Review of Cordillera Real Express Trek – September 15-19, 2015
I booked our 5 day trekking trip to the Condoriri Mountains outside of La Paz with Bolivian Journeys because they were recommended in Lonely Planet, I was impressed with their website and couldn’t find any negative reviews of the company. I also especially like the fact that they are Bolivian owned. Unfortunately, although the landscape was amazing, the quality of the experience compared to the price was one of the worst values we have ever encountered.
Marco, the general manager was very responsive to my email enquiries, a rarity in this part of South America. I sent a deposit via Western Union for $200 per person and paid the rest in USD the night before our departure in La Paz. The total cost was $600 USD per person.
Itinerary – We booked the Cordillera Real Express Trek, but the actual itinerary deviated from the one described on the website, specifically on day 2 and day 3. Day one we just camped at the trailhead as described, although I believe it was a different trailhead near Wata Pampa. The second day we hiked to Laguna Chiar Khota, about 2 hours, and then did a day hike to a nearby glacier, about 2 hours round trip. The third day we camped again at Chiar Khota, doing a day hike to the top of Pico Austria, about 4.5 hours round trip. Day 4 and Day 5 were pretty much as described on the website, except the last day we had no mule and had to carry our own packs for the 2 hour uphill climb to the pass at 5,000 meters. Worse yet, our guide was responsible for carrying out all the other gear, really a burden too great for one person.
All in all we were not disappointed with the itinerary. I liked the scenery and the pace was slow enough that it allowed time to acclimate. I mention the differences for those who have specific things they want to see. Also, by staying two nights in the same camp and having to carry our own backpacks on the last day this should have greatly reduce the expense of the trip. There were only two actual days where they had to move our backpacks, and one of those moves was only a couple of kilometers.
For younger more active hikers I think the pace of this itinerary is potentially too slow as we hiked only 2 to 5 hours per day except for day 4 which was 6.5 hours at a very slow pace.
Crew – For the two of us we had one guide and no other crew. He arranged to have our backpacks transported to the other camps, except for the last day where we were obligated to carry them out ourselves. The guide did not speak English. I was informed of this fact at the last minute, but I never asked either. This was not a problem for us, but for others you may want to ask. Our guide was generally courteous and patient – I’m quite slow at higher elevations.
Food – The food was below the high quality promised on the website. True, they provided fresh fruit – papaya, banana and mandarin oranges at breakfast and fresh vegetables – cucumber, avocado and tomato at dinner – but protein was greatly lacking and many of the lunches were only cheap simple carbohydrates. Maybe they believe they are easier to digest, but pasta and rice are very cheap ingredients. We enjoyed the vegetable soups prepared for dinner, but protein portions couldn’t have been more that 1.5 oz each – a thin slice of beef or a small chicken leg. A little astonishing when the guides sitting across the room have their plate piled with 3 – 4 pieces of chicken. Our last dinner consisted of a vegetable soup, 4 hard-boiled eggs for 3 people, a sliced tomato and some rice. Probably OK if you’re a Bolivian subsistence farmer but a little skimpy if you’re paying in excess of $100 per person per day.
Equipment – As we had most of our own equipment, only the tent was provided by Bolivian Journeys. It may have been a good quality tent when it was new, but the zippers no longer worked properly. A pain, especially when you need to pee in the middle of the night.
Accommodations – Each of the camp sites had buildings where the guide cooked the meals and guests had the option of sleeping. I found the rooms dismal and dirty, certainly below the worst of the tea houses we experienced in Nepal. We therefore slept in the tent every night. Also, we had to pay a nightly camping fee ($3-$5 USD/night) separate from what we paid Bolivian Journeys for the trek.
Weather – This being an el Niño year I asked Marco about the weather conditions in September. He replied that we should have clear days for hiking. Now I certainly can’t hold him responsible for the weather, but I would caution those who are thinking of hiking at this time of year. We had stormy conditions every day with storms beginning as early as noon. Except for one day, we spent 3-4 hours in the tent or camp building waiting for the weather to turn. Actually we were lucky that the hiking days were so short as we spent very little time actually hiking in bad weather. All our mornings except for the last one started clear and beautiful and I should add that the stormy conditions made for some dramatic photos.
Final Thoughts – The Condoriri Mountains are beautiful and worth exploring. We’re very experienced campers and backpackers and weren’t bothered by any of the hardships, but felt somewhat taken advantage of given the prices charged. Were we to do the trip again, I would try to find another company. Inka Land Tours used the same camp facilities as us. I can’t vouch for their services but I did notice that they got at least a 6 oz piece of beef with their dinner.