Mountain Climbing

Illimani Mountain

The guardian mountain of Illimani, overlooking the city of La Paz

 Location: Bolivia

Elevation: 6,438  meters

Illimani is a permanent snow-capped extinct stratovolcano notable for its triple peak structure. It is located among South America’s famous Andes range and is the highest point of a Bolivian mountain range called the Cordillera Real. Mount Illimani is a name derived from Aymara Illi mani that means Golden Eagle.

Overlooking the country’s capital city La Paz, this mountain represents Bolivian pride. The Native Aymara Indians revered it, believing that guardian spirits lurk at the summit waiting for offerings. However, for El Alto and La Paz city-dwellers, the mountain has become their symbol of identity that even streets, businesses, and songs are named after it. One of the well-known Illimani songs includes a Spanish refrain that translates to “Illimani, you are the La Paz sentinel! Illimani, you are Bolivia’s Andean pearl!”

Mount Illimani has four main peaks, the highest being the Nevado Illimani, a popular climbing spot for tourists.

 About the trek

Snow-coated triple peak of Illimani mountain along the Cordillera Real range

Trekking this mountain would take four to six days, depending on the pace and weather. This trek is reserved for skilled mountaineers as the expedition is highly demanding and technical. Mount Illimani is considered as the most difficult summit to reach in Bolivia. Therefore, it is recommended to have prior experience with high-altitude trekking and have been acclimatized at least three to five days in highlands, preferably 3000 meters or more.

Most agencies require their climbers to bring their camping and climbing equipment. There are also options to hire a multilingual professional mountain guide if you have trouble conversing with the English language. Some services offer a group cook for four persons or have one guide per two climber ratio.

When is the best time for the climb

The best time to climb is from June to August when the trails are driest. Winter and Autumn are also a good time to go.

How long is the Nevado Illimani Mountain

Bolivian cities at the foot of the Illimani mountain

Most tours have a four-day itinerary. Trekking will start with a drive from La Paz to Pinaya. The dirt road towards the feet of Illamani includes deep river valleys and sloping ravines linked to the fertile farm of nearby villages. It is no doubt that Bolivia earned the title of having one of the world’s most dangerous roads. The trip would take four hours of driving a 52 km road, aside from the mandatory 4.5km walk. Reaching the camp, you will be welcomed by alpacas, llamas, sheep, and horses grazing in a beautiful meadow below a steep rocky ridge. You will spend the night here.

Day two will be a climb to Nido de Condores (Condor’s nest) camp sitting at an altitude of 5,500 meters. It begins with an ascent to a well-marked trail between the rocks and moraines at Illimani’s western side. On the way, you will come across an abandoned tin mine below the glaciers. By afternoon, you will be arriving at Mankiri, a rocky spur that leads to the high camp. The next 500 meters before Condor’s nest is especially challenging, requiring you to traverse slippery icy slopes of the ridge carefully. The total walking distance is around 3.5 km, which will take you about five to six hours. From the Condor’s nest high camp, you will have a good view of the glowing city lights of La Paz and a closer look at the route towards the summit.

The next day is the highlight of the trek. You will be ascending the summit at an elevation of 6,439 meters fully equipped with ice climbing gears. The way up is the same as the previous routes – crossing glaciers, crevices, and frozen slopes. The summit marking is La Bola, which is a steep headwall. Only 300 meters at a 50-degree incline from La Bola and you will be rewarded with the breathtaking views of the triple peak summit at Bolivia’s heart. After a short time, you must return to the high camp because, like every summit, it is beautiful yet perilous. It would take 13-15 hours hiking 8.5 km back and forth.

The remaining day(s) will be dedicated to the descent. You will trek 4.5 km back to the Pinaya camp, where a vehicle is waiting for the drive towards La Paz. You can also request to have a short trip to the Pinaya village to experience special delicacies. Don’t miss out on the “Pacha Manca, ” a lamb cooked with hot stones below the ground. Some tours allow you to take the route near the La Paz River, where you can see the sights of both Illimani mountain and La Paz river canyon.

How much does the hike cost

Depending on the trekking agency, the cost of the hike is around 550-1330 USD. If your services do not include in between meals, please do prepare 3-8 USD per meal per person.

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