The Bolivian yungas
The Quechua term yunka (castillanized as yunga) has been used to denote the "Andean semi-warm valleys" since the Tawantinsuyu. The Incas considered those "warm ravines" as one of the richest (and most productive) habitats within their vast territory.
The yungas stretch along the eastern slope of the Andes, from northern Peru to north-eastern Argentina, forming a transition zone between the central Andean Altiplano or puna to the southwest and the southwest Amazon and Chaco forests to the northeast.
Located at an altitude between 400 and 3.500 meters, the yungas are extremely diverse, ranging from cloud forests, to moist forests and montane forests. The yungas rugged terrain is formed by valleys with irregular topography and fluvial mountain trails.
The Bolivian yungas lie to the south, including a small part of southern Peru. The Inambari river (Inampare or Azul, department of Puno, Peru), which more than five centuries ago formed a natural border between the Incan Antisuyu and the chunchu or "wild" lands, marks the boundary between the Peruvian and Bolivian yungas. The latter comprise the western and central parts of La Paz and Cochabamba departments and the westernmost part of Santa Cruz department. From an ecological point of view, it is one of the richest regions in Bolivia, and one of the most difficult to access. Until recently, the yungas of La Paz (where most Bolivians of African descent live) were connected to the capital city by a road commonly referred as the "road of fate" or "death road", a narrow trail about 40 miles long considered one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Due to the number of fatal road accidents it is now closed to traffic; however, the danger of the road has made it a tourist attraction for adventure travellers and a favourite destination for mountain bike enthusiasts.
The Bolivian yungas are home to unique species such as the spectacled bear or jukumari (Tremarctos ornatus), Geofroy’s cat (Leopardus geoffroyi), lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris), pacarana (Dinomys branickii), chuñi or broket deer (Mazama chunyi), green-capped tanager (Tangara meyerdeschauenseei), southern helmeted curassow (Pauxi unicornis) and Andean cock-on-the-rock (Rupicola peruviana). Chusquea bamboo (used to make Andean wind instruments) is abundant, though in lesser amounts as time goes on. There are also different types of orchids and bromeliads.
The region faces many complex economic, political, social and environmental problems. The latter include gold mining, land clearance for cultivation, forest cutting for paper manufacturing and extensive hunting of exotic species. Fortunately, some areas are now protected in National Parks such as Madidi (department of La Paz), Isiboro-Securé y Carrasco (department of Cochabamba) and Amboró (department of Santa Cruz).
Population in the Bolivian yungas is concentrated in Afro-Bolivian communities and scattered localities in La Paz department. The region’s urban centres include Coroico (the capital of the Nor Yungas province), Chulumani (the capital of the Sud Yungas province), Caranavi, Irupana and Huancané, and there are also small villages like Mururata and Tocaña.
While small towns seek to diversify their activities and are promoting an economic development through cultural and adventure tourism, localities in the area of Cochabamba and Santa Cruz remain a crossing point on the route that connect the Altiplano with the western part of the country.
Picture 01. Panoramic view of the yungas of La Paz.
Picture 02. Panoramic view of the yungas and the old road of fate or "death road".
Picture 03. The old road of the fate or "death road".
Picture 04. Panoramic view of the yungas.
Picture 05. The yungas near Caranavi.
Picture 06. Biking in the yungas.
Picture 07. Forests in the yungas.
Picture 08. Peasants in the yungas of Chulumani.
Picture 09. Woman seller in Coroico.
Picture 10. Coca leaves drying along the road side in Irupana.