Our visit to the Ojo del Inca, alternatively known as Laguna Tarapaya, was curious to say the least. In fact that’s quite an understatement.
We left the stunning pool feeling utterly bewildered and with an overwhelming sense of unease.
It’s an incredibly beautiful spot in the most immense of settings. Like a natural hot spring infinity pool, improbably located midway up a hill, it boasts uninterrupted 360 degree views over the gorgeous surrounding mountainscape.
But something very strange and sad has happened here. Something it was virtually impossible to get to the bottom of no matter how hard we tried.
The more we dug, the more half facts, rumour, shadowy figures and even talk of supernatural happenings began to cloud the real truth of the situation.
What occurred during our visit was genuinely one of the strangest incidents we can recall in all of the many years we’ve been travelling.
We’re going to take you through what happened, the history of the Ojo del Inca, and it’s current state. We’ll also detail how to get to Tarapaya from Potosi in case you’re up for your very own weird adventure.
Laguna Tarapaya – Ojo del Inca Potosi
The research that we’d done on visiting Ojo del Inca produced highly conflicting results.
Some people suggested it was an amazing day out where you could bathe in the mythical waters.
Others shared information that the site had been permanently closed due to a spate of drownings. Multiple incidents which had occurred over a short period of time.
The morning we planned to visit the Ojo del Inca we were still unsure what to expect. We couldn’t even figure out whether it was open to visitors or not.
To try and clear things up, we decided to ask one of the owners of the hotel we were staying in over breakfast.
He enthusiastically told us it was a beautiful site which we would really enjoy. He encouraged us to set aside a whole morning or afternoon and even gave us information on how to get there.
There was no mention of any danger and certainly no indication whatsoever that it was closed. This went a long way to reassuring us, so we packed our bags and put aside our concerns.
History of Ojo del Inca
To understand the rest of the story it’s good to have a little knowledge of the history of Ojo del Inca.
It’s said to have been a favourite bathing place for Inca kings. They’d make the journey from hundreds of miles away, even as far as Cusco, just to take a dip in the balmy waters.
While the temperature itself is completely natural, averaging around 35C (95F), as well as its location, the improbably round shape of the pool isn’t. This was apparently fashioned into its current, circular form by one of the Inca kings.
The reason it was so revered by local royalty was because it was believed to have magical restorative powers. They were convinced the waters had the ability to heal, soothe and ease ailments and provide all manner of other benefits.
After learning of the history of the Ojo del Inca we were understandably even keener to at least dip our toes in. So we set off to discover its charms all for ourselves.
After the half hour bus ride from Potosi to Tarapaya, we were excited to spot a sign saying “Ojo del Inca”. We asked the driver to let us off and clambered out onto the roadside.
We followed the sign to the opposite side of the road and took off in the direction of the lagoon.
The path is a sweeping gravel slope that winds its way gently uphill for about a mile. It’s overshadowed by spectacular rainbow coloured mountains which are worth the journey alone.
As we neared where our map suggested the Ojo should be, we came to a large elevated road block. It was decorated with barbed wire and a white sign sporting ominous red lettering saying “No hay atencion”.
Literally translated as “there’s no attention”, we interpreted it to mean there was no assistance at the lagoon.
No big deal. After what we’d read, we weren’t planning on swimming in the lagoon anyway. So we sidestepped the roadblock and continued on up the path.
Just a little further on we reached a plateau carved into the hillside. The lagoon suddenly appeared to our left, shimmering like a tantalising oasis. Perfectly round in shape and fringed with little tufts of greenery, we could feel a seductive energy.
As we approached we saw another barbed wire fence that appeared to have fallen down many years ago. Attached was a second sign, this time saying that it was indeed closed and not to pass.
Approaching the Ojo del Inca
Surrounding the lake were three small white buildings which looked like they’d seen better days. As we stood trying to figure out our next move, we saw an old lady sat outside one of them.
Then from across the water we heard a faint shout from another lady who began frantically waving her arms. We couldn’t hear a word she was saying but she didn’t look too happy.
As she started to walk around the lagoon towards us, a violent gust of wind swirled around the hillside. The lady’s pink bonnet-style hat blew right off her head, and we saw her bend over to pick something else that had fallen off her chest up.
We decided to wander around to meet her and find out what the deal was. As we came within hearing range we were met with a barrage of rapid Spanish.
“Didn’t you see the signs? This place is closed, you can’t be here. You made me lose my hat, it’s gone in the water. Then I dropped my cat, that’s why she’s crying.”
Slightly overwhelmed, we apologised profusely and explained that we couldn’t hear her from the other side so thought she was calling us across. We told her we just wanted to look around and politely asked whether this would be possible.
Her attitude soon seemed to soften as we chatted more and she explained that they’d recently had lots of problems with unwanted visitors. People who came up in large groups, shouting, getting drunk and generally raising hell.
We did our best to assure her we weren’t there to cause any trouble, we simply wanted to look around. We introduced ourselves and discovered her name was Irma.
Eventually, after much gentle negotiation, she said we were fine to stay. She then showed us a small pool that joined on to the lagoon and said she’d allow us to swim in it if we wanted to. But we weren’t by any means allowed to go in the actual lagoon.
I asked her how much it was to use the facilities and she assured me that due to it actually being closed there was no fee. But that if we could give something from the heart it would be much appreciated. Fair enough.
“If you give generously then you’ll be blessed by the waters,” she continued, “and if not, well…” The sentence trailed off ominously, sounding like a thinly veiled threat.
All the same, we were now pretty excited we’d get to bathe in these mythical waters. Irma wandered away as we hastily stripped off behind the derelict changing block and slipped into our swimming cozzies.
Taking the Plunge
We left our stuff on a bench and plunged ourselves straight into the drink. The water was glorious. Ideal-bath-temperature warm, soft on the skin and with a slight movement thanks to a constant flow coming directly from the Ojo del Inca itself.
Just as we began to loosen up while drinking in the dazzling scenery in complete solitude, back came our newest friend, Irma.
She was carrying a large stick in her hand and walking with purpose. “My hat is still in the water.” she revealed breezily, before poking her rod around the pool’s slightly murky depths.
Wanting to be of assistance, we both began circling the pool looking for her pink titfer. After a few moments I managed to locate it and fished it out. As she stooped down to retrieve it, she took a seat at the side of the pool.
Without prompting, Irma began to regale us with a story of how the Ojo del Inca came to be abandoned.
The Sad (Not 100% Factually Verified) Tale of the Demise of the Ojo del Inca
She told us that back in 2016 there had been a spate of deaths in the Tarapaya Lagoon. That four people had been swallowed up by the mystical waters in a short space of time.
Irma explained that the thermal nature of the pool means that it sometimes produces strong currents. These in turn create a whirlpool effect which can drag even the strongest of swimmers underwater.
She told us that they don’t actually know how deep the Ojo del Inca is. We’ve since read estimates placing it at anywhere between 16 and 45 metres. The deeper you get the warmer it is too, so even a short period of time under the surface would be fatal.
One of the deaths she went into detail about was an English tourist. Apparently she had visited the Ojo as part of a tour group and disappeared shortly after entering the water.
Irma said one of the curiosities of the lagoon is that everyone who drowns there resurfaces exactly 24 hours later. According to her, this English lady drowned at 4pm one day and was reemerged at 4pm the next day.
The next anecdote we were treated to was about the healing powers of the water and how Irma had experienced them first hand. Through tears she told us about a mystery illness that had paralysed her face on one side. She’d had months of therapy and treatments for it but to no avail.
Eventually she came to bathe in the Ojo del Inca one night. Lo and behold, upon exiting the waters she was completely back to normal. Our new acquaintance was quite the raconteur.
After about 15 minutes worth of what seemed like fantastically tall tales, we decided to get out of the pool. Once we’d dried off in the dazzling sun and changed back into our clothes, Irma reappeared.
A Dog Breastfeeding a Kitten
This time she had brought her kitten which appeared to be about 5 weeks old and both of her dogs.
“I found this kitten a couple of weeks ago, it had a brother but there was no mum” she told us. “The other kitten didn’t survive but this one has been adopted by my dog, she’s his mum now.”
She proceeded to demonstrate how the dog was actually breast feeding the kitten by squeezing some milk from one of its nipples which the kitten greedily licked up. The dog then picked the kitten up by the scruff of its neck using its mouth, just how cats do to their litter.
As if the day couldn’t get any weirder.
Surrounding the Ojo del Inca are a series of hills with vantage points blessed with amazing views over the lagoon. Wanting to check them out, we gave Irma what we thought was a very generous gift and headed up there.
We spent about 10 minutes checking out the landscapes before making our way back down. We decided to stop at the Ojo del Inca to say a final goodbye and thank you to Irma.
The Long Goodbye
The mother dog came racing over to meet us and promptly bit Sarah on the ankle. Irma followed shortly after to get the dog under control.
We said our goodbyes and were about to set off when Irma began telling us to be extremely careful on our way back down. She told us that the local people could be dangerous and often robbed people, pointing to our camera and bag.
She went on to tell us that if anyone tried to speak to us we should pretend we didn’t speak Spanish. And that if any cars pulled up alongside us to continue on our way and not stop.
The way that she said it made us feel uncomfortable. We’d felt extremely safe up until that point and hadn’t seen a single soul on our way up. We had no indication whatsoever that the area was unsafe.
After thoroughly spooking us out Irma then asked if we could give her some more money. In the context it came across more like a demand than a request.
Just wanting to get away from the place we gave her what we could and quickly made tracks.
Once over the brow of the hill, we looked at each other in bewilderment. “What the fuck just happened?!” We were both totally bewildered by the whole thing.
We made it down the hill without incident and promptly decided to get a bus straight back to Potosi.
How to Get to Ojo del Inca
The best way to get to the Ojo del Inca from Potosi is to catch a local bus. They depart from Mercado Chuquimia which is an easy 15-20 minute downhill walk from the centre of Potosí.
Alternatively you can jump on a bus from the central square heading towards Nueva Terminal and get off at Mercado Chuquimia.
Mercado Chuquimia is a pretty large market selling virtually everything. There’s an indoor food section where you can pick up a drink or bite to eat if you want. Alternatively there’s lots of street stalls selling things like tucumanas and salteñas if you want to grab something to go.
In front of Mercado Chuquimia there is a line of buses. Most have signs in the windows for Miraflores but some will also specifically list Tarapaya.
Miraflores is a little town beyond Tarapaya Lagoon. It also has a number of hot springs, but while the water is natural, they’re more like public pools.
Tarapaya is where the Ojo del Inca is actually located. If you’ve got any concerns over where the bus is going, you can literally say “Ojo del Inca?” to the driver. He’ll confirm “si” or “no”.
Buses leave roughly every half hour, or when they’re full. And they do get full. The driver tries to squeeze as many people as possible on.
The journey costs just $5BOB (£0.55GBP, $0.70USD) per person. Try to have change or at least a small note. Bus drivers don’t tend to carry large denominations so might get upset if you attempt to pay with a 100.
The journey from Mercado Chuquimia to Tarapaya takes roughly half an hour. The scenery along the way is impressive as the road cuts a path through a series of craggy, multi coloured mountains. Grab a window seat if you can.
You get dropped off at a turn off with a prominent sign beforehand and the path to the Ojo del Inca is on the other side of the street. Your bus driver should tell you when to get off anyway. From here it’s roughly a 20 minute walk to the Ojo del Inca.
We’d suggest downloading Maps.me if you don’t already have it because it has the path fully marked. Google maps does not and there are a couple of incorrect paths you could end up taking.
What To Take
If you’re going to attempt your own weird adventure to the Ojo del Inca, there are a few essentials you’re not going to want to forget:
Travel towel – If you’re planning on hitting the little plunge pool then you’re gonna need something to dry yo’ ass on. Hit the link to see our recommended travel towels for whatever travels you’re planning.
Water – it’s hot in these parts, not because there’s generally an abundance of sun, but purely because at almost 5,000 metres you’re simply closer to the big star. Take plenty of water, better still grab yourself a water filter bottle so you don’t need to kill the world with all that single use plastic 😉
Suncream – Didn’t I just say it can get hot? You know, because of the altitude? Don’t be a dummy, take the proper precautions to avoid getting burnt to a freakin crisp, please. That means suncream kids. Lots of it.
Snacks – This area is relatively free of shops and restaurants. As in there are none. If you want to eat or have a tendency to get hungry when you climb hills and bob about in some water, take a picnic.
Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance
Even though we were thoroughly weirded out by our trip to the Ojo del Inca, we weren’t ever scared at any point. That said, if anything untoward had happened, we were safe in the knowledge that we were covered by solid travel insurance.
Bolivia isn’t a particularly dangerous place to travel from our experience, but accidents and unexpected things happen at the most inopportune times. Because of this, it’s simply not worth travelling without travel insurance.
Our go to provider is World Nomads because their policies are easy to understand and they have a no bullshit approach. Grab yourself a free, no obligation quote with them below now:
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Travel lover, professional writer and football (soccer) obsessive, James loves nothing more than getting outside and exploring little known corners of the globe. He’s also very partial to a drop of Guinness.