For many, the big draw of Bolivia is visiting the breathtaking Salar de Uyuni. But, don’t let the salt flats be all you see of this South American gem, however short on time you are. As keen hikers, we know South America has a wealth of exceptional treks, but whilst researching for our trip we came across very little on hiking in Bolivia. Often, we suppose, taking a backseat to neighbouring Peru. But, as our experience proved, Bolivia has some unbelievable peaks with a fraction of hikers trekking them. You really do feel like you have the whole mountain range to yourself. One such hike is that of Pico Austria in the Cordillera Real. Part of the Condoriri (Kunturiri) Massif, the very achievable peak of Pico Austria is easily one of Bolivia’s best one-day hiking experiences.
In this guide, we’ll tell you all you need to know about hiking Pico Austria in Bolivia. We’ll talk a little about what the Cordillera Real and Condoriri Massif are, as well as let you know what to expect on the hike. Acclimatisation will be key to fully enjoying the views of the Cordillera Real from the Pico Austria peak, so we’ll of course touch on some great ways to be high altitude ready.
For more incredible hikes in the South American Andes, check out our guides on the 8-day Huayhuash Trek, the 16 Best Hikes in Huaraz and the Ausangate Trek.
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Pico Austria | 1 Day Hiking Guide
With views to rival the best of them, here’s our guide to hiking Pico Austria and the Cordillera Real, Bolivia. Just on the outskirts of La Paz city, this makes for a truly breathtaking full-day hike. After weighing up the pros and cons, Dan and I decided on hiking Bolivia’s Pico Austria with a guide. But, it is possible to hike independently too.
About the Cordillera Real
Lying north of La Paz is the Cordillera Real mountain range in the Bolivian Andes. It contains a wealth of multi and one-day hikes, neither of which will leave you disappointed. The Cordillera Real, meaning ‘royal range‘ in Spanish, lies in the Altiplano of Bolivia. The Altiplano plateau is found at the widest part of the entire Andes range and is the largest high plateau outside of Tibet. So, as you can imagine, there are some incredibly high mountains to summit here.
Within the Cordillera Real is the Condoriri Massif. The Condoriri Massif gets its name from the fact three peaks, in particular, are said to resemble a condor bird in flight. Its central mountain, also named Condoriri, forms the head of the condor. The summit of Pico Austria provides exceptional views of the Condoriri.
Sitting at 5,350m above sea level – almost the same as Everest Base Camp, the Pico Austria height is not to be sniffed at and hiking this mountain in Bolivia takes some effort. And of course, the hike starts at around 4,400m above sea level and so has the potential to feel tough from the get-go if you’re not properly acclimatized.
Altitude & Acclimatisation in the Cordillera Real
Acclimatisation is key! La Paz sits at 3,500m above sea level. It’s suggested anywhere above 2,000–2,500m above sea level will mean the body needs to acclimatise to the change in altitude. So, you may feel side effects upon arrival in La Paz. That’s because of altitude sickness. Also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), it’s a typical illness experienced by those who reach high altitudes they’re not used to. The main symptoms include headache, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness, dizziness, indigestion and loss of appetite.
With that being said, it’s important to take time to rest and adjust. Do not jump straight into any physically demanding activities, especially those such as mountain hiking, that will take you even higher above sea level. In reality, the single most important way to avoid altitude sickness is to not go up too high, too quickly! Generally speaking, you shouldn’t go higher than 500 metres a day, once you’re beyond 2,000 metres above sea level.
We spent 3 days in La Paz (off the back of 8 days acclimatising in the Atacama, and then Uyuni) before attempting to hike Bolivia’s Pico Austria.
Reducing Altitude Sickness
There are other ways to reduce your chances of getting altitude sickness. These other strategies can also help manage symptoms if you feel unwell. Indeed, not every case of altitude sickness is an emergency situation requiring mountain evacuation!
Firstly, don’t rush when you’re hiking. Walk slowly and take it easy. If you feel out of breath, stop and have a break. Secondly, eat small meals and don’t rush when eating. Staying hydrated by drinking water is also essential. In addition, you may benefit from coca leaves, tea or sweets. This is what the locals recommend. Finally, you could take altitude sickness tablets (such as Diamox). But, if you acclimatise properly, you shouldn’t need them.
Hiking Pico Austria Preview
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 10km
- Time: 5-5.5 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 800m
- Difficulty: Hard
- Trailhead: ‘La Rinconada’ (at the foot of Laguna Khauan Khota)
- Map: Wikiloc
Hiking Bolivia’s Pico Austria
As the car approached the trailhead, we were stopped by a friendly local running out of a small stone farmhouse, clipboard in hand. This was to pay the National Park fee of 20Bs/person ($3USD). A small price to pay for such secluded beauty. With not another soul in sight, and our ‘private’ tour guide ready (since it was just the two of us), we began the ascent up to Bolivia’s Pico Austria. The pace is slow and steady to allow the body to adjust as best it can to the increasing altitude. Ultimately, providing you take the hike easy, you’ll find it’s not too difficult hiking up to the Pico Austria summit.
To Laguna Chiar Khota
The first section of the hike takes you gradually up through the Cordillera Real towards Laguna Chiar Khota. At 4,670m above sea level, Laguna Chiar Khota is a beautiful lake sitting in the foothills of the Condoriri Massif. All mountains in the Condoriri reach over 5,000 metres high and are breathtaking. Indeed, beyond Laguna Chiar Khota you’ll be able to make out the condor shape of the mountain peaks. From Laguna Chiar Khota, the trail slowly heads to the west and begins to climb up Paso Austria (the mountain pass) to finally ascend the Pico Austria summit.
Pico Austria Summit
Once at the summit of Pico Austria, you’ll find the views are simply breathtaking. As our guide amusingly snuggled down for a quick nap, Dan and I enjoyed the exclusive mountain top in the Cordillera Real. We felt a real sense of accomplishment, together. Indeed, it didn’t take long for us to be wishing we were conquering more of this incredible mountain range.
On a clear day you can see the whole of neighbouring Condoriri Mountain and the wider Condoriri Massif (a group of mountains shaped like a condor- often seen flying in these parts). You can also see across west, to Lake Titicaca. From the Pico Austria summit, you truly feel on top of the world. Or at the very least, Bolivia. Stretched in every direction is the sublime Cordillera Real. Certainly, this mountain range looks equally as impressive as the wonderous Cordillera Blanca in Peru, and that place really did steal our hearts!
Be warned though, the weather can and does change rapidly in the Cordillera Real. Well, that’s mountain weather in general I suppose. We had some clouds with pockets of blue sky for some time. This quickly changed to a full on white out, including snow, in the space of just a few minutes. Luckily for Dan and I, we’d had a good half hour to enjoy our mountain top perch before a swift descent ensued.
In total, hiking to the Pico Austria summit in Bolivia takes a steady 3.5hrs, with a return of just under 2hrs.
Return to La Paz
Snacks and lunch are included with most Pico Austria tours. The bananas our guide handed to us along the trek were always a welcome site. But, being presented with a full loaf of bread, a block of cheese and an over-ripe avocado to work with during the car journey home was somewhat amusing. Still, it left us surplus supplies for the coming days!
Hiking Pico Austria Recap
Despite being a surprise addition to our La Paz itinerary, with not actually planning on hiking in Bolivia at all, hiking Bolivia’s Pico Austria turned out to be one of the most rewarding treks we’ve ever done. Sure, it’s definitely left us wanting to experience more of the Condoriri Massif and wider Cordillera Real. But, I guess that just means there’s a trip back to Bolivia with our name on it.
For a short and achievable high-altitude trek, Pico Austria is a great option and one of the best Bolivia hiking trails. What a sense of accomplishment to be had. We’re sure you’ll feel the same should you choose to embark on this Cordillera Real adventure too.
Choosing the Right Pico Austria Tour Company
Hike with a guide. During our stay in La Paz we had not planned to do any hiking. We’d earmarked a couple of days to rest and acclimatise, then a couple more to visit Moon Valley and Death Road. After that, we’d head across the border into Peru to hit the high-altitude hiking trails there. But, the Atacama and Uyuni proved to be great introductions to the higher altitudes. Adjusting to life at 3,500m above sea level in La Paz was more straightforward than we’d imagined. So, we set about looking for an enjoyable day hike from La Paz, feeling like we’d be giving ourselves a further head start on acclimatising for Peru.
We quickly came across the Pico Austria trek. We’d recommend hiking Pico Austria in the Cordillera Real with a guide since there is no public transport to the start of the trail. In addition, any taxi or private transfer you find will likely charge more than the tour itself. This is because they will either wait for you to return or you will need to arrange a time for them to collect you.
You’ll find plenty of tour offices in La Paz offering a one-day hike to Pico Austria. Be sure to shop around on finding the best tour price though. Of the four tour offices we visited, one quoted 450Bs, two at 350Bs and one at 300Bs ($43USD/person). Also please note online prices are much more expensive at around $75USD/person, so always best to book direct in La Paz.
We opted to go with Bolivia Myl (contact +59173225515) – the cheaper option since all companies offered pretty much the same package. Although the pricier options would happily have reduced their cost if booking immediately for the following day. Due to the hiking trails around La Paz still being relatively unknown to tourists, it turned out we were to be the only people booked onto our tour. Not only that though, but we would also be the only ones atop Pico Austria!
Hiking Pico Austria Independently
Given the decent price of a tour from La Paz to hike Pico Austria in the Cordillera Blanca, most visitors will opt to have a guide. The convenience of transportation and the security of having someone on hand to help should the high altitude become problematic has their definite merits.
But, it is more than possible to hike Pico Austria independently. By all accounts, you should arrange for a driver (taxi or private) to get you to “La Rinconada”. Ideally, you will arrange for them to wait for you. In addition, independent hikers will often opt to overnight the hike to Pico Austria, meaning you’re able to be a little more flexible with time.
Getting to & From La Paz
Flight or bus, either works. We arrived in La Paz from Uyuni on the overnight bus. The 10-hour trip with Todo Tourismo cost $33USD/person. Leaving Uyuni at 8.30pm it arrived into La Paz at 6.30am the following morning. Perhaps a little on the pricey side it was more importantly comfortable, safe and on time.
Stay safe with the ‘Hop’ buses. We booked the Bolivia Hop bus from La Paz- Copacabana- Cusco (Peru) for $39USD/person. This included the use of a discount code at the time of booking (original price was $49USD/person).
Accommodation in La Paz
Stay in the hustle and bustle. We stayed at York B&B in La Paz and booked a private room with a private bathroom through booking.com. We spent $60USD/ 2 people for 4 nights ($b 207) with a basic breakfast included. The hostel has wifi, although it tended to work best in the reception area and not our room. Its location was fantastic though, very close to all the tour offices and Gringo Alley.
Five Hiking Gear Essentials for Pico Austria, Bolivia
If you’re planning on hiking Pico Austria in Bolivia, which we hope you are, then here are a few essentials we recommend and you may want to consider. For a more comprehensive packing list, please check out the Ultimate Packing Checklist. It’s a great general summary of everything you’d need for a trip. For even more information check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With.
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: these hiking boots are super comfortable and lightweight.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for hiking, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm.
- Columbia Convertible Trousers: a value for money pair of water-resistant convertible trousers.
- Coca Leaf Tea: said to reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness, keep some to hand just incase for a great herbal remedy.
Also, remember to carry at least 2–3 litres of water and your own snacks.
- Smart packing: as with most hiking, pack for every eventuality. High-altitude hikes feel cold very quickly once you’ve reached the summit.
- Pace: slow and steady wins the race, and all that. Consequently, hiking Pico Austria in Bolivia is not a trail to race up. Besides, there’s the Condoriri Massif to marvel at as you hike.
- Weather: most tour companies will check the weather forecast for you in regard to when to book your hike. Although the weather can change quickly, it would be wise to check ahead of time also.
- Other hikes in the Cordillera Real: other popular hikes in the Cordillera Real include Huayna Potosí, which is one of the most accessible 6,000 metre peaks to climb. Also, you can take on multi-day treks across the Condoriri Massif and the surrounding Condoriri Valley. Also, the full 17–20 day TransCordillera Trek sounds like an incredible way to see the entire Cordillera Real area.
- More tours: if you prefer the hassle taken out of your trip planning, GetYourGuide offers some fantastic tour options from La Paz.
Please help to keep information on hiking Pico Austria in Bolivia up to date. Drop a comment to help other hikers out.
Your page is really great and useful. Thanks a lot. I am planning to do this trek with my teen-ager son in two weeks time.
Thanks for visiting Travel Made Me Do It. We’re stoked that you found the page useful.
Have a great time hiking in Bolivia. In two weeks’ time, we won’t be too far away, hiking in Peru.
All the best, Dan & Beck