Torotoro National Park, Bolivia’s epic jurassic adventure hub
Each year, over a million tourists get to the tiny town of Torotoro, Bolivia, nestled in a national park of the same name. Although very, very busy during the high season, during the low season the streets are mainly for locals, with the odd gringo group here and there. Torotoro is famous for the nearby dinosaur footprints, as well as canyon, caves and epic 7 mountain peaks (as seen in the photo above). Other than a small museum, there’s not a huge amount to do or see in the town itself, but the tours in Torotoro and following exhaustion should keep you busy enough.
How to get to Torotoro, Bolivia
Bolivian roads and bus routes aren’t the most well-connected. You can’t get from La Paz to Torotoro directly, and even though Torotoro is in the region of Potosí, you can’t access it directly from Potosí city, either. Needless to say, there’s no airport in Torotoro Bolivia. The only way you can get to Torotoro is by road via Cochabamba, and even then the buses aren’t available from the official bus terminal.
There is apparently a large tourist bus at 5am, which you can book in advance (helpfully, it has a giant picture of a dinosaur on it so you know you’re on the right route), but we instead went by colectivo minibus for 35 Bolivianos (£3.50). Because the friend we were staying with in Cochabamba was leaving very early in the morning to get to a business meeting, we decided to leave with her. Following internet advice, we arrived at ‘Avenida Barrientos, Esquina Republica’ at 4:30am, expecting to get the 5am tourist bus. However, we only found minibus colectivos, so decided to hop onto one of those. We waited until 6am until the bus filled up the 12 spaces to be able to leave. During this time, we were entertained by watching the cholita ladies who pull up at 5am and serve hot drinks and breakfast to waiting passengers out of tiny carts.
The road itself is currently being renovated, but is still very ropey in parts. It’s meant to be a 5-6 hour journey, but always expect delays. It took us 7 hours. We were thankful to be in a minibus rather than a large tourist coach. At times, we had to drive over waterfalls that crossed over the road and down the cliff on the other side, and we got delayed by half an hour because the minibus in front of us broke down because water got into the engine when it drove through the river (yes, you really do drive 10m through a river). The last hour or so of the journey to get to Torotoro is paved, so you can enjoy the other-wordly views (and pretend you’re in Jurassic Park) without fear of imminent death.
Where to stay in Torotoro
We can’t say we’d recommend the hostel we stayed in. Although it was cheap (£11 for a private double room) and the location was excellent, right opposite the Comedor, we discovered that £120 worth of Bolivianos went missing from our rucksack in our locked, private room while we were staying there. It was our emergency stash, so it was in a wallet that never leaves our rucksack. Staff denied everything, although there is literally no one else that had access to this room. This particular hostel doesn’t provide lockers in the private nor dorm rooms. Be careful, chicos.
If you can get accommodation near to the Mercado Central/comedor, that’s a nice place to be, as far as Torotoro goes (they’ve yet to get any asphalt roads and during rainy season mud will get into every nook and cranny imaginable).
If we were to visit Torotoro again, with what we now know of the town, we would choose to stay at Como en Casa; nicely priced, well located and highly rated!
Is there WiFi in Torotoro?
Yes and no. We didn’t find any hostels with WiFi in Torotoro when we visited in 2018, but there is WiFi that you can pay for. Across the corner from the comedor, opposite where the cholitas cook street food, you’ll find a colectivo office, where you’ll need to sign your name for a ride back to Cochabamba at the end of your stay (they can take a few hours to fill up, so you don’t have to stay at the office the whole time). Opposite that, you’ll see a little corner shop, with a blue box at the entrance. Here, you can insert coins to buy top-up wifi, which uses contactless technology to transfer the data allowance to your phone. Pretty nifty! Most hostels in the town do not offer wifi, so this is an excellent back-up supply!
How to book tours in Torotoro
There are plenty of places to see and things to do in Torotoro national park. However, we expected that we could pick and choose which tours in Torotoro we took and tailor our activities into one trip. Wrong. Because the activities are in different directions and the infrastructure isn’t particularly advanced, you can only do certain packages (known as circuitos) per day. Some of the packages have some slightly lame things thrown in, like a turtle cemetery, which people coming back from weren’t too thrilled about, so we picked the most exciting, the City of Rocks (Ciudad de Itas) and caving. This day was SO GOOD. We came back exhausted but exhilarated.
Paying entry for tours in Torotoro national park
Before you book any tours in Torotoro, you have to pay 100Bs for a 4-day entry ticket to the Torotoro national park from the town’s little tourism office – Google Maps doesn’t have street names for Torotoro at this point so our directions are a little futile, but coming out of the comedor/Mercado Central, head right and then uphill, past the warehouse with a giant dinosaur head coming out of it (yes, they really built that) and then it will be on your left. If this is your view, you’ve come too far up the hill:
The office for buying the Torotoro national park entry opens at 7am each day, and you need to have a ticket in your hand before you can go to the Casa de las Guías office next door to book the tour itself with a guide. If you’re there in high season and are worried about queues, you can always buy your Torotoro national park entry the evening before, but only do this is you’re planning on staying fewer than 3 days in Torotoro. Keep your entry ticket with you throughout your tours in Torotoro as some attractions have stamping stations.
Can I visit Torotoro national park without a guide?
Nuh-uh. All tours in Torotoro national park require a certified guide, and they also require a full group to book together. Thankfully, there’s no research to be done on different tour agencies here (boy, are we bored of TripAdvisor) as all of the tours run from the Casa de las Guías, and the guide is just assigned to you depending on where you want to go. Don’t expect to find any English-speaking guides, by the way. If you want English guides, you’re best off looking into the far pricier all-inclusive Torotoro tours from Cochabamba (and opening up yet another TripAdvisor tab).
Finding a group for tours in Torotoro
Forming a group for our Torotoro national park tour was by far the most nerve-wracking part of this whole thing; unless you want to buy out the whole minibus, you are expected to find 5 like-minded people who want to do the same thing on the same day, and then all go together to book your guide on the day. We were lucky enough that a group of 4 were walking in the opposite direction to go and buy snacks when they randomly asked us if we were thinking of doing the caving tour and would like to join theirs; major luck! We did see a woman on her own who came late to the office and unfortunately couldn’t find any group to join, so sadly she may have missed out on that day unless other people came along later. Make sure you get to Torotoro’s tour office by 7:30am and that you make the effort to chat to other people in your hostel the day before.
How much do tours in Torotoro cost?
All of the half-day tours, known as circuitos, cost 100Bs (£10) per group of 6, but some of them also incur additional fees (150Bs) for the cost of transport to and from the sights. Tours with additional transport costs include the Caving tour and Ciudad de Itas tour, but we did both of these as 2 half-day tours in one day, which allowed us to save on paying twice for the transport.
Available tours in Torotoro
La Ciudad de Itas
Ciudad de Itas includes an epic rock/cave formation that looks like a cathedral, and another that resembles a very large penis (guess which we preferred). For this half-day tour, we had an excellent guide, in a very new minibus, who took us to the Ciudad de Itas to see a number of above-ground caves and an incredible view of the canyon from afar, teaching us about the rock formations and showing us ancient cave paintings from civilisations long gone.
We expected to be dropped straight off at the Ciudad de Itas, but instead we had to hike an hour each way, but saw many interesting things along the journey, such as the Torotoro Canyon from afar. Note, this particular tour is at times very challenging, including free rock climbing up some pretty vertical walls with no harnesses and some parts where we climbed up some precarious looking ladders and used a rope to haul ourselves up to safety. Although we didn’t go to the most popular dinosaur footprints, we still saw a few on the way to the caves, which were very well preserved!
The caving was the tour Lozzy was the most worried about, being fairly claustrophobic. But caving in the Umajalanta Cavern was so out of this world in both proportion and beauty, and the route was so adventurous that she soon forgot her anxieties. After parking up and passing by some dinosaur footprints, we were given helmets and head-torches and briefed briefly for the activity. There are lockers at the entrance to keep your stuff in for a small fee.
Getting through the Umajalanta Cavern is physically challenging, and unlike other caving experiences we’ve had, the actual guiding from the guide was, at times, minimal, with him sometimes pointing up in a general direction and telling us to find our own route out towards the light while he helped the slower people.
The surfaces are slippery, the paths are sometimes so small that you have to wriggle through on your belly, and there are fatal drops that are in no way cordoned off. Once you’re in, the only way out is to follow the whole path, you cannot go back on yourself due to several slidey bit and large jumps. But, with some common sense and enough core strength, the whole group got through, and came out feeling hugely energised by the whole thing. If you’re looking for adventure, this is your tour. If you’re scared of small spaces, the dark, bats or are in any way unfit or overweight (including if you’re well-built in muscle), perhaps give this one a miss.
Cañon Torotoro & El Vergel waterfall
This half-day tour leads you past dinosaur footprints to explore the canyon of Torotoro, providing incredible views of this natural wonder from various look-out points. After hiking the 3km from the town of Torotoro to the start of the canyon, you go down 100m in the form of 800 steps to walk through the green floor of the canyon itself. The walk then brings you to a lagoon filled by El Vergel waterfall in which you can swim, so pack your budgie-smugglers! After this, we’re sad to report that you do have to climb those 800 steps back up to the top of the canyon, and then walk back into the town. Sorry. Whether or not this is truly a half-day tour depends on the speed of your group’s hiking, so keep in mind that it may overrun.
Ruins of Llama Chaqui
This ancient archeological site is the location of a Quechua fortress. Not only do you see the walls and watchtower of the pre-Incan ruins themselves, but also some prehistoric cave paintings nearby. The Llama Chaqui ruins are only accessible by foot, and sit a whopping 19km south of the centre of Torotoro. It’s a challenging hike around the hill called Cerro Huayllas Orkho, so only attempt if you’re physically fit and you really enjoy suffering.
Even though we did hear great reviews about this place, there’s probably someone out there who will find it interesting, so it’s probably worth a mention anyhoo. The so-called turtle cemetery is a collection of fossils of turtles and prehistoric crocodiles. It’s situated in the Molle Cancha community, 3.5km from the centre of Torotoro town.
Seeing dinosaur prints without taking tours in Torotoro
Though most of the good ones are sectioned off for the paying tours in Torotoro, you can actually see some dinosaur footprints for free. If you head out just a few minutes on the same road that the Torotoro Cañon tour takes, down Calle Arteche. You’ll be able to see the footprints once the river is on your left.
Where to eat & drink in Torotoro
The comedor! Also known as Mercado Central, this place hosts 10-12 tiny kitchens run by local women. At the comedor, any lunch or dinner meal (which includes a soup and a main) is 10Bs, or £1. They are open for breakfast too, where you can get a bunuela or cheesy pastel and coffee before your tour. We also recommend buying a cheese and ham sandwich from here to have as a lunch or snack on your tour.
To go with this, we always got a fresh juice or smoothie at one of the two little convenience stalls to the left of the entrance of the comedor. They will give it to you in a glass, and they don’t expect payment until you bring the glass back. There were a few cafes and restaurants around, but they either weren’t open due to low season or were waaaay too expensive by Bolivian standards, and in our experience, restaurants aimed at tourists do not typically provide the nicest food.
So that’s that! All the info about booking and joining tours in Torotoro, Bolivia! If there’s anything at all we’ve missed, please let us know in the comments! Torotoro isn’t seen as a must-visit place in Bolivia by most tourists, perhaps due to the effort it takes to get there, but if you have the time we really suggest you do go and check out this little town with the big adventures!