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For a country that is almost as long as the United States of America is wide, it is no surprise that the north of Chile resembles little of the south. Northeastern Chile is a rugged, awe inspiring expanse of desolate land, stamped with volcanoes and lakes, and every traveler should be well equipped and informed before making the trek. Discover how to make the most of a venture through Lauca National Park.
Book a tour and arrive in style in a single level tour bus with large windows allowing for the most optimal views.
For the more independent traveler, rent a care at any of the number of places in Arica providing decent rates. With new roads leading up to the National Park up until the Bolivian border, the ride is smooth and pleasurable, making a 4×4 necessary only for more adventurous travelers.
Europcar, Chacabuco 602, Arica, Chile +56 58 257 8500
Econoautos, 4438 Toconao, Arica, Chile +56 9 9545 0915
The temperature in the National Park rarely ever exceeds 20°C (68°F) and can feel awfully frigid with a passing breeze. If staying around after sunset, or spending the night, prepare for the worst, as the temperature can drop below freezing quite easily! During the day, dress in layers that are easy to take off and put on, as you will heat up while walking or hiking, but cool off very quickly. Form fitting, long sleeved shirts, thin wooly sweaters and a jacket are great examples clothing adaptable to your body’s fluctuating temperature.
Hiking boots offer the best foot and ankle support, whether it be for casual walking or something more difficult like attempting to conquer Parinacota Volcano. The terrain here is rugged and uneven, and the last thing anyone needs when half way through a journey is a bad blister or a sprained ankle.
Don’t be frugal when packing if you plan to spend a few nights (or just the one!) in the National Park. A little extra weight on your back is well worth it knowing that the outside is hostile and cold. Bring a thick sleeping bag, with a sub zero temperature rating, and long pajama style pants and shirt to sleep in. The wind can pick up at night, so make sure you have heavy duty pegs to hold your tent firm into the rocky ground.
There are no real restaurants or proper amenities in the very small towns located within the National Park. Remember that at high altitudes it is easier to suffer from dehydration, so err on the side of caution and bring more water and snacks than you think you need. If you plan to hike a volcano or do long distance trekking, bring easy to carry foods with high caloric content like Snickers bars and nuts.
Coming from a country with naturally high altitude will allow people to better acclimatize to their surroundings here. Those coming in from Bolivia will be at a particular advantage. Coming from Arica, at 2m (6.5ft) in elevation, will be a different story as the thin air thousands of meters (between 3000m and 6000m (10,000-2000ft)) above sea level makes it very difficult to breath. Again, stay hydrated and even entertain visiting a pharmacy in Arica for pills or remedies that will assist with altitude sickness.
Being prepared is one thing, but knowing how to enjoy yourself is another thing altogether. Here are some of the can’t miss places in Lauca National Park.
One of two of the Payachata complex, Pomerape, like its sibling Parinacota, will take you up into thin air at 6,282m (20,600ft). Upon climbing to the peak, climbers can cross over into Bolivian territory!
Less than 100 meters higher in elevation and the big brother to Pomerape, Parinacota Volcano is the most photographed volcano in the National Park and sports a perfect cone shape, with a distinct snow line and snow capped peak.
This little, dusty, traditional town sits about 15 kilometers (9m) outside the entrance to the National Park and is the main ‘tourist’ spot for people spending a night before or after exploring the park. Find a couple small stores here to grab food or water that you might have forgotten to buy in Arica. But with limited supplies, it is better to stock up in Arica (or La Paz if coming from Bolivia).
The 31st highest altitude lake in the world and the biggest in Lauca National Park, Chungará Lake might offer the best photo opportunity in the park. Parinacota is also visible in the background on fair weathered days.
Parinacota is one of the few villages in the national park and is a popular place for visitors to come, see a sliver of civilization and take a photo in front of the tiny and beautiful church.
An archipelago of little islands scattered in the bays and corners of the Lagoon of Cotacotani. Although neighbors with Chungará, the two do not resemble each other in any way – but the photos are beautiful all the same!
A volcano complex that resembles a ridge more than its cone-shaped counterparts Pomerape and Parinacota. On the north edge of the park, Taapaca provides shelter to the town of Putre below and provides a great background for photos of the cobblestone streets and ancient thatch roofed buildings.
North of the Tambo Quemado border between Chile and Bolivia is the wide based, flat volcano of K’isi K’isini. A hotly contested volcano, it sits right on the border of Chile and Bolivia with the latter staking claim to ownership of the mountain.
End your trip in Lauca National Park perfectly with a relaxing soak in one of the natural hot springs. Chiriguaya Hot Springs, Jurasi Hot Springs or De Las Cuevas Hot Springs are all available close to the National Park to warm away weary muscles.