The Sajama National Park includes geological natural wonders made up of flora, fauna, thermal springs and also cultural wonders such as polychromed chullpas (pre-hispanic burial buildings), cave paintings, pucaras and colonial architecture and art. The native population, proud of what they have, has always tried to preserve their way of life as well as the ambience that surrounds it.
The park is the first protected area in Bolivia. It was declared a natural reserve in 1939 because of its kheñua (Polilepis tarapacana) that grows on its hillsides and that constitute the highest forests in the world.
The region’s main inhabitants are Aymara Indians of Caranga origin, grouped in ayllus. The area is one of the ones that has best preserved the traditional indigenous social organizations, the customs and mythic-religious beliefs. During the 1980s, the citizens of the counties that make up the Park grouped together in an organization called “Jacchacarangas”, which means “Great Carangas”, with the purpose of strengthening the ayllus and improve the production activities.
According to the 1992 National Statistic Institute census, the region’s inhabitants reached 7.891. It is estimated that to date, this number has diminished because migration toward the capital, La Paz, has grown. Calculations show about 300 families in the affluence zone and about 100 in the Park’s interior.
The population’s main occupation is camelid herding and yarn spinning. Circular houses, traditional to the Aymara, can still be found today. Agriculture is much reduced due to the extreme climatic conditions: freezes and dry land are prevalent. The crops are limited to quinoa and luki potatoes.
The Sajama province is divided in two sections: Carahuara de Caranga and Turco. The counties, because of the Ley de Participación Popular (Popular Participation Law) have grouped together in Organizaciones Territoriales de Base. The aforementioned law grants them the right to decide how to spend the moneys the government allots them. They also have Oversight Committees to supervise the use of from the Popular Participation Law. The communities that live in the area maintain their socio-economic as well as religious traditions, following the same pattern they have followed for almost 500 years.