The Parque Nacional Lauca in the Altiplano (Andean highlands) of northern Chile, right on the Bolivian border, is still a real insider tip. Located away from the usual travel routes, only few foreign tourists get lost here. Mass tourism is therefore not an option.
Lauca is a jewel among the national parks and is full of surprises: Here, at 4,520 metres, you will find one of the highest lakes in the world – the „Lago Chungará“. In its crystal clear water the surrounding snow-covered volcanoes are reflected – almost everything 6,000 meters high (like the „Volcán Parinacota“ with 6,348 meters).
One can spend hours in this picturesque area and observe the life on the lake: Flamingos take a footbath in the icy cold water, herds of alpacas graze in the barren landscape, and a little further away you can see their free-living relatives, the vicuñas (a type of camel). Andean condors are circling in the steel blue sky, and now and then a cute Vizcacha (a kind of chinchilla) peeps out from behind a boulder. At this height, the green Yareta plant grows, which looks like a soft cushion on the rocks, but is actually hard and resinous.
If you are not ill with altitude sickness, you can take longer walks and go fishing or climbing. Hot springs invite you to relax. All those who want to learn more about the life of the Indians should visit the village Parinacota at an altitude of 4,450 meters. Although very few people live here anymore, the pretty church with its freestanding bell towers and frescos from the „School of Cusco“ („Escuela Cuzqueña“) alone is worth seeing.
Day trips from Arica to the national park are not recommended, as you will be transported from sea level to around 4,500 meters within a few hours. Also for the drivers, this excursion is very exhausting and on this stretch there are often accidents. It is better to stay overnight in the small place Putre (at 3.500 metres) near the park. Between Arica and Putre there is hardly another possibility to acclimatize.