Toro Toro (Quecha for ‘Pampa of mud’) is a town in the Potosi region of Bolivia – 140km south of Cochabamba. Although a small town, it is best known for the surrounding national park (also called Toro Toro) and all that comes with it. It is a magical place, and indeed it is one of our highlights of South America. Here you can see dinosaur footprints, amazing viewpoints, and beautiful nature. One thing you will remember about Toro Toro is that it is Bolivia’s answer to Jurassic Park!
Getting to Toro Toro
The first thing is you need to get yourself to Cochabamba. Cochabamba is a relatively large city located in the center of Bolivia – with a population of nearly 650,000 people. A tourist destination in its own right, its most popular tourist attraction is the Christ the Redeemer statue you can see from nearly every part of the city. Although we didn’t venture on the tourist trail in Cochabamba, we have heard that it is worth a day of your time.
We arrived in Cochabamba after a relatively relaxing 8-hour journey from La Paz. The bus left from the main bus terminal in La Paz, but for whatever reason, we got dropped off in a random location in Cochabamba – from here we were able to get our taxi to the hotel for the night.
The next day, we woke up to get the collectivo to Toro Toro. Collectivos leave from the corner of Avenida Republica y Valle Grande. You can’t miss the signs really, but if you do, just ask a local and they will point you in the right direction.
Tickets cost 35BOB (€4.60) each and the minibus leaves when full (about 12 people). We were unlucky as we were the first to arrive for the bus, so had to wait until it got full – which took about 1 hour and a half. We bought some oversized popcorn to entertain ourselves before leaving.
Cramped onto the bus beside an old man who smelled like Coca leaves – we headed off on the dirt road that takes you to Toro Toro. Although only 120km away – expect the journey to take at least 6 hours. We stopped on numerous occasions – for lunch, to let people off at their houses, or when the wheel of the minibus got stuck under rocks, or when the wheels got so hot on the tarmac they started melting. So leave some extra time! All in all, it took us about 7 hours to reach the town.
Organizing Tours in Toro Toro
Ask Aoife about the tours in Toro Toro – she will burn the ear of you! Mainly because it is so easy, there is one tour company that everyone uses, so you don’t have to travel from company to company seeing who can do you the best deal!
The first thing you need to do is purchase your entrance ticket to the national park. This costs 100BOB (€13) per person and can be bought at the Tourist Office, close to the Guide’s House (Casa de las Guias). The ticket is valid for four days – so it is recommended to buy on the day of your first excursion – so that you don’t lose a day! The office opens at 7 am.
The next thing to do is to go to the Casa de las Guias and organize a tour. If you can form a tour group the cost will be less as there are more people. Otherwise, you can also do a private tour – but it will cost the same amount of money.
It is advised to try and make friends so that you will have a group ready to go. We met a Chilean guy called Octavio the day before our first tour and he asked us to be in his group – so that solved Day 1’s problem. On Day 2 we just joined up with a group of Chilean’s (again) who were looking to do the same tour. Simple!
The tour guides are all locals and are very well informed about the area. However, they only speak Spanish, they have no English – so keep that in mind when forming your groups (if you don’t speak Spanish it will be handy to have someone who can translate for you).
The next decision you have to make is which circuit to do.
What to do in Toro Toro
We spent two full days in Toro Toro and did the two most popular tourist circuits – the Ciudad de Itas and Vergel circuits.
Day 1 – Ciudad de Itas
On our first day, we did the Ciudad de Itas circuit. This circuit (as with all circuits) costs 100BOB (€13) per group. However, you need to use a 4X4 for this tour so there is an additional price of 150BOB (€20), making the complete tour cost 250BOB (€33). We had 5 people in our group, meaning we had to pay 50BOB (€6.50) per person.
We set off just after 8 am and the weather was pretty different from the past few days in Bolivia – there was lots of fog and it was quite cold. Unfortunate as we were going on a really scenic journey – but the fog kind of added to the mystery of the place.
La Ciudad de Itas is about 20km north of Toro Toro and is a collection of rock formations, that are believed to have been lived in at some stage in the past.
The first stop is inside a cave where the guide points out some ancient cave painting and their possible meanings. You then go on a hike lasting about an hour through some spectacular rock formations. All of this area was once underwater (there is even a salt wall amongst the rock formations) and it is evident in the strange shapes that the rocks have formed. Pay particular attention to the Cathedral – it will take your breath away!
Umajalanta Caverns (Cavernas de Umajanta)
It is recommended that you do the Umajalanta Caverns on the same day that you do the Ciudad de Itas. The reason is that these also require transport – so you can reduce your costs by doing them all at once.
The tour starts with a walk past some dinosaur footprints – our first in the region. This when you begin to realize why Toro Toro is Bolivia’s Jurassic Park!
After admiring the footprints you will come to a small building where you will rent safety gear for the caves. These cost 12BOB(€1.50) per person and include a helmet and torch.
The journey inside the cave was fascinating, and a first for us! We went about 3-4km into the cave, exploring different geographical formations. There are some narrow bits – which only really adds to the excitement. You even get to a small water reserve where you can see some blind fish – if you are lucky!
Day 2 – Cañon de Torotoro & El Vergel
We arrived at the Guide’s house just before 8 am on our second day in Toro Toro. We were intending to do the tour privately as we needed to cut short the tour time in order to get our transport back to Cochabamba. However, a group of Chilean girls wanted to do the same circuit, and wanted to save money – so they agreed to join our group.
Unlike the circuit from Day 1 – this tour does not have any transport costs – as it is all done on foot. It costs 100BOB (€13) per group, meaning as we were 5 people it only cost 20BOB (€2.60) per person. It is literally the best value for money tour in South America!
You begin the tour by walking out of the town, along the river, until you reach some dinosaur footprints – Huellas de Dinosaurios. The guide explains the different footprints – and which footprint belongs to which dinosaurs. They bring along little toy dinosaurs for extra effect. These are definitely the best footprints in Toro Toro (you can visit them for free if you don’t want to do the entire circuit – they aren’t far from the town).
We kept walking out of town, past some incredible landscapes. This part of Bolivia was all underwater once upon a time, and the movement in tectonic plates has created an unbelievable landscape. The walk down the valley is made enjoyable by the guide pointing out different rock formations – including ‘The Amphitheatre’.
This walk all leads to the incredible mirador of Cañon de Torotoro. This is one of the highlights of Toro Toro – worth the trip here alone. If you are lucky you may also see (and hear) some Macaws in the area. In terms of the natural landscape – Cañon de Torotoro is ranked as one of the best in South America for me!
Next, you will climb down from the mirador viewpoint into the actual canyon. It is here that you will come across El Vergel waterfall. It is a nice waterfall but to be honest, it’s nothing special! We stayed here for too long, the rest of our group went for a swim, but we just relaxed. After about an hour and a half, it was time to go again.
The next step is to hike all the way back up the canyon and back into town. Take care on the hike back up – it is pretty challenging and even slightly unsafe. We really got the sense of being in the middle of an adventure going back up – we were even rock climbing at some stages! Our guide brought us into some caves and showed us some petroglyphs along the way. He was offering to extend the tour but as we needed to get back we declined – we felt bad as some of the other tour members wanted to continue, but we did say from the outset that we had to be back by 3 pm!
As you can tell from above, this tour is longer than the half-day that it states – taking us about 6.5 hours in total (although this could have been cut down by spending less time swimming in the waterfall).
We managed to get back into town, stock up on some food and onto a minibus heading for Cochabamba before 4 pm. The bus was a lot faster on the way back to Cochabamba until protestors blocked the road in Cochabamba! Welcome to Bolivia!