If there is something that is on every backpacker’s list while visiting Sucre, it’s hiking the Maragua Crater. While the easy way is to join a tour with a guide, like with Condor Trekkers, many try to share the word about the ease of doing the hike on their own.
After some unsuccessful research online and contradictory tips given by other travelers, we decided to give it a go anyway and ultimately learn the hard way. We made some mistakes, we got lost, but we made it and it’s a hell of a great hike! This is how we did it.
Day 1: Sucre to Maragua Crater
We first took a taxi to catch a bus going towards the little town of Potolo. After 10 minutes, we got out at the “parada por Potolo” which cost 13 Bs for 3 people. We were lucky, the bus was still here when we arrived. Just in time as 2 minutes later it left. For once buses run on time…
The only bus to Potolo leaves Sucre at 9:30 am. If we missed it, it would have been possible to hop on a truck, but the price is generally much higher. Hitch-hiking might be quite hard, as the road is not used much. We have seen people getting a taxi all the way, but that’s not really budget friendly for us.
The Inca Steps
After driving on a paved road out of Sucre, we turned left and climbed a windy gravel road leading to what seemed like the middle of nowhere. The bus dropped all the hikers at the “Virgen de Chataquilla” where we found the starting point of our first Inca Trail.
The steps led us down for about 1 hour towards Chaunaca, offering incredible views of the entire valley. For the first time, we witnessed the dry landscape of Sucre’s countryside and its colour palette of multiple shades of red, yellow and green. A very unique and untouched landscape with sparse vegetation and an enjoyable lack of human presence.
Chaunaca, tolls and map issues
Once in Chaunaca, we paid the “toll” to the community (10 Bs). The toll is just one person from the community sitting in a hut and charging the hikers before letting them continue their hike.
Note : There is supposed to be only one toll along the way, but we passed a couple more later on that day. In fairness, it is a very small amount of money to pay that helps the entire village and community to survive and build infrastructure. It’s not that big of a deal, no need to get offended or try to avoid the toll. Pitching in might help make a difference in this part of the world.
After the toll, we made our way down to the village on the left. Here, we thought we were lost more than once, as there is not a defined or marked trail. The truth is there are a few ways to walk around. The options include; the road, a trail and many shortcuts made by the locals. Quite confusing. Add to this, multiple paths to reach the village Maragua and a GPS that shows only half of the trail! Not a great start, but here is the information to not get lost.
From Chaunaca, there are indeed two trails. One that follows the main gravel road and one going through the forest along the river. The correct trail is the one on the left by the river, but it is also the one partially mapped on our GPS map. We, therefore, decided to cross the bridge to the right and follow the road to Maragua instead.
Using the GPS with the app “Maps.me” is generally a good way of getting it right while hiking in South America. The trails are usually accurate, but this time, the app is not entirely correct and cannot be 100% reliable.
Two trails: which one is right?
The gravel road
This road crosses a couple of farms and one or two tolls (people in huts) and takes a little less time and effort. It took us 5 hours instead of the 7.5 hours as we were initially told. The hike is also easier as the climb is constant. The view over the valley is breathtaking and you have more chances to meet locals or see them working in their field.
The river bed trail
Contrary to the road, this path is mainly flat up until the end, when it requires hiking a very steep section to the Maragua waterfall. At this altitude, it can be quite exhausting. From what we heard from other travelers, the river bed trail is not exactly easy to find because of the lack of info on maps.me and the non-existent trail marks. Hikers can end up following a path that leads nowhere, forcing them to turn around and try another route. On the other hand, this trail, brings the visitor into the forest, in a very remote place with no human activity.
Altitude sickness during the hike:
As we first started to climb up through a very gentle steep, we all started feeling head aches and a bit dizzy. This is what altitude sickness does to you! However, the mild symptoms hitting us were quickly taken care of, by drinking lots of water, taking deep breaths in and out and chewing some Coca Leaf.
Altitude sickness is a condition that can be life threating and therefore shouldn’t be taken lightly if the symptoms get strong such as vomiting, fever, or unconciousness. The only remedy is to go back to a lower altitude and seek urgent medical support.
Arriving in Maragua
Maragua is a tiny village within the Maragua Crater with a church, a school and a couple of “tiendas” (shops) to buy beer, coke and toilet paper. The houses made of adobe are used by the families to live, but also dry the corn they cultivate right in the middle of the town.
There are only 2 places to spend the night and they are not advertised. We knew the names and asked the locals who didn’t seem to know or understand. They sent us all around the place. Maybe they were just taking a piss out of the gringos… One of the hostals (guest house) is “Don Basillo” (also called Rumi Wasi) which is located on the main road across from the school. We arrived quite early so we had the chance to get a bed, but a group of Israeli arrived after nightfall and slept in the corridor on the floor… They absolutely wanted to stay here and for some reason, not try to go to the other hostal “Samary Wasi” where there was space.
The 2 hostals offer pretty much the same service: a bed, with dinner and breakfast included in the night’s price. However, since this big group arrived late, just as the owner was beginning to making dinner for 5 people, our dinner portion of rice, potato and egg turned out to be split between everyone. Saying we had a very small plate would be an understatement.
The next day our host didn’t seem enthusiastic about cooking breakfast for 16 people. He, therefore, went to buy crackers for everyone… We would have probably had a better experience, and more food, at the other hostal which was less crowded.
Day 2: Maragua to Potolo and Sucre
The next morning, we started early to make sure we will reach Potolo by lunchtime. The trail at first is quite easy, following a route that is well defined on Maps.me. It gets a bit complicated when going through the farms because, despite being clear on the map, the trail isn’t visible in reality.
We found ourselves walking through corn fields and across private land, as we missed a turn or lost the path. All in all, it was fine, we knew we had to go straight or to the right, according to the GPS, but it required a bit of searching… It’s probably why people prefer hiking with a guide. We can understand that. For sure it would have been easier, but hiking Maragua Crater on your own is not that hard. It just takes a bit of time and absolutely requires the use of a GPS.
The Dinosaurs’ footprints
We chose the trail going to “huellas de dinosaurs Miñu Mayu“, a small place where dinosaurs footprints can be found. Even though we had been to the “Cal Orck’o” outside of Sucre to see hundreds of footprints, we thought it would be nice to see more, closer and right in the middle of nowhere. We stopped and sat next to the footprints for a well-deserved break and snack.
We had been told we might have to pay a fee to see the footprints (about 20 Bs), but nobody asked us anything. There was a house next to the footprints and people working in a near by feild, but no one seemed bothered by us.
Crossing Chulpa and arriving in Potolo
After the dinosaurs’ footprints we once again lost the trail through the cornfields but quickly found the dusty road that was going to lead us to Potolo. From there it is a straightforward walk with incredible views. The dusty road crosses small farms, villages and eroded canyons. We used all the shortcuts made by the locals which made the walk fast and more entertaining. The Bolivians are either lazy or smart, but they sure love shortcuts!
Once in Potolo we waited at the main square for the bus heading back to Sucre. Now, let’s put it this way, we have taken more than 130 buses in South America, from the good to pretty awful. So trust us when we say this ride was the scariest we had encountered. A narrow, windy, gravel road up the side of the mountain with a drop of hundreds of metres, and the noisiest and uncomforting brakes ever. We just sat and waited for it to pass. In total it took 2 hours, and a lot of nerves not to freak out. The locals even seemed a little apprehensive.
The Maragua Crater hike is a must-do
We hope not to discourage anyone with our description of the tolls and scary bus ride. It probably sounds worse than it is!
The Maragua Crater hike is a hit. A must-do while passing by Sucre for more than a couple of days. This is the type of hike that is not going to happen many times in South America. It’s in fact, not everywhere you will have the chance to cross such a landscape.
If you still wish to hike the Maragua crater with a guide, we would strongly recommend “Condortrekkers” which is an organization that gives 100% of the fees to projects in communities and in Sucre. For those who have done hikes in Nicaragua or Guatemala with Quetzaltrekkers, you will recognise the same scheme!
The Maragua Crater hike is also an excellent way to discover the life of the Bolivian countryside. It can at times be shocking like the below picture. The building is a school. The paintings say “Do not destroy our planet” – “Do not contaminate our environment” – That doesn’t seem to be followed by the local people who litter right across from those strong messages…
Cost and useful information
Exchange rate (avg. June-August 2017): €1 = 7.82 Bs
Taxi – Sucre town center to bus stop: 13 Bs (€1.60)
Bus – Sucre to “Virgen de Chataquilla” (start of the Inca Trail): 10 Bs (€1.30)
Bus – Potolo to Sucre: 13 Bs (€1.65)
Toll: 10 Bs (€1.30)
Night at Don Basillo hostal: 40 Bs (€5.10) – dorm w/4 beds, dinner and breakfast included (sort of)
** note that all the links we add are FYI. We are not remunerated by either the companies/organisations nor per click.
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