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The Churches of Curahuara de Carangas and Sajama: La Paz to Curahuara de Carangas

This post is the first of two that serve as the “backbone” of this guide.  They focus on providing directions to the churches and other sites of the Curahuara de Carangas and Sajama areas and link to descriptions of each of the sites.  The guide is written from the perspective of someone traveling from La Paz, but should be easy to “turn around,” by reading this page from the bottom up and visiting the sites in reverse order.

The Angel Barachiel

The Angel Barachiel, Colonial-era painting in the Church in Calamarca

You leave La Paz on the road south to Oruro.  Counting from the traffic circle where Avenida Litoral and the road down to Achacachi meet at the Panamericana (Hwy 1), it would make a very fitting start to the expedition to turn left some 26 miles south to see the impressive paintings of angels housed by the beautiful church at Calamarca.  Calamarca, in Aymara, means “town of stone” so you will want to notice the stone architecture that predominates.  Check out the page on the Calamarca Church.  As far as that goes, Calamarca is also the birthplace of famed folk group Kalamarka.  Kalamarka will be honored (and will also play themselves in La Paz) in a series of concerts throughout Bolivia in November.  The concerts are put on by various metal rock bands.  If you are interested, check out the schedule of concerts and other information on Facebook.

Eight miles further south you come upon the small town of Collana Tolar.  On the left side of the road you will see the Hotel Porvenir – a hotel, restaurant, store complex run by some very nice people.  It’s a good place to stop for a drink, maybe to use the bathroom, and to stock up on what you forgot to bring along.  It also sells excellent fresh cheeses from the farms nearby.

At mile 53, some 101 kilometers from La Paz, you reach Patacamaya, a small crossroads whose name means: 101, in Aymara. Patacamaya is the turnoff to Chile, towards the west.

As you leave Patacamaya, notice the military base on the left.  There are three military installations along the road to the border, perhaps testifying to the remaining tensions between Bolivia and Chile.

Download the Calamarca.gdb file for the route to Calamarca and Patacamaya.Ishtar.gdb file

Some 29 miles from the checkpoint which you pass as you leave Patacamaya, you’ll begin to see the many Aymara burial towers, called chulpas, on the ridge in front of you on both sides of the road. There are chulpas scattered all over the altiplano, but the Curahuara area does seem to be one of particular concentration.  It is certainly worth getting out and exploring some of these old tombs.  Around most of them are scattered pottery shards, and in some of the open tombs you will see human bones scattered.  Some of the tombs appear to be very old and some are disintegrating back into the earth of which they were constructed, but others seem newer or better maintained.

Two of the better maintained chulpas

Two of the better maintained chulpas

On the GPS file and the map, I’ve included the chulpas I’ve seen, but I see more each time I travel, so there are no doubt many I have not seen. I would suggest skipping the first set on the maps, as they are not as impressive as those you will encounter a few minutes later.  The chulpas are described in more detail here.

Rio Desaguadero

At 33 miles from the checkpoint, you cross the bridge over the Desaguadero River, which carries the water from Lake Titicaca to Lake Uru Uru, south of Oruro, and eventually to the Salar de Uyuni.  Until this bridge was built, some ten years ago, the road became impassable during rainey season, sometimes for weeks.  The area beyond was thus quite isolated, even though it sits on one of the most important trade routes in the region.  This was the route the silver from Potosí took to port, and is still the route traveled by many Bolivian exports and imports to and from the Chilean port of Arica.

The first time I crossed the river here was in February, 1988. A trucker friend had insisted on loading my little Suzuki Samurai onto one of his trucks.  We were riding in the cab.  When we arrived at the river, there were some two dozen trucks lined up, waiting to cross.  There were also seven trucks stuck in the mud of the river bottom.  Obviously, after the first got stuck, others attempted to pass around it.  Each ended up trapped in the mud and with an engine flooded with muddy water.

We had arrived just as the water level dropped sufficiently to allow us to cross, and our truck was the first to do so in two weeks.

After the river, you pass through broken country tinted in red and other colors. It’s a beautiful area and a nice drive.

Huchusuma Chapel, with Tata Sajama and the twin Payachata volcanoes, Pomerape and Parinacota

Huchusuma Chapel, with Tata Sajama and the twin Payachata volcanoes, Pomerape and Parinacota

Your next stop should be the beautiful little Huchusuma Chapel on the left side of the road at 47 miles.

Three miles beyond the turnoff to Huchusuma, you will cross the Sullona River on another relatively recent bridge.  Another five miles and an unmarked dirt track heads off to the right.  This is the loop road to Rosapata and Lirqu, two more small villages with chapels restored by the U.S. Government.  The loop is some 25 miles, and you will need at least a couple of hours to make it.  The road is reasonably well maintained in dry season, but should only be attempted with a four-wheel drive vehicle.  In rainy season it is often impassible.

Detail of the mural of the final judgement, in the Capilla de Curahuara de Carangas

Detail of the mural of the final judgement, in the Capilla de Curahuara de Carangas

Curahuara de Carangas and the Sistine Chapel of the Altiplano

Another 11 miles beyond Huchusuma, you will find the turnoff to Curahuara de Carangas, well marked to the south (left).  Take the turnoff to reach the Capilla de Curahuara de Carangas, known as the Sixtine Chapel of the Altplano, as well as the Capilla de Santa Barbara in Curahuara and the Chapel at Quilviri, some 2.5 miles south of the road into Curahuara de Carangas.

After visiting Quilviri, you can pick up the second half of the circuit in The Churches of Curahuara de Carangas and Sajama: In and Near Sajama National Park.


Pingback from Larry Memmott's Blog » The Churches of Curahuara de Carangas and Sajama: An Exploration
Time November 16, 2013 at 10:23 am

[…] The Churches of Curahuara de Carangas and Sajama: La Paz to Tomarapi for detailed directions and descriptions of the […]

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