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Lauca National Park April 30, 2007

Posted by Jason in Chile, culture, South America.

 Lauca National Park

We arrived in Arica following another lengthy over night bus journey from San Pedro, on the border with Peru.  We were told that Arica was not a nice town to be in, however we found the people here friendly and the town suprisingly pleasant for a border town.

Sandwiched between the desert and the sea, we found a pristine beach totally empty with the odd pleasant cafe and bar to entertain ourselves.  Trying the local Pisco Sour variation was a delight (although a little painful in the morning!)

We only intended to stay here one night but we were stranded as we arrived on a Sunday when everything was shut.

We arranged a hire car, a 4 x 2 high clearance pick up for the trip to Lauca National Park.  This National Park is little visited by gringos as it takes a little more thought and time to explore.  Cheryl had been looking forward to visiting here for over a year!

Geoglyphs                                 The desert, and old archeaological site of Copaquilla

So we arranged a special deal for the vehicle and headed off first into the valley of Azapa to look at the Archaeological sites. Similar to Nazca and elsewhere, the pre Inca people of this area used geoglyphs on the mountainsides.  Large drawings of animals and human figures drawn by moving stones, dating from around 1000 to 1400 AD.

We then drove over a desert mountain pass to Poconchile and the main road east to the border with Bolivia and the Lauca National Park.  The landscape is stark desert.  Nothing growing with the odd oasis and the valleys fertile following the rivers to the coast. 

Cheryl and the Candelabra Cactus

The road winds its way east through the desert and then through Sierra and a small area of growth of a cactus that only grows between 2,500and 2,800m, the Candelabra Cactus.

We continue into the mountains to Putre.  Putre is a village that stands at 3,500m with a towering snow capped peak behind it.  It is a spectacular setting and the village is quiet and quaint.  Beautiful narow streets and cobbled roads.  Some streets have amazing 17th Century carved stone doorways and windows. Here we stayed the night.  Going from sea level to 3,500m can be a dizzy experience!  So we rested for the next days drive.

Putre Church     A street in Putre     Ornate stone door

The following day we travelled east towards the Bolivian border and the highest point of the Altiplano at 4,570m Lake Chungara, is apparently the highest lake in the world.

We travelled with a nice guy, Leo (Austrian), whom we had met the night before.  The views were spectacular as we continued to climb from Putre and the volcanoes of Pomerape and Parinacota came into view.  The area here is quite different from many areas of the altiplano that can be very arid.  The moisture that comes from the Amazon arrive here and deposit rains that keep the land very fertile.  There is much grazing of llamas, alpacas and sheep.

Fertile Altiplano     Volcanoes Pomerape and Parinacota in the foreground     I think Cheryl has pulled!!

We were also lucky to sea wildlife such as vicunas (of the llama family but cannot be tamed), viscachas (like rabits with a bushy tale!) and nandu (rheas, of the ostrich family).

The landscape here is truly spectacular, high snow capped volcanoes, wildlife, a beautiful lake and isolated highland communities.  We even managed to glimpse the mountain of Sajama, the highest mountain in Bolivia.

We travelled to the village of Parinacota where we had Mate de Coca.  The village is very small and beautiful.  At 4,392m.  It is an old and dusty village with an Aymaran population that are away from the village most of the year shepherding and only return for fiestas and religious times.  The population is very small.

Putre Church     Jason and Lee drinking Mate de Coca     The deserted village of Caquena

In addition we travelled to a very remote community called Caquena on a very rough dirt road.  This village like Parinacota is empty most of the year.  It appears that they only keep the very young or very old at the village and everyone else is out in the mountains.  It is quite spooky walking around a village that is almost deserted!  The setting is quite beautiful though with the volcanoes behind.

The day was a tiring drive and we returned to Putre for a good nights rest and a few beers.

We ate in a locals restaurant with superb food, the choice being alpaca or pollo (chicken), of course we had to have alpaca which was excellent.  We were then arm twisted to take part in the village raffle which everyone was very excited about.  The top prize being 10 kilos of Sugar!  The second prize 4 kilos!!  The owner of the restaurant was very excited at the prospect of winning this so we gave our tickets to her.  She was very pleased! 

The following day we said goodbye to Leo and headed down another dirt road to the salt flats of Surire.  A spectacular road through more deserted villages and past smoking volcanoes.  The salt flats were nice, with flamingoes in abundance.  We nearly got the car stuck on a pass which we had to abandon! Then settled for a bunkhouse to stay at the Guardeparque station.

Vicunas National Park     Sunset over the Salt Flats     Jason changing the wheel, while the supervisor is taking the picture!!

The following day we had to abandon a pass we were to take as the road was almost non existant! So we retraced our steps with the intention of taking another road to some more archaeological sites, unfortunately, we got a flat tyre and decided it would be too much of a risk without another spare to hand!  Some of ther “roads” around here hardly have any traffic on them at all.

We had been thinking how nice it would be to roam these lands and walk over the peaks and mountains in the area, then we came across a “mine field”!!  There was a sign on this side of the mountain, but not the other!  I think roaming the area might be a little too interesting at times!!

Lauca National Park was a revelation and very different from other parts of the Altiplano.  We wanted to stay and climb some of the volcanoes but now time is against us and Peru is beckoning.

This northern part of Chile through the Atacama desert to Arica and Lauca National Park is very interesting and beautiful.  A much better impression than further south.  But now it is time for Peru!!

More photos…..



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