Bolivia: Llamas, Quinoa and Andean Food Sovereignty

November 19, 2012

Cross-posted from Food Sovereignty Tours

March 9 – 18, 2013


The Bolivian Altiplano—a vast tableland flanked by two Andean mountain ranges—is one of the most remarkable areas of human settlement in the world. Beginning north of Lake Titicaca, the region stretches 500 miles to the South at an average altitude of 13,000 feet. On this tour, you will learn about the agricultural systems that have, and continue to, sustain large populations in this challenging environment. Specifically, you will learn about quinoa and llamas, two products that have been at the heart of Andean food security for centuries. You will travel from the shores of Lake Titicaca to the Southern Altipano to gain a unique lens into the fascinating world of Andean food and agriculture.

The Altiplano gave rise to powerful civilizations, which domesticated numerous crops and animals for sustaining their populations. Potatoes and quinoa—hearty crops perfectly suited to highland farming—were domesticated along the shores of Lake Titicaca.  The American camelid—the llama, alpaca and vicuña—was also domesticated in the Altiplano, providing an essential source of meat, wool, fertilizer and transport. Since these products were associated with indigenous people, however, they received little or no support in Bolivia’s modern development.

By forming strong producers’ associations rooted in indigenous communities, quinoa and llama producers succeeded in overturning racist laws and accessing consumer markets. Llama steak is now available in many Bolivian restaurants, and quinoa can be bought at health food stores throughout the world. However, recent global market forces and climate change have led to a crisis in the quinoa-llama production system. The market pull to increase quinoa production through mechanization has eroded fragile highland soils. The rising price of quinoa has also squeezed out poor consumers, who must turn to cheaper, far less nutritious alternatives such as rice and pasta.

On this tour, you will explore the complex reality of Andean food sovereignty while being immersed in Andean culture and visiting the spectacular landscapes of the Altiplano. This unique delegation is brought to you by Food First in collaboration with La Paz on Foot, a Bolivian ecotourism and environmental education company specializing in Andean farming systems. Guided by La Paz on Foot’s expert guides as well as a Food First analyst, you will build solidarity with rural communities, local NGOs and social movements working to build food sovereignty in Bolivia.

Photo by Shannon DeCelleTour highlights include:

  • City tour of the La Paz and El Alto foodshed with a focus on indigenous food markets; Learn about the history and political significance of El Alto, a young city (est. 1987) now home to over a million mostly Aymara indigenous residents.
  • Meet with Bolivian NGOPROINPA for an overview of Bolivian agriculture and biodiversity, focusing on quinoa producing zones and PROINPA’s work to conserve soils and traditional varieties
  • Meet with Bolivian NGO FOBOMADE, an organization that works closely with social movements to promote food sovereignty and stop the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Bolivian agro-ecosystems. FOBOMADE is also active in supporting community resistance to mega- infrastructure projects like hydrodams and superhighways that threaten livelihoods.
  • Homestays with campesino families in a farming community on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Learn from local farmers about the incredible diversity of the Lake Titicaca region, the “center of origin” of quinoa. Here we will have a chance to participate in seasonal agricultural activities, depending on the weather and community needs.
  • Participate in preparing and sharing a traditional Aymara communal meal called “ap’thapi” with foods grown in the community or acquired from other eco-regions through the Andean tradition of inter-ecological exchange
  • Meet with quinoa producers from ANAPQUI, the National Association of Quinoa Producers, and visit the ANAPQUI quinoa processing plant in Challapata, Oruro. ANAPQUI is the largest peasant-run quinoa producers’ association in the country, producing a large amount of the Andean organic quinoa found in U.S. supermarkets.
  • Stay in a small, family-run hotel on the northern edge of the Uyuni salt flats, owned and managed by a quinoa-farming family. Learn about the family’s experiences in farming and small-scale ecotourism.
  • Visit with llama and alpaca producers of the Southern Altiplano region; Learn about the fragile wetlands (bofedales) ecosystem where these animals graze, which is being threatened by the expansion of quinoa monocultures
  • Visit the breathtaking Uyuni Salt Flats and Thunupa Volcano in the southern Altiplano.


Click here to download trip details and sample itinerary (PDF)


Apthapi_Photo by Shannon DeCelle

Tour Cost: $1690

Price includes:

  • All in-country transportation during the tour including airport transfer to and from La Paz/El Alto International Airport
  • Three-star hotel accommodations in La Paz and Oruro plus one night homestay with rural families on Lake Titicaca; Tour price is based on shared double rooms; single accommodations are available for an additional fee of $200.
  • 2-3 meals per day
  • Food First trip leader (country expert/policy analyst), local guides, guest speaker honoraria, translators and drivers (we are committed to fairly compensating everyone who contributes their labor, time and passion to enriching our delegations and making them run smoothly)
  • Preparatory reading materials (“Reader”) and Orientation Packet
  • All scheduled program activities, presentations and workshops
  • Food First membership
  • NOT INCLUDED: International airfare, tourist visa (for U.S. travelers), most beverages, tips, insurance, personal expenses



Special Considerations for Travel to Bolivia:

  • Entry Visa for Citizens of the United States: If you are a U.S. citizen entering Bolivia as a tourist, you are required to have an entry visa. You can apply for a Bolivian tourist visa by mail or in person at Bolivian consulates in the U.S., as well as at Bolivian ports of entry. Many of our travelers have purchased their visa at the airport upon arrival with no problems. Bolivian tourist visas cost $135, are valid for five years from the date of issuance, and allow you to enter the country three times in a year for a cumulative stay of not more than ninety days.
  • Altitude Discomfort: La Paz is the highest capital city in the world (3,650m or 11,975 ft). It is common for travelers to Bolivia to experience symptoms of altitude sickness such as headaches and shortness of breath, especially in La Paz and the Altiplano region. These symptoms are generally mild and subside after the first day or so.  It is important to take time to acclimatize by staying hydrated and not exerting yourself the first few days. Drinking coca tea can also provide relief. Persons with chronic medical conditions such as angina, heart failure, pulmonary diseases, and diabetes should consult with a high altitude medicine specialist before traveling.


For more information, contact delegation leader Tanya or call (510) 654-4400, ext. 223