Lauca National Park: Jewel of the high plateau

Located 149 km (92.5 mi) east of Arica. With its flamingoes, guanacos, volcanoes and lakes, this is a tour you won’t want to miss.

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Awe-inspiring volcanoes, a pristine lake and small villages that seem frozen in time are some of the main attractions of this Andean region in the vicinity of Arica. A gorgeous area of easy access from Putre.

The trip begins in Arica. In three hours you can reach Putre, 3,500 m (11, 483 ft) above sea level. This town is an indispensable junction in order to comfortably visit the neighboring altiplano area.

Putre has some 1,200 inhabitants, almost all of them of Aymara descent. The town’s location is remarkable. It is wedged between large mountains and has a marvelous view of the great volcanoes mantled with eternal snow. According to Aymara culture, the volcanoes are living beings that protect this region and its inhabitants.

The town offers lodging accommodations of various types. Because of its high altitude it is a good idea to give yourself one or two days to adapt to the thinner layer of oxygen, refraining from physical activity to avoid unpleasant symptoms of puna or altitude sickness.

Various companies in Arica offer daily tours to visit Lauca National Park, a world biosphere reserve and easily accessible from Putre. Visitors are awed by the breath-taking beauty of its landscapes and the imposing volcanoes – the Parinacota, 6,342 m (20,807 ft) high; Pomerape, 6,282 m (20,610 ft); Guallarite, 6,060 m (19,882 ft); and Acotando, 6,050 m (19,849 ft). Despite the extreme temperatures (between 12º – 20ºC during the day and -3º to -10ºC at night), being able to admire its wealth of flora and fauna is well worth it.

This tourist zone has lately acquired a boost from birdwatchers – over 130 species of birds can be observed here, including the beautiful pink flamingo.

An attractive centerpiece of the Park is Lake Chungará, one of the highest in the world, located at the feet of the Payachata volcanoes that seem to be identical twins.

How to Reach Arica from the Altiplano

Putre is reached from Arica by taking International Highway 11, which leads to Bolivia. It’s a distance of 127 km (78.9 mi). We recommend you travel with a full tank of gas because on the high mesa there are no service stations. The only opportunity you’ll have to buy gas in jerry cans will be in Zapahuira and Putre.

If you travel by bus, the classic transport in this area is the La Paloma bus that leaves everyday at 7:00 a.m. from Arica’s market, Mercado Tucapel. The return trip from Putre leaves at 2:00 p.m..

The best way to take the Ruta Altiplánica or High Plateau Route is from south to north, since all the signs indicating bypasses, distances, localities and useful information are mostly visible from this direction.

Another option is to take Highway A-55, which connects Huara, near Iquique, to Colchane.  Isluga National Park is in the vicinity of Colchane. Due north is Termas de Polloquere hot springs and Salar de Surire saltbed. To the south are Lirima, Cancosa and Salar de Huasco. Buses to Colchane leave the terminal Rodoviario de Iquique everyday at 1:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m..

This post is also available in Spanish