Spending a couple of hours walking through a former quarry may not sound like everyone’s idea of an interesting afternoon. In Sucre, thousands of visitors per year do just that in the aptly titled El Parque Cretácico (Cretaceous Park). It has a commanding position in a limestone quarry 5km east on a hill overlooking the wonderful colonial city of Sucre.
Cretaceous Park – A One Of A Kind Park
Opened in 2006, El Parque Crecácico is the worlds largest palaeontological park. Having said that, have you ever come across another paleontological park on your travels? More than likely not, it’s a highly specialised area. While this may be the largest park of its kind, it’s very small and is easily done in a couple of hours measuring in at 5224 square meters.
There are 2 levels of entry; neither very expensive. The basic entry allows access to the small yet perfectly manicured sculpture garden. A guided 30 minute tour where children will learn about the evolution of the dinosaurs is also included as standard.
Cretaceous Park Attractions
A small theatre plays “Caminando Con Dinosaurs” (the BBC produced Walking With Dinosaurs) in English with Spanish subtitles on a loop just inside the entrance.
Children will love the more than 20 life size dinosaur sculptures in the garden. The park also holds the world record for the largest sculpture. An 18 meter high, 36 meter long Titanosaur looks down ominously on everyone in the park. On sunny days he also inadvertently acts as a great sunshade.
With low level background noise, children will think they have stepped back into the age of the dinosaurs. As well as the garden there is a small museum, gift shop and a restaurant to enjoy while you’re here.
As good as the sculptures are though, they are not the headline attraction. Look out from the back of the park 300 meters across the quarry floor to the limestone cliff. With the naked eye you may not think there’s anything special to see. But you would be wrong. Look closer.
The park is known to have the largest collection of dinosaur footprints on Earth. Just over 5000 of them in fact, including the longest T-Rex track ever found at 347 meters. Left by a baby T-Rex on his way to a watering hole that has long since dried up. People know the animal affectionately as Johnny Walker. The footprints date from 65-68 million years old; around the time of the mass extinction. This one small park holds 3 world records (5 if you count Johnny Walker’s trail and another 550 meter long theropod track which is the longest ever recorded). Clearly the parks designers had a vision.
Just the base ticket though won’t get you close to the footprints. There are telescopes on the observation platform for you to get a good look and try to hunt down Johnny Walker’s trail.
The Up Close Tour
The second ticket option will allow you a much, much closer look at the footprints. Numbers for this ticket choice are limited and sold on a first come first served basis. The park opens at 10am daily. If you want a space on the up close tour I would suggest you arrive before midday in case that days allocation is sold out.
The quarry is still owned by FANCESA, a cement factory which is still working in the area. While the wall to which the footprints are embedded is now left alone, work has shifted down the vertiginous hill. The quarry floor is still alive with gigantic machinery transporting the limestone to the nearby factory. Hard hats must be worn and be prepared to get very, very dusty.
On account of the big machinery moving around it’s forbidden to stop in certain places, especially on much of the quarry floor. Follow your guides instructions. I promise you will have plenty of chance to get some beautiful shots. If you have an SLR or bridge camera it would be beneficial to bring a panoramic lens with you.
The footprints cover the entire height of the cliff which was once soft sediment on the lake shore. The same geological forces that created the Andes have folded and thrust the once flat land vertical. Erosion and industrial mining have brought the footprints back to the surface, spreading along over 1500 meters of the cliff that reaches up to 110 meters high.
Cretaceous Park – Walking Alongside Dinosaurs
To prevent any injuries, a newly constructed pathway prevents you from getting as close to the wall as I did on my visit but you will still only be a few meters away.
Along with Johnny Walker, you will find a total of 8 species of dinosaur that used this former watering hole (others include a Titanosaur, Hadrosaurus, Ceratops and Ankylosaurus). Note that a lot of internet sites state there is evidence of 294 species of dinosaur. This is incorrect. There are 462 separate tracks on the wall spanning the 8 species that used Cal Orck’o as a source of water. The huge array of footprints show that the diversity of the dinosaurs so close to the end of the Cretaceous period was far greater than previously thought.
To date nothing comes close to the sheer scale of the footprints of Cal Orck’o. Scientific test have revealed that there is a total of 7 layers of prints. As one crumbles away another perfect set is exposed to the elements. Every 10-15cm of limestone represents around 1000 years of history and its disintegrating before our eyes.
The cement company and the government should be applauded for recognising such a unique opportunity as this. The race is now on to figure out how to preserve what is here before it turns to dust. The park will hopefully soon become a UNESCO World Heritage Site giving it access to US$8 million funding to speed up the the preservation efforts. A standard ticket costs just US$4 which is amazing value when you think of the scientific importance of what you see here.
If you would like to take advantage of the up close tour, and I suggest you do, you need to mention it at the ticket kiosk on entry. They will advise you what time slots are available. The tour leaves from the top of the park near the restaurant. You’ll see a gate at the viewing platform. There will be a guide here with hard hats 20 minutes before the tour leaves. Make sure you are there 15 minutes in advance.
Getting down to the wall is easy enough. You will notice getting back is considerably harder thanks to Sucre’s elevation 2810 meters above sea level. Any form of physical exertion, especially climbing up from the quarry floor, will take a toll. Be sure to take some breaks on the way up as you feel your lungs bursting out of your chest.
Getting To Cretaceous Park
Access is the parks main problem. Seeing as it’s one of the top things to do while in Sucre (according to Trip Advisor) you would think that public transport would run regularly and there would be plenty of signposts. Unfortunately the park is a private concern and the government haven’t put any money into the infrastructure. Getting there takes more effort than it should, especially if you want to use public transport.
A taxi should only cost roughly 40 bolivianos (around US$6 in 2017) and takes about 20 minutes. There is a scheduled shuttle that leaves from the main square outside the cathedral at 0930, 1200 and 1430 daily. Bus H and bus 4 leave the bus terminal 1 block from the square in junior street leaving the park roughly every 5 minutes.
The park’s entrance is in the middle of the industrial zone opposite the cement factory. Don’t fret, you haven’t been dropped off at the wrong place. Space around the park is at a premium, you may not be able to get dropped off at the entrance. Sometimes taxi drivers will tell you to get out at the base of the hill. Its a 5-10 minute pretty steep climb to get to the park entrance.
Cretaceous Park – A Unique Opportunity If You’re In Sucre
The park isn’t large by any stretch of the imagination. Some people may even say the dinosaur sculptures are a little kitsch but the scientific significance of this place can’t be overestimated. If you have children with you this should be a no brainer. Even if you don’t where else are you going to get a unique opportunity to literally walk with dinosaurs?