On the Road

Lauca National Park in Chile

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February 23, 2022

Parque Nacional Lauca stretches in the Arica y Parinacota Region of northern Chile in the Andean mountains near the Bolivian border. It takes its name from the Lauca River, which begins here. The park is one of the most picturesque attractions in Chile. This huge reserve of 1,379 square kilometers has been designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Its main assets are picturesque lakes, majestic volcanoes, and mysterious caves. There are mountain and plateau areas in the park, towering above the ground with craters of giant volcanoes.

Lauca National Park is full of scenic natural sites and interesting flora and fauna. The largest volcanoes of the reserve are Gualiatiri, which is over 6,000 meters high, and Akotango, which is only 20 meters lower. Volcanoes Parinacota and Pomerape, better known as the Payachatas twins (Nevados de Payachata), are no less popular.

Of great interest to visitors to the National Park are the beautiful lakes Chungara, spread at high altitude in a ring of snow-covered mountain peaks, and Cotacotani with its countless islands. The lakes are separated from each other by a stretch of land made up of volcanic rocks and a stream of groundwater.

Not only do the caves of the National Park harbor many mysteries: the most famous of them, Chacus Incaico and Las Cuevas Caves, are home to thermae.

The park is home to species so exotic to us (even to our ears!):

  • vicuñas,
  • llamas,
  • alpacas,
  • guanacos,
  • tinamu,
  • taruca,
  • cougars,
  • viscachis.

Many of them have no fear of humans: travelers can get close and even feed the wild animals. Among the birds that inhabit Lauca, it is customary to distinguish the Andean goose, mountain ibis, giant coot, Chiroc, Chilean pink flamingo, and the Andean condor. In all, there are more than 140 species of birds and about 400 species of plants.

The Historical Heritage of Lauca National Park

The history of Lauca National Park began in 1970. In the decades since its founding, the reserve has become one of Chile’s favorite attractions for tourists from around the world. Not only is Lauca a stunning natural site, but it is also of significant interest to archaeologists and historians, who regularly discover fascinating objects to study here.

To reach Lauca National Park, the traveler passes through the ancient Inca settlement, where an intact 17th-century church still stands. Pucar de Copaquilla, an ancient citadel from the 12th century, and Parinacota, a Spanish town with remarkable volcanic rock structures and a colonial church, are also on the path.

Archaeological excavations confirm that there were ancient people in Lauca many thousands of years ago. These people left behind fossils of bonfires and other traces of life in Tambo Camado, Las Cuevas Caves, and Chacus Incaico. To this day, the descendants of the Aymara Indian tribe still live in these lands and keep their ancient traditions and customs intact.

How to Get There

Lauca National Park is the easiest to reach from Santiago, from which there are local flights to Arica Airport. There are buses from Arica to Parinacota. If you are traveling from Arica by car, you should stick to the international highway CH-11, the border of Lauca National Park begins after 145 km.

An unusual road leads to Lauca National Park – it passes through a settlement of local aborigines. Yes, yes, the Incas! On the way, you can visit the ancient church and citadel of the 12th century Pucara de Copaquilla. In the town of Parinacota, the ancestors of the Aymara Indian tribe live in quaint houses.

Parinacota has a visitor’s center where park visitors can get help navigating and information, and there are special camping sites near Lake Chungara. Tourists enjoy fishing, climbing, and hiking. No wonder so many people visit these places: travelers are attracted by the beautiful scenery, the closeness of nature, and the rich historical heritage.

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We are António and Marina, a Portuguese couple passionate about traveling and exploring each new destination from a local perspective. Together we're embarking on a journey to unravel the secrets of the world's most unique, under-the-radar and beautiful places. We started 55 Secrets to provide a regular source of the best travel related tips including the best unknown locations, insight from travellers and a curated list of the best places to explore during your trips. With over 80 Top selling Travel Guides published we want to make sure you get to explore every single place with the best local tips!