Parque Nacional Lauca

Parinacota Travel Blog

 › entry 40 of 84 › view all entries
Vicunas in the high altitude pampa
If you are ever going to get altitude sickness it will certainly
happen during the one day tour to Parque Nacional Lauca from Arica.
The trip starts out at sea level on the Pacific coast and in about six
hours you are up at the highest lake in the world Lago Chungara at
about 4500 meters. The changes in scenery along the way are really
remarkable, although the long distances travelled and the severe
changes in elevation make for a very long day. From sea level the road
winds eastward through a sandy canyon along a narrow stretch of
fertile valley, there are a few unimpressive petroglyphs on part of
the canyon but not much else. The road gradually climbs up the side of
the canyon and with the changes in altitude the the sand is left
behind to reveal rocky mountains.
Lago Chungara and some flamingos
There is a nice old church that we
visited with a dry and dusty cemetary in the back. After that the road
continues its journey upward and some vegetation finally becomes
visible on the mountain sides as the temperatures drop. A few hours in
we reached the viewpoint over the town of Putre at 3500 meters, the
closest town of any size to the national park. Further past Putre we
passed the checkpoint to the entry of the national park. The main road
from Arica to La Paz actually runs through the park so if you take a
bus on this route you´ll get to see much of the same beautiful
scenery, but without stopping to really appreciate it. Before reaching
what is supposedly the world´s highest lake there is a series of tiny
little lakes interwoven with rocky mounds, I guess these are actually
too small to be considered lakes because they are at an elevation of
4650 meters, the highest point reach on this journey.
The reflection of Volcan Parinacotta in the lake
In the
background are the snow capped peaks of about a dozen mountains and
volcanoes that lie further north towards the Bolivian border. The
clear air at this altitude makes them seem much much closer than they
actually are. Over the crest of the hill from these little ponds Lago
Chungara finally comes into view. We had about 30 minutes or so to walk
around parts of the lake nearest the road and it was just an amazing
sight. There were flamingos and some other birds on the lake and the
whole lake sits at the foot of a massive volcano, Volcan Parinacota while
other more distant peaks ring the other sides of the lake. When the
wind was still there was a near perfect mirror reflection of the
volcano in the still waters of the lake. I think that it was
definitely one of the more beautiful places I have seen so far on my
trip.
Looking east towards the Bolivian border
Some of the people on the tour were really suffering from the
altitude and couldn´t walk around too much, I didn´t have any
problems, probably from being accustomed to high elevations from
traveling south all the way through the mountains from Bogota. At this
point we were actually quite close to the Bolivian border, maybe only
30 minutes or so away before turning around and heading back towards
Arica. On the way back we stopped in the town of Parinacotta, a small
village with an old church. The village seemed to be mostly abandoned
with everything closed and most houses locked up and uninhabited. I
finally found someone in the village to talk to and asked him how many
people lived in the village. He paused for a few moments, almost as if
he was counting in his head, and then said that only four families
live there now and the rest had all moved away to Putre or other
bigger villages, leaving the town to crumble behind them.
The ancient church in Parinacota
Even Putre
seemed like it had seen better days. There were a few tour operators
in town but almost everything was closed except for a few small
restaurants and stores. These small villages in northern Chile seem to
be much more affected by the pull of the surrounding modern cities
than those in Peru, where ages of farming life still dominate. After a
very late 4pm lunch in Putre, where everyone was starving, we made our
way back down towards the ocean and those suffering from soroche
finally got some relief. By the time we actually got back to Arica it
was about 8:30pm, a solid 13 hour day.
polvandenwirre says:
Lauca is a great area and yes, you feel you're quite high. The photo I made of the Parinacota has a prominant place in my house! If you want to go even higher, do what I did: rent a good 4x4 and drive up the Aucanquilcha vulcano near Ollague. You can drive close to the top at 6175 m.....
Posted on: Mar 10, 2008
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Vicunas in the high altitude pampa
Vicunas in the high altitude pampa
Lago Chungara and some flamingos
Lago Chungara and some flamingos
The reflection of Volcan Parinacot…
The reflection of Volcan Parinaco…
Looking east towards the Bolivian …
Looking east towards the Bolivian…
The ancient church in Parinacota
The ancient church in Parinacota
Fertile valley as the road climbs …
Fertile valley as the road climbs…
A church along the way to Lauca
A church along the way to Lauca
View through the glass windows of …
View through the glass windows of…
The cemetary behind the church
The cemetary behind the church
A desert valley on the way to Lauca
A desert valley on the way to Lauca
Small lakes at the foot of the vol…
Small lakes at the foot of the vo…
The snow covered Volcan Parinacota…
The snow covered Volcan Parinacot…
Lago Chungara and wetlands
Lago Chungara and wetlands
Looking across the lake
Looking across the lake
Another shot of the lake
Another shot of the lake
The mostly abandoned village of Pa…
The mostly abandoned village of P…
Parinacota
photo by: AndySD