- Atacama Desert & Altiplano
- Lauca National Park
It runs through the Chilean altiplano in Lauca National Park. It was declared a world biosphere reserve by its rich diversity of flora and fauna and for hosting places of great historical and cultural interest.
With a surface area of 137,883 ha (303,342 acres), this Global Biosphere Reserve covers the pre-Andean mountain chain and the high plateau of the northeast end of the region of Tarapacá. It has a dry climate with well-defined day and night thermal variations. This park is well-known for being home to a great wealth of flora and fauna, its highly interesting culture and history, and sites of uncultivated beauty. More than 130 different bird species live in this park, in addition to the distinctive vicuñas, vizcachas, and condors. A major attraction of the park is the astonishing Lake Chungará, one of the highest lakes in the world, located at the foot of the Payachata twin volcanoes.
When to go: Year round
Climate: There is rain in summer and snow in winter. Dry climate with an annual rainfall index of 280 mm (11 in). The average temperature fluctuates between 12° and 20° C (54° and 68°F) during the day and –3° and –10°C (26.6° and 14°F) at night.
Services: Lodging, food, trails.
Lauca National Park Infrastructure and Services
Park ranger's office: The park has, besides the administration office in Parinacota, a station in Las Cuevas right by the road CH-11 (5 km away from the entrance), and another post in Chungará on the shores of the lake bearing the same name. There is also a guest house in the village of Putre.
Environmental Information Center: located in Parinacota, it provides general information about the park.
Camping and Picnic Areas: in Lake Chungará there are 3 camping and 6 picnic areas.
Lodging and restaurants: there are 3 rustic restaurants in the town of Chucuyo, all of them run by villagers, where beverages and typical food are served. Outside the park there is a hostelry and two restaurants.
Services outside the park:
- Gas stations: There are no gas stations in the park. Occasionally, you can find car fuel in La Paloma, Cali, and Eca supermarkets.
- Telephone and Fax: Putre
- First Aids: Putre Clinic
- Food shops: Putre and Arica
- Police posts: the park has two police posts: Chuyuco control and Chungara border control. There is a police station near the park, in Putre.
- Los Payachatas Viewpoint: going through CH-11 international highway, Los Payachatas is the first viewpoint you will find. There is a colorful sculpture in the shape of a panpipe. There are benches and seats.
- Las Cotacotani: going through CH-11 international highway, Las Cotacotani is the next viewpoint you will find. From there you can see Cotacotani and los Pachayatas lagoons. There are benches and enough space for you to park your car.
- Lake Chungará: going through Ch-11 international highway, this is the third viewpoint you will find. There are benches for you to relax, enjoy the landscape, and observe the fauna present in the area.
Attractions in Lauca National Park
The most recommended places to visit are the lake Chungara, the Cotacotani lagoons, the moor and Las Cuevas hot springs. There are also places of archaeological and historical interest, such as the town and church of Parinacota, the Chucuyo village and the ranches in Chungara, Ajata and Cruzane.
Lauca National Park has an operational infrastructure of three stations located in the areas of Las Cuevas, Parinacota, and Lake Chungará. Each one of these stations has one or more interpretive and excursion trails, all of which are detailed next.
- Las Cuevas Trail: it is a 1.5 km interpretive trail for pedestrians, usually covered in about 35 minutes. It features three viewpoints, one of which is suitable for people with special needs. Its ecosystem, determined by the presence of moors, allows its visitors to observe a wide variety of flora and fauna specimens. Besides, there are historical attractions, such as the rock formations called Chañaca, with traits of the Late Archaic Period (6.000-4.000 B.C.). These show evidences of the presence of hunters, who used them as resting sites before going to the valleys and shores looking for food barter.
- El Chau Trail: it is a 4km vehicle road going that takes you to the archaeological site of El Chacu. It was used by the Incas and Aymaras for hunting vicuñas and other camelids. With a maximum length of 100 mts and a width of 40 mts, it is strategically located on the slope of a small gully, which made it impossible for animals to detect the hunters.
- Parinacota Trail: it is an interpretive, pedestrian trail, located in the town of Parinacota, right by the station. It is 3.8 kms long and is covered in approximately 65 minutes. It has eight station-viewpoints, with their respective information boards. The circuit is designed to make you enjoy the beauty of the landscapes, the moor ecosystems, and the fauna living in the area.In is also possible to campt right by the lagoon in one two sites especially equipped for those purposes.
- Chungará Trail: this interpretive trail for pedestrians is located on the edge of Lake Chungará, across from CONAF station. Usually covered in around 30 minutes, it has a length of 1 km and five viewpoints, one of which is suitable for people with special needs. From these viewpoints you can observe several species, such as the giant coot (Fulica gigantea), crested duck (laphonetta speculariodes), and the speckled teal (anas flavirostri), among others. Also, there is a remarkable view of the volcanoes Parinacota, Sajama (Bol), Guayatire, and the hills Quimsachatas and Quimsaquine, peaks over 6.000 mts above sea level. The area`s infrastructure is suitable for accommodating and dining, with 10 camp sites, 1 bathroom, 2 bench tables and sunshades. In the station there is 1 room with 4 beds available for tourists.
- Cotacotani Trail: it is the only trail with vehicle and pedestrian access in Lauca National Park. It goes for 13 kms, features 8 viewpoints, and its main attractions are Cotacotani lagoons and its avifauna, species associated to
Lauca National Park Natural Heritage
Flora: The predominant flora in this area belongs to the poeceae, with species like Festuca orthophylla, Deyeuxia breviaristata, and the Pycnophyllum molle, shrubs like the Parestrephia quadrangularis, P. lucida, Adesmia leucopogon and Astragalus arequipensis and other types of senecio. The moors grow in areas where the water flow is constant and the soil is saturated. The most representative types of flowers in these areas the Oxychloe andina, Carex incurva, Festuca rigescens, Werneria pygmaea, Genciana prostat, Azolla filiculoides, Lilaeopsis macrolepis, and Distichia muscoides.
In higher and rocky areas there are types of pulvinate species like the yareta (Azorella compacta), associated with bushes and herbs, such as the Festuca orthophyllus, Pycnophyllum molle, and so forth. In areas of similar conditions there are the "queñoales", with their most traditional representative, the Polylepis tarapacana.
The pre-Andean area, with includes altitudes ranging between 3,200 and 3,800 mts (10,496 and 12,464 ft), is covered with low thickets along the hillsides, the typical vegetation of this zone. You can also admire queñoa forests along the gorges and hillsides. Two types of prairies can be distinguished in the high plateau: dry and humid.
Hydrography: Most of the water systems in this park are endorheic, being Lauca the most important river. It springs from the moor of Parinacota, a depression with a very slight incline, over which water flows constantly. Lake Chungará is a water mirror located at 4.517 mts amsl, with a surface area of 21,5 km2. Another lake system is made up by the Cotacotani lagoons, located about 4 km away from Chungará.
Geology: The volcanic structure of the park is divided into two main chains. The first of them starts in the Nevados de Payachatas, formed by the volcanoes Pomerape (6.252 mts.) and Parinacota (6.342 mts), and the Ajata peaks. South of Guacollo crossing you will find slags of Quisiquisine volcano and the chain of Quimsachata, which is, in turn, made up by the volcanoes Humarata (5.730 mts), Acotango (6.050 mts), and Guallatire, the latter being active in fumarolic stage. The inner chain starts in the peaks of Putre, which are made up by Tarapacá Hill (5.815 mts) and the Putre massif (5.500 mts).
Weather: Lauca National Park has a steppe weather with precipitations occuring mainly between December and March, and an annual rainfall index of 250 mm. These precipitations are caused by the movement of big masses of humid air coming from the north, creating the so called "Bolivian Winter" phenomenon. The annual temperature average ranges between 5 and -5 °C. The thermal amplitude is not too extreme, unlike the daily oscillation, which may reach up to 25ºC. There is also ice weather in the peaks above 5.000 mts. There is no vegetation in this area and the presence of ice and snow is permanent.
It rains in summer and snows in winter, with an average temperature of 12 to 20ºC during the day, and -3 to -25º C at night.
The park is part of a long standing cultural tradition that began with hunter-gatherers travelling across the area for thousands of years. A proof of this comes from the fossils found in Las Cuevas zone, 9,000 year old remains of bonfires left by the aborigins.
Later, the Inca domain exerted a notorious influence on the local communities by imposing their social and political organization. These communities were based on Ayllus, or family societies, with a common geographical center. This kind of organization outlived the Spanish Conquest and still remains today.
Currently, these villages serve as ceremonial centers for local people as well as administrative headquarters which offer more and better services. Nevertheless, this rural development withered with Arica’s industrial progress, which, in turn, resulted in the depopulation of the zone. The same situation occured in many high-Andean villages.
The most relevant archaeological spots are: Tambo Quemado, a rocky shelter located in Las Cuevas and the Las Cuevas Inca Chacus.
The population living in the park originated from the Aymara people. They continue to maintain their cultural patterns and traditions, such as extensive shepherding of llamas and alpacas, Andean music, and pagan-religious festivities (cross of May, carnival, Christmas).
The town of Parinacota is located inside the park and it is formed by 50 houses, which are closed most of the time while their owners live in shepherding areas. They only return to the town for the religious festivities or carnivals. The church is distinctive because of its indigenous-colonial design, built with volcanic material and dating back to the 17th century.
The cuisine in the North of Chile is characterized by a variety of legumes and cereals, due to the arid climate. Within the most common ingredients are quinoa, a staple in the Inca culture, also is the potato, carrot and various tropical fruits like mango, passion fruit and guava.
Among typical dishes are roast alpaca cooked on firewood, chuño which is a soup-based Popes alpaca, onion, wheat and other vegetables. Also you can find al types of seafood and fishes to make differents dishes.
Further to the North, a typical sweet is the chumbeque this fact of flour, lard and layers of Orange, mango, passion fruit jams. There are also the pululos, which are a kind of very common puffed rice in the north end.
How to go
- Plane: From Santiago to Arica.
- Bus: From Santiago to Arica.
- Tour: From Arica to Lauca National Park.
For more information about prices press the next link: http://www.conaf.cl/parques/parque-nacional-lauca/
Since this traveling destinations is a coastal zone, the weather is desertic and very dry. There aren’t any extremes temperatures in the coastal area during the day or night. The average annual temperature is 18 ° C.
Many of the excursions and tours that are done here take you to visit places that are in the Chilean plateau, 3,500 above sea levels. This means that people may experience altitude sickness. It is important that people drink lots of water so they keep their body well hydrated. People shouldn’t make sudden or harsh movements, and let their body get used to the heights and the altitude.
Stores in rural areas are open all day, but they close between 13.00 and 15.00. We advise you to carry local currency (Chilean pesos), since it isn’t possible to pay with debit or credit cards in kiosks and rural stores.
Do not throw garbage on the beaches, parks or streets. To take care of our environment is everyone's responsibility. Avoid fines by following the rules.