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The Churches of Curahuara de Carangas and Sajama: An Exploration

Capilla de Tomarapi, Tomarapi, Sajama National Park, repaired in 2011

Capilla de Tomarapi, Tomarapi, Sajama National Park, repaired in 2011

Note: This is the first of a multi-part guide to the churches. As further portions are completed, they will be linked from this post and from the Bolivia Guide Index. This is a route for exploring the beautiful churches of northern Oruro Department, including 12 which have been restored/repaired in recent years and others, which in their various states of repair, are often quite quaint and even photogenic.

The churches covered here stand more or less along the road from Patacamaya to Tambo Quemado, on the Chilean border, with several in the Sajama National Park.  So, while some of these churches could be visited on a (long) day trip from La Paz, the better way of exploring the treasures of the region would be to spend at least one night in the area.  With that in mind, this guide will review some of the options for doing so.

Ruins of the Casilla Chapel, in the Sajama National Park

Ruins of the Casilla Chapel, in the Sajama National Park

I will also try to cover the impressive non-ecclesiastical attractions the area offers to visitors.

It’s worth noting that the main trunk road of this route is the road to Arica.  Given its commercial importance, it is generally kept up and is in good condition year-round.  The same is not true of some of the roads to the more isolated sites, which can be impassable at times, mostly in the rainy season.  I’ll note these issues where they are relevant.

I’ve decided to post the route in many discreet portions, essentially side trips off of the main road.  In that way, even though it is written from the perspective of someone traveling from La Paz, it should be fairly straightforward to reorient it to your needs.

Prior Planning

The two key issues that must be dealt with beforehand are food and lodging.  This is a poor, rural region and beyond Curahuara de Carangas, even small retail shops are few.  Restaurants and hotels?  Almost too much to ask for.

So, your options mostly come down to a few humble lodgings in Curahuara, the Albergue in Tomarapi, some very limited choices in Sajama, or a tent you bring yourself.

Interior Courtyard, Albergue de Tomarapi

Interior Courtyard, Albergue de Tomarapi

If you are a camper, and come to the experience well prepared, camping might be your best option. There is certainly no lack of interesting places in which you could set up camp, and if you located somewhere not too far from the hot springs . . .

Food is no easier.  If you stay at the Albergue, food is included, and they will even pack you lunch for day trips.  There is a good reason for their policy.  There is hardly any other option for food.  So, if you are not in Tomarapi, or staying in Curahuara, you probably need to bring most of your necessities with you.


Before you head out, you might want to pick up a couple of books that will enhance your understanding and experience.  Guia turistica de / Tour guide of Iglesias: La Paz Y Oruro, by Ambassador Philipp Schauer (former German Ambassador to Bolivia) is an excellent guide to these churches and many others in the area.  It also has the advantage of being in both English and Spanish.  For Spanish speakers, Capilla Sixtina del Altiplano Boliviano, by Father Gabriel M. Antequera Lavayen is THE guide to what is probably the most important of the colonial churches on the Altiplano, the Capilla de Curahuara de Carangas.  Although I will provide important background on all the churches covered here, the Tour guide goes into many others, and there is no way I could give you the detailed interpretation of the Curahuara Church that Padre Gabriel does.

Two posts provide the detailed directions and descriptions of the trip.  See The Churches of Curahuara de Carangas and Sajama: La Paz to Curahuara de Carangas for the first half of the trip (leaving from La Paz) and The Churches of Curahuara de Carangas and Sajama: In and Near Sajama National Park for the second half (or traveling from the Chilean Border).

Overview Map of the Route from Patacamaya to the Chilean Border


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

[…] is the second of two posts that serve as the “backbone” of my Guide to the Churches of Curahuara de Carangas and Sajama.  This post provides directions to the churches and other sites in and near the Sajama National […]

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