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Parque Nacional Lauca

One of Chile’s most impressive and beautiful national parks is Parque Nacional (PN) Lauca. Snowy volcanoes embrace dry altiplano plains where ñandú and vicuña roam. The multitudinous bofedales, or wetlands are filled with birds. Its Aymara name, Lawquia, means aquatic grasses.


The park, originally founded as a reserva forestal in 1965 and upgraded to a parque nacional in 1970, covers 137,883 hectares. Altitudes range from 3,200 meters (10,400 ft) to 6,342 meters (20,612 ft). The highest peaks are Parinacota (6,342 m / 20,612 ft), Pomerape (6,282 m / 20,417 ft) and Guallatire (6,060 m / 19,695 ft). It has two distinct ecosystems: the Precordillera (3,200-3,800 m / 10,400-12,350 ft altitude) and the Altiplano (over 3,800 m / 12,350 ft).


The precordillera is characterized by such cacti as the chastudo (old man of the Andes, Oreocereus leucotrichus), guacaya (Corryocactus brevistylus), perrito (Cumulopuntia sphaerica), puscaya (Cumulopuntia boliviana), scrubs chilca (Baccharis Latifolia), tola supu (Baccharis boliviensis) and others. Living in these Andean foothills are the guanaco (lama guanicoa), llama (Lama glama), taruca (North Andean huemul, Hippocamelus antisensis), puma (Felis concolor) and zorro culpeo (Patagonian fox, Pseudalopex culpeus).


The altiplano has dry plains awash with wetlands. Two major rivers flow through it: the Lauca, which empties into Salar de Coipasa in Bolivia, and the Vizcachani, a tributary of the Lauca. The largest bofedal is near Parinacota village and other wetlands surround Laguna de Cotacotani. Lago Chungará is one of the highest lakes in the world. Flora of the altiplano include the tuna (Indian fig opuntia, Opuntia ficus-indica), llareta (Azorella compacta), a hard, green, moss-like plant that grows in cushions, queñoa de altura (Polylepis tarapacana Phil.), the stiff golden grass, paja brava (festus, Festuca spp) and chachacoma (Senecio eriophyton), a low bush. The vicuña (Vicugna vicugna), alpaca (Lama pacos) and vizcacha (Lagidium viscacia), a small rodent once prized for its fur, are denizens of the plains, as are the Ñandú or Suri (Puna Rhea, Pterocnemia tarapacensis), perdiz de puna (Puna Tinamou, Tinamotis pentlandii) and Condor (Vultur gryphus).


The lakes, lagoons and bofedales provide homes and nesting grounds for the Blanquillo (Silvery Grebe, Podceps occipitalis juninensis), Huairavo (Black-crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax), Flamenco Chileno (Chilean Falamingo, Phoenicopterus chilensis), Guallata (Andean Goose, Cloephaga melanoptera), Pato Juarjual (Crested Duck, Lophonetta specularioides alticola), Tagua Gigante (Giant Coot, Fulica gigantea), Pato Jergón Chico (Brown Pintail, Anas georgica spinicauda) and other birds. In total, about 140 endemic, resident and migratory bird species rest in PN Lauca.


Bring warm clothing, as weather conditions change quickly. Have a parka, heavy jacket, sweater, hat, gloves and other such items to protect you from freezing temperatures. Use a high-factor sunscreen and UV sunglasses. Much of the park is at over 4,500 meters (14,625 ft) altitude. Acclimatize to the high altitude and descend if you exhibit signs of soroche. During the winter months (January-March) roads may be impassable. Check with Conaf in Putre and at the ranger stations within the park about road and trail conditions.


Conaf in Arica and in Putre have good, self-guiding pamphlets of the interpretive trails at Las Cuevas, Lago Chungará and the Parinacota wetlands. These free brochures are only available in Spanish. No park entry fee is charged. You may camp at the Chungará ranger station. Lodging is also offered in Parinacota, where there is also a basic shop. Bring all the food that you will need. In Putre you can find hostels, general stores, restaurants and most basic services.

Reserva Nacional Las Vicuñas, Monumento Natural Salar de Surire,

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

07 Jul 2009

Things to do in Parque Nacional Lauca


133066Twenty kilometers (12 mi) east of Las Cuevas is Parinacota. This indigenous-colonial village, long a rest stop for indigenous and later Spanish travelers, was declared a Monumento Nacional y Zona ...
Other Activity

Laguna Chungará

133070Lago Chungará, at the east end of Parque Nacional Lauca, is the park’s largest lake, covering 21.5 square kilometers (8.3 square mi). Its deepest point is 37 meters (120 ft). At an altitude of ...

Las Cuevas

A 1.3 kilometer (0.8 mi) path from Las Cuevas ranger station passes through bofedales (wetlands) where the vizcacha (Lagidium viscacia), the Pato Jergón Chico (Brown Pintail, Anas georgica ...

Ciénagasa de Parinacota

Bofedal de Parinacota, also called Ciénagasa de Parinacota, is a major wetland on the northern Chilean altiplano. The principal flora are paja brava (festus, Festuca spp) and evergreen mosses like ...

Cerro Guane Guane

Cerro GuaneGuane is one of the several volcanoes that you can see from the village of Parinacota. This 5,097-meter (3,058 ft) tall mountain is a non-demanding all-day hike from the pueblo below. Once ...

Laguna de Cotacotani

Lagunas de Cotacotani is a mosaic of turquoise-blue lakes scattering the altiplano northeast of the pueblo of Parinacota. Lago Cotacotani, the centerpiece of the group, is one of Parque Nacional ...
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