atlantis flag The Atlantis Trail...
article of 25 July 2008
by Jim Allen, author "Atlantis: the Andes Solution", Cambridge, England

The Atlantis trail is the route around the Altiplano next to Lake Poopo followed by Jim Allen on the various expeditions
before finding the site of Atlantis itself at Pampa Aullagas on the southern shore of Lake Poopo.
It has now been officially adopted as a tourist destination in Bolivia and improved roads are under construction also new hotel has been constructed in Pampa Aullagas and the infrastructure being improved for the benefit of tourism.

It all began like this.....

THE great curiosity of Plato's description of Atlantis (the fabulous city which he said sank into the sea in a single day and night) is that firstly the geographic description of the region he called Atlantis exactly matches the Bolivian Altiplano - "a level rectangular plain in the centre of the continent and midway along its longest side" and secondly, that the sought after site where he said the city was - a circular island enclosed by rings of land and sea pretty well matches the ringed formation at Pampa Aullagas - exactly where he said the city should be - "in the centre of the Plain, 50 stades (5 miles) from the sea."

Locating the site was not an easy task, especially when operating from a country (England) on the other side of the world, and at a time (1978) when very little information was available about Bolivia and the Internet was not yet the great source of information it has become today.

Indeed, it was difficult to find even when the rainy season was in Bolivia due to conflicting reports, I remember at one time even telephoning the local police station in Oruro from England just to find out if it was rainign or not... but at that time, excellent mapping had become available based upon satellite photography so when Plato said the region all round the city of Atlantis was "a smooth and level plain, rectangular in shape and high above the level of the Ocean sea," I searched all of the Americas for such a smooth rectangular plain and thus it was that I found the Altiplano. It's rectangular shape only became truly apparant when I decided to build a three dimensional topographical model, cutting out the contours layer by layer; when I cut out the 13,000ft contour the rectangular shape revealed itself and then it was that I knew that I had found the rectangular plain of Atlantis.

I acquired different translations of Plato's text, and the one by Sir Desmond Lee included in a small footnote the important information that the rectangular plain was also "midway along the longest side of the island (continent)" thus further confirming the Altipano as the location.

atlantis island
The continent of Atlantis from map
by 17th century cartographer,Guillermo Sanson

There were numerous other small and important details and these have been added to over the years as more information has become available, but here is the story of how we came to arrive at the site at Pampa Aullagas.....

Map of The Atlantis Trail
The Atlantis Trail

Starting point for any expedition is the large mining town of Oruro, itself former capital of the ancient Uru peoples and now folklore capital of Bolivia famous for its great carnival. People from all over the country gather here for the immense procession of music and dancing with outlandish costumes, ranging from glorious representations of Incas to devil costumes, the devil being the patron of the mines in Bolivia. The ancient mine in Oruro whose entrance is to be found inside the church is also definitely worth a visit, said to have been excavated long before the arrival of the Spanish or even Inca times.

mine entrance oruro
entrance to the mine is inside the church.

devil of the mines
the devil awaited us at the end of one of the galleries.

And so it was in 1995 that I made my first trip to Bolivia with the intention of locating on the ground a feature which I had seen on the satellite photos and which resembled a section of giant canal, hoping this would be a sufficient proof to interest others to take the investigation further.

This canal 1 stade (600ft) wide which Plato said ran right around the perimeter of the plain and discharged into the sea (lake) would be perfectly possible on the rectangular Altiplano following the 12,000ft contour on the plain and the satellite images showed a possible section to the north-west of lake running for about a distance of 9 miles.

woman spinning wool with the canal in the background
woman spinning wool with the canal in the background.

When I first visited it in 1995, it was immensely wide, as Plato said "it is incredible to believe that it should be as wide as the account states, but we must report what we heard." When I revisited the site in April of 1998 with a film crew and also in the company of the Kota Mama expedition led by Col John Blashford-Snell, their opinion was that it was a fault line and it was marked as such on the local geological maps. However a year later I had the opportunity to interview the general secretary of the Institute of Geology in Cochabamba who was well familiar with the area and examining the aerial photos of the feature he stated most definitely that it was a canal and not a fault line.

Looking into the canal with water in the base
Looking into the canal with water in the base

To reach the canal, from Oruro the route heads south-west along the road to Chile, passing through Toledo and turning off somewhere near Corque on the road to Andamarca. After some six or seven miles it is then necessary to turn off this road and head east into the bush, if necessary leaving the vehicle to walk a short way on foot until one comes across the site of the canal. A GPS is advisable for the whole trip and the most convenient map is the 1/500,000 air navigation chart available in advance from Stanfords of Long Acre, London. The canal is clearly marked on it as a ribbon of water and named on the 1/50,000 Bolivian maps as Laguna Janko Kkota.

The section I visited had a flat base and sloping sides, even in the height of the dry season it carried water and the locals watered their flocks there. The pools of water which apeared in the base even in the dry season turned out to be fed by underground springs, whether canal or natural feature, it still served the purpose of providing water for the local animals and a number of these pools and natural watercourses exist all over the Altiplano which could all be joined up to divert the precious water to other regions.

FILM PRODUCERS like lost cities. But a lost city which may lie beneath the ground or beneath the waters of a lake large enough to be an inland sea is of little use to them as producers also like ruins. Ruins that can be filmed and also interesting local characters to put in the film.

Thus it was that in December of 1998 on my third trip to Bolivia I came to the lost city or "enchanted" city or "petrified" city as it is sometimes called of Pumiri on the northern edge of the rectangular plain known as the Bolivian Altiplano.

I had come here with a film producer and his researcher on a recce in advance of a proposed film about Atlantis which would also feature largely my theory and discovery that Plato's geographical description of the lost continent of Atlantis exactly fitted the continent we presently call South America.

plotting the way to volcan Columna The Atlantis Trail then turns northwards to Volcan Columna, a circular ring of land in the north centre of the level plain. I came within about six miles of it on my April 1998 expedition and in the distance it looked like a broad, flat topped mound. It scaled three miles in diameter from the aerial photos, comparable to the "mountain which was low on all sides" as Plato called it, however it was only a single ring of land whereas Plato said that two rings of land and three of sea originally surrounded the central island of the Atlantis complex. A nearby mining engineer said it was formed by the explosion of a gas bubble and this was the material which fell back to earth. The centre contains a small lake and the site proves that rings of land similar to Plato’s description are possible on the Altiplano.

A few miles north of Volcan Columna and about 20 miles west of the village of Turco lies the mysterious city of Pumiri, hidden amongst spectacular rock formations weathered into jaguars, pumas, condor-like shapes etc. The site covers some 20kms of cliff-like rocks on the edge of a dried-up river bed and conceals ruins of perhaps three different civilisations. Discovered by one of the locals at Turco its location was only revealed by the finder to his son on his death bed and remains one of the least explored sites in Bolivia or the world.

pumiridusk pumirichulpastwo
arriving at Pumiri

We arrived just as dusk was falling. A time-frozen condor and puma looked down on us from the petrified stone as we parked the jeep and gazed out dumbstruck at this most awesome of landscapes.

Well, no, we weren't really thinking of spending the night there, in a place haunted through aeons of time and returned next day for a further exploration of the site.

pumirihighview pumiriwalls pumiritoby
ruined walls and overlooking the plain from Pumiri

From Pumiri strike westwards in the direction of Sajama, considered the highest volcano in Bolivia and this snow stopped mountain, haven for climbers, acts like a navigational beacon for travellers all over the Altiplano since its gleaming white cone can be easily recognised from great distances. Revered locally as Pacha Mama mother earth and spiritual home of the Uru it is now the centre of a national park patrolled by wardens and can also be approached via a new metalled highway running directly from La Paz. But instead of heading right into Sajama country, follow the road around the edge of the rectangular plain towards Volcan Quemado (the burnt volcano) and pass the night at the village of Sacabaya one of the most beautiful locations on the entire plain.

volcan Sajama

A whole day is needed to climb and explore Volcan Quemado, the climb itself could take 1 - 2 hours and the secret of the volcano is that its interior contains an "island" or cone inside a crater which is in turn contained within an outer crater an arrangement similar to Plato’s ringed city. Quemado is also on the active side of the Andes and activity last took place some two or three thousand years ago when a new cone arose and grafted itself onto the northern face of the existing cone. Anyone living there would have had a hot time of it and the inner site is littered with huge shattered stones ejected by the volcano.

Volcan Quemado

view looking inside Volcan Quemado

view inside Volcan Quemado with Volcan Sajama in the distance

From Volcan Quemado the Atlantis Trail follows the edge of the Plain past Bella Vista to Sabaya. Here I met a couple of cyclists proposing to cross the Salar de Coipasa and asked them to keep a lookout for any signs of a vast canal on the western edge of the plain near Llica since the geology map shows a route formerly linking the two salars and running through Llica although now lifted by geological action to be some height above the level of the plain. A letter arrived six weeks later in England saying they saw cuttings and had reports of remains of a canal not at Llica but a few miles to the east at Tres Cruces, so this still remains to be checked out one day by a site visit.

village of Chipaya

From Sabaya it is worth to detour around the Salar de Coipasa to the village of Chipaya where the beehive huts of the Uru/Chipaya peoples are to be found, some say these are the oldest inhabitants of South America and their own legend says they are the people of the dawn, "the first people to emerge after the darkness". Formerly they lived on floating islands on Lakes Titicaca and Poopo and along the connecting River Desaguadero, their territory being known as "Umasuyo" the kingdom of water.

From Chipaya the route crosses the salar de Coipasa to Tres Cruces and from there to Alcaya, a precolumbian citadel with mummies and relics in cliff ledges spiralling ever upwards.

alcaya mummies alcaya mummies
the famous mummies of Alcaya, a little known citadel on the Atlantis Trail near Salinas Garcia Mendoza

and Salar de Uyuni to Garcia Mendoza, a former stronghold of the Urus in the shadow of the towering Volcan Thunapa and on the edge of the glaring white expanse of salar.

Before visiting the next volcano at Santuario de Quillacas, the route passes an impressive meteorite crater about two miles wide.

crater on the road to Garci Mendoza

Santuario de Quillacas is a perfectly circular gently sloping volcanic cone exactly the diameter Plato gave for the city rings of land and when the sea floods it becomes an island surrounded by a ring of water. The site even contains a village on a mound in the centre, flanked by two volcanic peaks one to the north and one to the south, possibly remains of a circular central crater destroyed sometime in the past.

The village of Quillacas in the centre of the volcano

The site also contains red and black stones such as Plato mentioned and these have even been built into a pattern on the piers of the church similar again to the variegated pattern of red and black stones Plato said adorned the buildings of Atlantis. The village is supplied by water from an underground spring.

Quillacas church
red and black stone patterns at church in Quillacas

But it is a nearby site called Pampa Aullagas which corresponds most closely to the location Plato gave for the missing city of Atlantis, being in the centre lengthways of the plain yet 50 stades (5 miles) from the edge of the sea (Lake Poopo).

In September of 1999 I made my fourth expedition this time to the site at Santuario de Quillacas as a guest of Carlos Aliaga of Cochabamba and in the distance we saw the mysterious looking site of Pampa Aullagas. In May of the following year, Carlos visited the site in the company of his wife Anna and two boys and reported that the site had a ring wall of stones, including red, black and white stone, as well as circular canal-like formations or sandy depressions. The name "Aullagas" also in Aymara meant the same as "Desaguadero" or drain or another interpretation might mean "sunken" or "the place that is no more."

The site then, has the same name as the Bolivian legend of a sunken city, part of the site is actually sunk by earthquakes, it has circular sandy canals and the region around the site is subject to floods being where two rivers, Laca Jahuira and Marquez discharge into Lake Poopo. To prevent flooding, a circular wall could be built at the sea and continue in a circle around the site since this is what existed at the original city If one makes the climb to the top of the peak it is easy to see how the city could have existed as an ideal route centre on the level plain and approached by a canal from the sea which is seen a few miles away in the distance. Thus materials could have been brought here by boat from far away Lake Titicaca and along the Desaguadero River to Lake Poopo, then (after transhipment) along the valley of the Rio Aquas Calientes (river of hot waters) which becomes the headwaters of the Pilcomayo river, passing the famous silver mountain at Potosi and thence to the river Parana and the ocean.

It took five expeditions on site following The Atlantis Trail to find this location which I visited in December of 2000 in the company of Lisa Hutchison making a film "Atlantis in the Andes" for Discovery Channel. This site is presently called Pampa Aullagas which is the name of the village and region and the mountain itself is called Cerro Santos Villca at the southern end of Lake Poopo.

atlantis wet Atlantis as an island atlantis wet
In the wet season, Pampa Aullagas becomes an island

As to the perfectly circular canals we had imagined based on popular drawngs, I looked up Platos words again and he said in the beginning..... "Near the plain at a distance of 50 stades (from the sea) there stood a mountain that was low on all sides. And Poseidon, to make the hill impregnable broke it off all round about; and he made circular belts of sea and land enclosing one another alternately, some greater, some smaller, two being of land and three of sea, which he carved as it were out of the midst of the island." Critias 108E-121C (the Jowett translation reads "Poseidon ....breaking the ground enclosed the hill all round, making alternate zones of sea and land larger and smaller, encircling one another") And that was what we found, except that the sea had dropped and the "zones of sea" were now sandy bottomed depressions.

aullagas illustration site sketch
Above (left) classical plan view of Atlantis
Above (right) remains of concentric rings of land at Pampa Aullagas

"There were three rings of water and two of land"

middle canal
middle canal on south east side

middle canal north   
Inner canal on the northern side.

So here is a site that has all the factors that Plato mentioned, firstly it is in the centre of the level rectangular plain at a distance of 50 stades from the sea. It has the required red, black and white stone. It has underground hot and cold springs. It is a route centre at the southern end of the lake.

The locals report that part of the original site was destroyed in "el gran diluvio" - the Great Flood. The lake was also formerly called Lake Aullagas.

Pampa Aullagas is also said to be home of the water god Tunapa - the equivalent of the Greek god Poseidon and according to Bolivian legend Tunapa married a local girl and subsequently created the ringed formation at Pampa Aullagas - surely the origins of Plato's Atlantis story of Poseidon marrying Cleito and "breaking the hill off all round about......"

But most remarkable of all, the site has been sunk by earthquakes and a Bolivian legend called
Lost city of Atlantis and Bolivian legend"The Legend of the Desaguadero" tells of a city on the edge of a lake, punished by the gods and submerged by the sea, in exactly the same manner as Plato's Atlantis. So there can be no doubt that the story of Atlantis had it's origins in in a Bolivian legend.

Atlantis on the Altiplano by Lee Smart
Above, artist's impression "Atlantis on the Altiplano" by Lee Smart

Atlantis close pan 580
remains of Atlantis, at Pampa Aullagas as it might look in the wet season surrounded by Lake Poopo

Returning by road along the eastern side of the lake hot and cold springs such as Plato described can be seen at Poopo village, also at Pazna where there is even a modern swimming pool supplied by thermal waters, - just as Plato said, they even had hot baths for the women!.

carlos with jeep hot pool
above, Carlos Aliaga with jeep looking for hot springs in poopo village on the Sept 1999 expedition.

Quillacas may be considered Bolivia's challenge to Thera and Pampa Aullagas certainly dismisses the notion that Atlantis was ever in Thera or underneath the Atlantic Ocean when all the features Plato described are found here on the rectangular Altiplano and nowhere else in the world. As a Newcastle professor once put it on a radio interview, "if a site is to be considered as Atlantis, then it must at least correspond to the things that Plato said." Here then is Bolivia's challenge not only to Thera but to the world, if you want to see what Atlantis really was like then come and see for yourselves.

J.M.Allen with one of the stone blocks
covered in fossilised lake sediments
found by team LAMA at Pampa Aullagas

Map of Atlantis Pampa Aullagas
Above, tourist map of Pampa Aullagas.
The village hotel will be opening soon to welcome tourists.

Book 1

"Atlantis: the Andes Solution" bookstore for link to paperback edition

Book 2

"The Atlantis Trail" - the Expeditions bookstore for link to paperback edition

Book 3

"Atlantis: Lost Kingdom of the Andes" - the Discovery
Large format edition by Floris Books

New 2012, Book 4
"Atlantis and the Persian Empire" bookstore for link to paperback edition


sailing to Atlantis