Our Beautiful World

The Andes, Fauna and Nature   

Del 8. Bolivia, Mountains and Flora - with 'Death Road'.

Evening thunderstorms over the Bolivian Andes.

Animals, birds and flowers on this page:

Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, Anairetes flavirostris Alpine butterflies,Colias sp. og Claria sp Coral Tree, Erythrina
Puna Thistletail, Schizoeaca helleri    
Purple Honeycreeper, Cyanerpes caeruleus    

From a rearranged translation of Vladimir Dinets original pages to norwegian, with supplements.
Klikk på flagg for norsk versjon

Pages for Latin America


As an administrative capital of Bolivia (the political capital is Sucre), La Paz is the highest capital city in the world,
although its exact elevation is difficult to determine due to its unique topography.
The city does not have the splendid architectural monuments of Cuzco or Quito,
but thanks to its unusual location it is one of the most beautiful and surprising cities in the world -
provided you can find good viewpoints.

Aerial view of La Paz.

La Paz has been built in a deep canyon cutting into the edge of the Altiplano. The historic center is at the bottom
of the upper canyon; poor suburbs spill out on the cold plateau and descend for miles into the hot, dry Andean
foothills to the east.

La Paz and Illimani at sunset.

If you follow Rio Choqueyapu southeast, down the canyon, the landscape begins to resemble Utah or Arizona.
High-rise buildings along the river are surrounded by weird eroded formations of all shapes and colors.

Valle de la Luna, near La Paz.
Valle de la Luna, near La Paz

 'Death Road'

The name "Death Road" has been coined by tour operators running mountain biking tours
along the highway leading from La Paz to the plains of northeastern Bolivia.
It was built in the 1930-s during the Chaco War by Paraguayan prisoners.
The road is not as bad as it sounds: parts of it are now paved, and only one stretch is really narrow.
It has very high accident rate, but the scenery is worth the risk, especially if you make a few stops along the way.
It is also the only road in Bolivia where you drive on the left, not on the right.



Le Cumbre Pass, Bolivia

Soon after leaving La Paz, you climb to Le Cumbre Pass 4725 m. It is cold and windy, but good for birding,
and many nice trails start from here. Then you begin the endless descent.
The road then follows the border of Cotapata National Park. Hiking up the side valleys into the alpine meadows, you can find tiny patches of Polylepis trees that survived heavy cutting for firewood.


Alpine flowers , Choquetanga-valley

These tiny groves shelter some very rare birds. Many of those birds are endemic to the area.

Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, Anairetes flavirostris





Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant,
Anairetes flavirostris,
and Ssh-breasted Tit-Tyrant,
Anairetes alpinus,
Buff-winged cinclodes , Cinclodes fuscus,
Choquetanga Valley.
Puna Thistletails, Schizoeaca helleri,
Black-throated Thistletails,
Schizoeaca harterti
Choquetanga Valley.

  Yellow-billed Tit-tyrant,
Anairetes flavirostris
Photo: © Arthur Grosset

The Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, Anairetes flavirostris, is a species of bird in the Tyrannidae family. It is found in
Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist montanes and subtropical or tropical high-altitude shrubland.

The Tit-Tyrants are a group of small, mainly Andean, tyrant flycatchers in the genus Anairetes. It includes the genus
Uromyias, which formerly was recognized based on syringial and plumage characters, but now is known to be imbedded
within Anairetes. These fairly small birds, 11–14 cm, are named after the tit family, due to their energetic tit-like
dispositions and appearance.

The Puna Thistletail, Schizoeaca helleri, is a species of bird in the Furnariidae family. It is found in Peru and Bolivia.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist montanes and subtropical or tropical high-altitude grassland.

The thistletails, genus Schizoeaca, are birds in the family Furnariidae. They are found in highland forest, shrub and
grassland in the Andes of South America. They have a mainly brown plumage, and most have grey underparts.
All have long tails with pointed tips. The Itatiaia Spinetail is a member of another genus, but has sometimes been referred
to as the Itatiaia Thistletail.


Alpine butterflies: Colias sp. og Claria sp., Choquetanga-valley

Soon, the highway enters the cloud forest. There's no good forest left along the road itself,
but plenty within a short walking distance. It's a world of mist, rain, tree ferns, epiphytes, and orchids.
Even Spectacled Bears,
Tremarctos ornatus, live in the Park

Cyathea tree fern, La Paz-Coroico Rd.

Cyathea tree fern, La Paz-Coroico Rd.



Flowers, Cotapata National Park.

These lush, misty, deep valleys are called yungas in Bolivia and Argentina.
Very few roads cross the yungas from the Altiplano to the lowlands -
that's why the "Death Road" is so important and gets so much traffic despite being slow and dangerous

Cyathea tree fern, La Paz-Coroico Rd.

Cyathea tree fern, La Paz-Coroico Rd.



Orchids, Cotapata National Park.

Cloud forest birds are often very colorful, but difficult to see in dense vegetation
. The best place to look for them is along the trails behind Cotapata petrol station,
just a few kilometers before the end of pavement.
One of those trails can be followed all the way down into degraded montane tropical forests below 1800m.


Atlapetes rufinucha,
Cotapata NP

flower-piercer ,
Diglossa mystacalis,
Cotapata NP

Slate-throated redstart
Myioborus miniatus,
Cotapata NP




Golden-browed chat-tyrant
Ochthoeca pulchella,
Boliviakjerrspurv, Atlapetes rufinucha, Cotapata National Park.
Turdus nigriceps,
Cotapata National Park.

As soon as the pavement ends, the dangerous part of the road begins.
It is so narrow that trucks and buses can pass each other only in a few places,
and hairpin turns can be very difficult for long vehicles.

La Paz-Coroico Rd.
La Paz-Coroico Rd.
(note the bridge just below the clouds).

200-300 people die in rockslides and accidents every year.
Local drivers often make a sacrifice to Pachamama, the Mother Goddess,
before going through that part, especially at night.


La Paz-Coroico Rd.

At 1750 m/6,500' the "Death Road" passes by Coroico, one of the most charming towns in Bolivia.
There are more interesting cities in the Andes, but few, if any, can beat the view from Coroico's hilltop center.


Coroico, Bolivia.

The city is now becoming a bit touristy, but the surrounding villages are seldom visited by foreigner.
Some are populated by the descendants of African slaves who escaped from Bolivia's infamous silver mines,
and now speak Aymara language





Green-cheeked parakeets,
Pyrrhura molinae,
Spix's guan, Penelope jacquacu,
Tropical parula, Parula pitiayumi,

Coral Tree, Erythrina

View from Coroico.

The best time to visit Coroico is in August when coral trees, Erythrina, are in full bloom.
They grow all over the town and the hills around it.

Erythrina is a genus of flowering plants in the pea family, Fabaceae. It contains about 130 species, which are distributed in
tropical and subtropical regions worldwide. They are trees, growing up to 30 m in height. The generic name is derived from
the Greek word, erythros, meaning "red," referring to the flower color of certain species.

Particularly in horticulture, the name coral tree is used as a collective term for these plants. "Flame trees" is another vernacular
name, but may refer to a number of unrelated plants as well. Many species of Erythrina have bright red flowers, and this may
be the origin of the common name. However, the growth of the branches can resemble the shape of sea coral rather than the
color of Corallium rubrum specifically, and this is an alternative source for the name. Other popular names, usually local and
particular to distinct species, liken the flowers' red hues to those of a male chicken's wattles, and/or the flower shape to its leg
spurs. Commonly seen Spanish names for any local species are bucaré, frejolillo or porotillo, and in Afrikaans some are called kaffirboom. Mullumurikku is a widespread name in Kerala.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erythrina

Coral tree flower, Coroico.

Coral tree flower, Coroico.

There are about 20 species of coral trees in South America.
As you descend from Coroico to the hot, dusty plains of eastern Bolivia, you see at least six different kinds.
Some are grown for edible fruit, others are part of local rainforests



Coral Tree, Coroico.

Blooming and fruiting coral trees attract a lot of wildlife, from fruit flies to tapirs.
There's much more wildlife on the roadsides below 1000 m, especially if you drive there at night.
Opossums, armadillos, various rodents and occasionally crab-eating foxes cross the road in front of the truck.
The road eventually reaches the town of Yucumo, from where you can go north,
to Rurrenabaque and then Riberalta, or east, to Trinidad and then the Pantanal.

Purple Honeycreeper, Cyanerpes caeruleus

Cyanerpes caeruleus.


Purpurhonningkryper, Cyanerpes caeruleus.
© www.arthurgrosset.com

The Purple Honeycreeper, Cyanerpes caeruleus, is a small bird in the tanager family. It is found in the tropical New
World from Colombia and Venezuela south to Brazil, and on Trinidad. A few, possibly introduced birds have been
recorded on Tobago. The species is a bird of northern South America, and besides the Amazon Basin and the Guianas,
a coastal range occurs west of the Andes, including parts of southern Panama. In the south, its range extends to the
extreme western Pantanal. Though it is most frequently seen in the lowlands up to 1,000 m ASL or so, it has been
encountered as high as 2,300 m ASL.

The Purple Honeycreeper is 11.5 cm long, weighs 12 g and has a long black decurved bill. The male is purple with black
wings, tail and belly, and bright yellow legs. Females and immatures have green upperparts, and green-streaked yellowish-
buff underparts. The throat is cinnamon, and there is a blue moustachial stripe.
The call of Purple Honeycreeper is a thin high-pitched zree.

This is a forest canopy species, but also occurs in cocoa and citrus plantations. At the upper limit of its altitudinal range,
it frequents premontane rainforest, usually rather low-growing (10–15 m) and full of epiphytes and mosses, and even
elfin forest and paramo.

A female Purple Honeycreeper
at Diergaarde Blijdorp, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Photo: Arjan Haverkamp

The Purple Honeycreeper is often found in small groups. It feeds on nectar (particularly from bromeliad and similar
flowers, to which its bill shape is adapted), berries and insects, mainly in the canopy. It is a bold and inquisitive bird,
responding readily to the call of the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Glaucidium brasilianum, by coming out of cover and
searching for the presumed predator to mob it. The female Purple Honeycreeper builds a small cup nest in a tree, and
incubates the clutch of two brown-blotched white eggs.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purple_Honeycreeper

Travel on the "Death Road" is no picnic, but the roads of lowland Bolivia aren't any better.
Most of them are in very bad shape during the rainy season, and very dusty the rest of the year.
Traffic is surprisingly sparse, and most of time all you see is dry pastures

Flowering Coral Tree, Rurrenabaque, Bolivia.

Coral tree in the rainforest, Rurrenabaque.

Coral Tree, Coroico.

Where do we go now? Scotia-Sea!

Back to part 7

This is the end of South-America
but we are working with other countries to be included. (March 2012)

Antarctic is next.

All pictures, unless otherwise stated, Copyright © Vladimir Dinets


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