Altiplano national parks

In the Andes and stretching from the border with Bolivia, Parque Nacional Lauca is one of the most spectacular national parks in Chile. Declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, it is renowned for its bird life, but is equally remarkable for the extraordinary views of snow- capped volcanoes set against the backdrop of Lago Chungará, one of the world's highest lakes, and the profusion of vicuñas and viscachas that live here. The brilliant quality of the light gives colours an intensity that is not easily forgotten and there are many deserted tracks across the altiplano that provide a unique sense of the space and beauty of one of the world's last great wildernesses.

South of Parque Nacional Lauca are three further parks, covering areas of the western range of the Andes. They are best visited from Arica or Putre, as this permits acclimatization in Putre (Colchane and Enquelga, the alternatives, are too high). Furthermore, during the winter months, moving from north to south means you will not have the sun in your eyes as you travel. Tours in this area, lasting two or four days, can also be arranged from here. Guides in Putre charge a fixed price per vehicle per day, so for groups of three or four, arranging a tour from here can be better value than from Arica.

Getting there and around

Access to Parque Nacional Lauca is easy as Route 11, the main Arica-La Paz road, runs through the park. In January and February, during the rainy season, and in August, when snowfall can occur, some roads in the park may be impassable; check in advance with
or the
in Arica or Putre. Maps are available from the
Instituto Geográfico Militar
in Santiago. Much of the water in the park is drinkable but you should take bottled water as well.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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