WHERE IS TOROTORO NATIONAL PARK
Found in the Potosi region of Bolivia, Torotoro National Park is smack bang in the middle between Cochabamba and Sucre. However, the small town is only accessible from Cochabamba, 140km away.
Famous for its incredibly well-preserved fossils and dinosaur footprints, towering canyons, surreal rock formations and sprawling network of underground caves, this national park has something for nature lovers and natural history nerds alike.
The only way of getting to Torotoro is public transport from Cochabamba.
We will cover how to get to Cochabamba and Torotoro further on in the post, but for now, you need to decide whether it’s worth your time.
IS TOROTORO NATIONAL PARK WORTH IT?
Bolivia is one of the least well-travelled countries in South America. Most people spend under two weeks and hit the highlights of La Paz and Uyuni.
When you step off the gringo trail and visit places like Torotoro, you’ll find it hard to find other travellers.
For some, this may not be appealing, but visiting this National Park is perfect for those who want to explore a hidden gem.
The park itself is stunning, with perfectly preserved dinosaur footprints and fossils from millions of years ago. The nature is untouched, and there are several tours you can take to some beautiful and unique sights such as the Umajalanta Caves and Torotoro Canyon.
So yes, it is worth it if you want to get off the gringo trail, get out into nature and see some extraordinary natural history in the form of dinosaur footprints and fossils.
If you aren’t too bothered or are short on time, then the highlights of the country (La Paz and Salt Flats in Uyuni) are covered here in our Bolivia itineraries post.
HOW TO ORGANISE A TOUR IN TOROTORO NATIONAL PARK
There are three main tours when entering the National Park from town.
You must have a guide when going into the national park. Sorry to those who love exploring on their own, but the guides are knowledgeable, and you learn a lot. It also supports the local people and economy.
Tours are arranged next to the National Park Office. You will first need to pay the 100Bs park entrance fee at the office to get your ticket, then head to the guides office next door to pick your tour and guide.
Tours start from 7AM – 2PM each day.
Each tour has a maximum of 6 people, and the cost is split between everyone, so the more people you have, the cheaper it is. We suggest arriving at the office early to join up with people and reduce the cost. That being said, the overall tour price isn’t extortionate so having a tour between two people is still affordable.
Tours cost around $50 split between 6 people.
As foreign tourism hasn’t exploded in Torotoro yet, guides only speak Spanish, so take this into account when visiting. At the time, our Spanish was good enough to understand most of what the guide was saying even if we missed out on some detail. Helpfully our guide carried toy dinosaurs with him, so we were visually clued up.
There are three tours on offer and take between 4-6 hours each:
You start by visiting dinosaur footprints just outside the city.
After this, you will visit the Torotoro Canyon viewpoint and then descend into the canyon to visit the El Vergel waterfall.
The trek is relatively easy as most of it is flat until you head down into the canyon. The only hard bit is coming back up.
You will spend 20 minutes at the viewpoint and will have about an hour down at the waterfall to eat and swim in the canyon waters. We did this tour and would recommend it as it had a nice mix of scenery and trekking. Check out our YouTube video to get an idea the day.
Cuidad De Itas
The tour starts with an hour drive into the park up to an altitude of 3,800m.
Then you trek for 2-3 hours until you reach the ‘City of Rocks’, a collection of weird and wonderful rock formations and caves that resemble animals.
Along the way, you will also come across cave paintings and dinosaur footprints. Once you reach the end of the trek, you’ll have incredible views of the mountains and unique geology of the region.
Torotoro has an underground river (Rio Umajalanta) that created a vast network of passages and caverns after millions of years of erosion.
This tour will take you on a route through the parts of the caves that have been explored and will include some climbing, scaling and descending with safety ropes.
Some sections will require you to squeeze through small gaps, so this isn’t one for claustrophobics.
While exploring the caves, you’ll come across impressive stalagmite/stalactite formations, underground waterfalls, and the local population of vampire bats.
You also have the option of combining these tours into one day and paying extra. It would make for an exhausting day, but you’d see most of the park.
Private tours are available online but we wouldn’t recommend them.
They’re expensive, and we think it’s better to go to the park yourself and stay a few nights.
A 3-day tour from Kanoo costs $180. If you organise your transport, accommodation, and tours, it will cost less than half of that.
If you prefer to have everything organised for you then here are two companies to check out:
OTHER ACTIVITIES TO DO IN TOROTORO NATIONAL PARK
If you aren’t looking to fill another half or full day with an excursion into the park there are a couple of other options:
- Cementerio de Tortugas – a small museum outside the city with fossils from the region
- Pachamama Wasi Museum – another small museum set inside a local’s house. It’s like a botanical garden but made of stones, fossils, and other unusual rock formations.
- Siete Vueltas – a 7km circuit trek in which you don’t need a guide as it isn’t inside the park. Along the way, you will see lots of marine fossils in the walls of the cliffs and get a great view of the town and valley once you reach the top.
HOW TO GET TO TOROTORO NATIONAL PARK
Whilst Torotoro is located in the state of Potosi, the only way to get there is from the city of Cochabamba currently.
One of the largest cities in Bolivia, it has enough there to keep you occupied for a day or two or to use it as a base for visiting the park.
We’ve covered the town briefly in this guide if you decide to stay longer there.
How To Get To Cochabamba
Cochabamba is an 8-hour bus from La Paz.
You can book bus tickets online at Bolivia Tickets.
There’s one-morning bus-only that leaves at 7:30 and arrives at 15:30. Or three-night buses are departing at 22:00, 22:30, and 23:00. These all cost $15.47 and run by Trans Copacabana.
We always tried to book our buses online and go with this company as they have the best reviews. An alternative is to find smaller companies that cater to locals and book directly on the day at the bus station.
Where To Stay In Cochabamba
Hostal Running Chaski is the most popular in town, with bunkbeds dorms, private rooms, free breakfast and helpful staff.
We stayed here and this would be our recommendation. The breakfast included eggs, bread and jam with coffee and juice.
They also let us leave our big bags in their locker as you only need to take a small bag to Torotoro.
How To Get To Torotoro National Park From Cochabamba
Torotoro is a 4-5-hour mini-bus journey from Cochabamba.
The road is still being built (as of January 2020) and switches between stretches of fresh asphalt and dirt road. The journey is bumpy and cramped. If you have long legs like us, then try to get yourself into a seat where you can stretch out. Luckily half the passengers got out around 2 hours into the journey, but that first stretch wasn’t enjoyable.
On the morning you wish to travel, take a taxi (no more than 20Bs) to the mini-bus station which is on Republica Avenue.
We asked the staff at Running Chaski Hostel to organise one for us, and they kindly spoke to the driver as well to let him know where we wanted to go.
Mini-buses will depart from the station from 05:00-18:30 each day and will only leave once each mini-bus is full up. A ticket costs 35BOBs per person. You might be waiting a while for the bus to reach capacity.
When departing from Torotoro, the mini-bus leaves from the main square where you get dropped off. The town is four roads so you won’t have trouble finding it and will see the buses lined up. With 10 seats in a mini-bus, it shouldn’t take too long to fill up.
On the way there we waited around an hour to fill up, but on the way back we filled the last two seats and shot off instantly. We’d recommend getting there around before 9 AM to get your names down and leave on the first bus.
We visited in January 2020, and a new road was under construction connecting Cochabamba to Sucre. We imagine once the road is complete and larger buses can take people directly to Torotoro the tourism industry will explode.
SUGGESTED ITINERARY FOR COCHABAMBA AND TOROTORO NATIONAL PARK
You should need 4 days/3 nights minimum to get to Cochabamba and then visit the park. Here’s how we did it:
- Day 1 – Morning bus from La Paz to Cochabamba
- Day 2 – Travel from Cochabamba to Torotoro
- Day 3 – Full day tour in the park
- Day 4 – return to Cochabamba/ Night bus to Sucre or La Paz
We suggest you spend at least two nights in Torotoro.
Your first day will be spent travelling via mini-bus to the town. You could book on to a tour that day if you arrive early enough or do one of the other activities we mentioned above. Then on the second day, wake up early for a full day tour and stay that night.
We travelled back to Cochabamba on the morning of the third day. You will arrive back to Cochabamba in the afternoon, and you have the option to stay another night or hop onto a bus (night bus most likely) to La Paz or Sucre.
You could technically get the earliest mini-bus, do the tour that day, stay the night and leave the next day but its always better not to rush in our opinion.
Or you could easily do the first tour and then catch one of the last buses if you don’t want to stay two nights. You have lots of options.
HOTELS IN TOROTORO NATIONAL PARK
Torotoro still isn’t a popular destination among backpackers although it is growing in popularity.
You shouldn’t have any trouble finding a hostel, however, check the season as we imagine it’s popular among Bolivian tourists during high season.
As the town is tiny and welcomes a small number of tourists, there’s no need to book ahead. Once you arrive, you can walk the main street and find a hostel.
We stayed at Torotoro Hostal which has double rooms with private bathroom for £14/$18.60 a night.
Other cheap options include:
- Hostel Eden
- El Dinosaurio Hostal
For an option just outside of the town with some incredible views of the valley, try Rumi Kipu Ecohotel.
WHAT TO BRING
We only stayed for two nights and knew our big bags wouldn’t fit on the mini-bus, so we left them at the hostel in Cochabamba.
Running Chaski has a luggage storage room and will look after your luggage for free. Depending on how long you want to stay and what you are planning to do there, here’s a list of essential things:
- Suncream – trekking in the park all day you will need to protect your skin
- Hiking boots – depending on what treks you choose, boots are essential. The rainy season will mean muddy roads and paths. Although the weather was perfect for our ‘El Vergel’ trek, we still walked along rocky paths, through rivers and muddy clay patches. If you do any of the other hikes, notably caving, you will want a safe, reliable pair of shoes.
- Waterproofs – we went in the middle of January, which is the rainy season but got lucky with the weather. The day we were leaving there was torrential rain so come prepared.