the map, at its sheer drops and serpentine twists and turns, confirms that this is no hype. The views from the ski station are stunning – Huayna Potosi, Mururata and Illimani in the Cordillera Real, La Paz and El Alto to the south, and if you look hard enough a tiny bit of Lake Titicaca can be seen to the west.
Do not travel this pass in severe weather conditions. Avalanches, heavy snowfalls and landslides can occur anytime, being extremely dangerous due to frequent patches of ice. It has a well-deserved reputation for being dangerous because of unpredictable snowstorms and blizzards, and driving under these conditions, can be extremely challenging.