Travel guide to the top of Cerro Uturuncu
Cerro Uturuncu is a stratovolcano located in the Potosí Department, Sur Lípez Province, San Pablo de Lípez Municipality of Bolivia. A minor gravel road climbs up to 6.008m (19,711ft) above the sea level. It’s one of the highest roads in the world. The biggest problem is the extremely low oxygen for engine combustion.
Set high in the Bolivian Altiplano, the mountain (also known as Uturunku or Uturunco) hosted a sulphur mine until mid of the 1990s, which could be accessed via an unpaved road. A 4x4 vehicle is required. The runway is currently only maintained for touristic purposes by few local guides. However, travelogues report very different information about the trafficability of that runway. All reports agree that the road is only rideable to a few hundred meters below the summit. Respective information varies from 5,200 meters to 5,900 meters. As the old mine is no longer in operation the road is meanwhile blocked up by landslides. It's one of the highest roads of Bolivia.
Tucked away in southwestern Bolivia, satellite pictures clearly show the interrupted runway leading to an elevation of some 5,700 meters. At this elevation is blocked to motor vehicles by a landslide that occurred a few years ago, and although there is a 5,760m "pass" between Uturunco's two summits, it is a cul-de-sac that leads only to a mine. Still, a French team evidently managed to cycle and/or push their bicycles to Uturunco's 6.020m summit. The roadway is very sandy in its lower part and in an altitude of more than 5,000 meters the lack of oxygen becomes a very severe problem. While the road gets a little narrow in a couple of spots and there is a steep drop to your left, you should be able to drive up in a car as long as the engine doesn't give up due to a lack of oxygen.
It’s one of the highest roads of South America. Make sure you get your vehicle and yourself well-prepared before driving this road. Average gradient on the first five kilometers is some 8%, increases to more than 10% between 5,100 and 5,600 meters and finally lowers in the upper part of the road. The ride provides a gorgeous adventure in the gigantic scenery, with active volcanoes and colorful lagoons.