Cordillera Apolobamba (Dep. La Paz)

Apolobamba is a national protected area of Bolivia, established to conserve the natural and cultural diversity of the extreme northwest of the department of La Paz. The area is made up of two of the richest eco-regions in South America: the Andes and the Amazon basin. The humidity rising from the rainforests of the Amazon collides with the Apolobamba mountain range and the resulting rain in the northeast valleys provides a contrasting habitat to the dry valleys to the west. The park covers an area of approximately 486,000 hectares and ranges in altitude from 2800 metres above sea level to 6200 metres.
The original park was established in 1972 to provide protection for the then diminishing vicuña population. It was upgraded by UNESCO in 1977 into a Man and the Biosphere Reserve and in the late 1990s the reserve, then known as the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Ulla Ulla was renamed the Apolobamba National Integrated Management Area.
At the same time it was expanded to its current size, and since its establishment the original 200 vicuñas have increased to more than 10 thousand due to the protection it provides. The growth of the population has enabled the introduction of a program of sustainable use of highly sought after vicuña wool in the area.
New eco-tourism projects in the park, such as Pacha Trek provide the communities that live there with the opportunity to improve their livelihoods, while supporting the preservation of their indigenous cultures and the conservation of the natural resources on which they depend.

Cultural diversity

The Kallawaya

Apolobamba is also home to the Kallawaya, the traditional herbal medicine men, famous the Andes. For centuries they have wandered through the area collecting herbs and plants from the huge variety provided by the natural diversity of the region, and often travelled by foot vast distances throughout South America healing. They also perform sacred rites in honour of ‘Pachamama’, the Andean earth goddess and predict the future by reading coca leaves.
Kallawaya practices, used in the service of the Inca emperors, have existed unchanged in the region for centuries and in 2003 the Andean Cosmovision of the Kallawaya was declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

Natural diversity

The range is rich in Andean wildlife which is only rarely seen elsewhere. The park is home to several thousand alpacas, llamas and vicuñas, and also to Bolivia’s densest condor population. Pumas and spectacled bears still roam the most isolated regions. Glaciers adorn the mountain tops and the many lakes support a variety of aquatic birds. In the drier valleys you’ll find cacti and humming-birds whilst in the more humid valleys you can see queñua trees, native to the region.

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