Lauca National Park is located in northern Chile, and forms part of the Lauca Biosphere Reserve. The park is a wild and adventurous place, with hundreds of different bird species, bountiful wildlife, volcanoes and lakes. In 1980, this zone was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
Lauca National Park is only a 3-hour drive away from the Pacific port of Arica, but it feels like two different worlds. The park sits high up in the Andes at about 4000 meters above sea level and is much wetter and more-lively than the Atacama-desert. The wildlife is overflowing and it is easy to spot llamas, alpacas, vicuñas and chinchillas, along with the more elusive foxes, deer and armadillos.
The park is well-known for its’ wealth of flora and fauna, and beautiful uncultivated sites. It is a must-see for nature enthusiasts, hiking lovers and adventurers of all sorts. Let’s have a look at some important things to consider when planning to visit Lauca National Park in Chile, and how to get the most out of your time there.
Know how to get there
There are different ways to reach Lauca National Park. Good starting points for the trip are from Putre and Parinacota – Parinacota happens to be inside of the park. If you are travelling from Arica, which offers daily flights to and from Santiago, you can travel by bus or private car to Putre. Putre is about 40 kilometers from Parinacota.
Parinacota is a very small town which can be reached through tourist buses or private vehicles by C-11 International Highway. The CH-11 is the international highway that links Arica with La Paz (capital city of Bolivia). This road passes by Chungará Lake and viewpoints of the Cotacotani Lagoons.
There are new roads that lead up to the National Park up until the Bolivian border, promising a smooth and enjoyable ride with beautiful scenery. It is not necessary to drive a 4×4.
Which sites to see
Lauca National Park is special in the sense that it offers some of the world’s most astonishing sites, from high-altitude lakes to cone-shaped and flat volcanoes. It is helpful to know more about these special sites, so here are the ones that we recommend not to miss when you visit the park.
Parinacota and Pomerape form the Payachata complex. Parinacota Volcano is the most famous volcano in Lauca National Park as it displays a perfect cone shape, continuously snow-covered top and offers breathtaking scenery from the top and makes gorgeous photos from just about anywhere you approach it.
Pomerape Volcano sits less than 100 meters lower in elevation than Parinacota, and like its big brother it will take you high up into thin air. Climbers can even cross over into Bolivian territory upon climbing the peak.
Taapaca Volcano complex resembles more of a ridge-shape than the other cone-shaped volcanoes, Pomerape and Parinacota. It sits close to Putre and creates a beautiful background for this cobblestoned -town.
K’isi K’isini is a flat volcano that sits north of the Tambo Quemado border between Chile and Bolivia. Bolivia claims ownership of this hotly contested volcano but it is still viewable from Lauca National Park.
The biggest lake in Lauca National Park, which is also the 31st highest altitude lake in the world, Chungará Lake, is one of the most beautiful sites in the park. It offers photographers an amazing opportunity to take mesmerizing shots of this pristine beauty, with Parinacota visible in the background.
Cotacotani Lake lies 4 kilometers northwest of Chungará Lake, and it is surrounded by volcanoes, such Parinacota, Pomerape, Sajama volcano and Wallatiri. Even though Cotacotani Lake is very close to Chungará Lake, they don’t resemble each other in any way and they both offer a different natural beauty.
What to do and see in Parinacota and Putre
Putre is a little traditional town that sits about 15 kilometers outside Lauca National Park’s entrance. This is the place to stock up on vital supplies that you may need if you are planning an extended stay before entering the park. There are some simple shops to buy snacks and water, or choose to end your trip through the park here and relax in the hot springs, or take a trip to see some ancient cave paintings.
One of the few villages inside the Lauca National Park is Parinacota. It’s a well visited place during the months of April, May, June, September, October, November and December. During these months you can expect pleasant average temperatures between 20° Celsius and 25° Celsius. Come and get a taste of the local living, explore the town or visit the beautiful tiny church. It offers a different scene to the natural habitats that you will encounter in the park, so a good place to recharge your batteries before continuing on your wild adventure mission.
What to bring
Don’t expect fine dining or gourmet coffee baristas in the small towns located within the National Park. So, if you are planning to trek a couple of days, and stay within the park most of the time, it is recommendable to bring some easy-to-carry snacks, juices and water. Remember that in higher altitudes it can be easier to suffer dehydration.
If you are planning to camp in the park, it is important to consider that the conditions are hostile and cold – especially at night, when temperatures go below freezing points. Pack a thick sleeping bag, warm comfortable clothes for sleeping and heavy duty pegs to hold your tent firmly into the rocky ground. The wind can pick up heavily at night, so best to come as prepared as possible.
As for clothing, the park’s temperature rarely exceeds 20°C (68°F), and it can drop below freezing points quite quickly as soon as the sun goes down. Dress in clothes that are easy to remove and put back on, and bring a thick rain-proof jacket. The trails are rocky and uneven so a good pair of hiking boots are advised, especially if you are planning to hike up the Parinacota Volcano.
How to visit Lauca National Park with Kuoda
As you can see it is quite an adventure to visit Lauca National Park. It promises a memorable journey, the opportunity to indulge in mother nature’s majestic beauty, and take endless photos of the volcanic structures and crystal-clear lakes. We at Kuoda understand the frustrations and struggles that go into planning a cohesive trip like this one, especially when you want to include a visit to Lauca National Park with other trips to top destinations in Chile. Kuoda specializes in custom-made travel experiences that include everything that you need for you and your family. Contact us today and talk to one of our trip designers to discuss your personal requirements.