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Chapels of Curahuara and Sajama

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October 2012
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Getting to Sajama National Park

Tata Sajama Reflected In The Waters of Laguna Isla

The Sajama National Park was the first protected area created in Bolivia (in 1939), and it’s easy to see why.  The park is a spectacular swath of altiplano, centered on the Nevado Sajama, the highest mountain in the country.  It includes pampas and bofedales, lagunas and glaciers, hot springs and geysers, llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, flamingos, Andean geese, traditional Aymara villages and charming colonial-era catholic chapels.  In sum, Sajama National Park is not to be missed.

Flamingos at Laguna Isla

Getting to the Sajama is now easy.  While there are other ways to get there, and each likely has its charm, the road from La Paz to Chile, paved all the way, is what makes it possible to visit Sajama in a weekend, or even a very long day trip.

Nevado Sajama, called by the locals Tata Sajama (or Father Sajama, in Aymara), reaches 21,463 ft. over sea level.  It is the centerpiece and reference point for the whole park.  As a result, all the sights of the park are arrayed in a circle, more or less at its base.  For ease of navigation, I will describe the sights along that circle in a clockwise fashion.

(click to enlarge)

The first portion of the journey is described in my article on Curahuara de Carangas, misleadingly entitled Preserving Colonial Churches.  From Kellkata Chapel, described in that article, continue on down the asphalt road for another 38 miles watching as the Sajama continuously grows to its full stature.  At 38 miles, you turn off the paved road to the right toward the small town of Sajama in order to reach the official entrance to the park.

However, if you do not intend to return this way (and you will see why you might not want to do so in a later post), you will want to visit Lagunas before making the turn.

The Lagunas Chapel

Lagunas Chapel, Restored in 2010

One mile beyond the left turn to Sajama Village is the right turn into Lagunas.  Only a half mile through the almost deserted town is the colonial-era Lagunas Chapel, which was restored by the U.S. Embassy in 2010.

Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, or Our Lady of Los Remedios is the beautiful little chapel in Lagunas.  I haven’t been lucky enough to get inside it yet, but understand that it contains at least one mural.  Since it was built in the 19th century, the mural would be one of the last painted in the Oruro chapels.  Like most of the chapels in the area, it is built of stone and has a separate bell tower.  As you can see below, the triple gate is also lovely.

In The Gate to the Chapel of Lagunas

Laguna Isla

Lagunas Chapel Bell Tower

Just a few hundred yards beyond the turnoff to Lagunas is the only laguna which is still in the area, Laguna Isla.  The name of the lagoon is just one more mystery, since there is no island in it.  The lagoon is not particularly beautiful, sitting, as it does, next to the road and beside a military outpost.  That said, I recommend you stop for a few minutes.  When we were there the lagoon was teeming with waterfoul, including flamingos and Andean geese.  What’s more, on a calm day, the reflection of Nevado Sajama in the waters of the lagoon can be spectacular, as it was when we were there.

Tambo Quemado and Chile

About six miles beyond Lagunas is the small border town of Tambo Quemado and the border facilities for crossing over into Chile.  While Tambo Quemado might not have a lot to recommend it, it does have a gas station, which might be useful, and some small shops which are likely better stocked than those of other towns in the area. It is worth noting that Sajama National Park has a Chilean twin, right across the border, in the Lauca National Park.  While exploring that park is beyond the scope of this article, if you had time, combining the two parks would likely be spectacular.

On to Sajama Village

Returning to our right turn from the pavement, Sajama Village is some seven miles by good dirt road (and we now leave the pavement behind until the return).  At the entrance to the village is a gateway into the park.  One has to pay a minimal fee (b30, or about $4, per person, as I recall) and register, to enter. The park itself is described in following posts.

Finding Your Way

Attached is a .gdb file with all the routes and waypoints.  You can use this file either with your GPS or you can open it up in Google Earth to see the route plotted.

The next installment in the series is Sajama and the “Geysers” – Sajama National Park, part 2.

For more photos from this area, see my photo site.



Pingback from Larry Memmott's Blog » Sajama and the “Geysers” – Sajama National Park, part 2
Time November 4, 2012 at 12:00 am

[…] Getting to Sajama National Park, part 1 of this series, for the route to the park and sites along the […]

Pingback from Larry Memmott's Blog » Lago Chungara
Time September 28, 2013 at 6:50 pm

[…] get to Lago Chungara, follow the directions in the article on Getting to Sajama National Park.  From Tambo Quemado you just continue west on the main road to the Chilean […]

Pingback from Larry Memmott's Blog » Chulpas Near Curahuara de Carangas
Time November 17, 2013 at 7:47 am

[…] have visited Chulpas near the Salar de Uyuni, at Cerro Pirapi and the Chulpas Policromas south of Sajama National Park.  In comparison with some of these, the chulpas of the Curahuara area are relatively modest, […]

Pingback from Larry Memmott's Blog » The Churches of Curahuara de Carangas and Sajama: In and Near Sajama National Park
Time February 15, 2016 at 9:25 pm

[…] La Paz-Arica road.  Take a right turn here for the short jaunt (1.5 miles) to Lagunas, where the last of the chapels on our list stands.  From Lagunas, you can also continue on to Chile, visiting Lago Chungara and […]

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