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Reserva Nacional Las Vicuñas

Reserva Nacional (RN) Las Vicuñas, founded in 1983, is a 209,131-hectare preserve to protect vicuña (Vicugna vicugna). Not only, though, will you see these star residents, but also chingue real (Andes skunk, Conepatus rex), puma (Felis concolor), gato colorado (kodkod, Oncifelis guigna), alpaca (Lama pacos), quirquincho de la puna (Andean hairy armadillo, Chaetophractus nationi), cuy de la puna (southern mountain cavy, Microcavia australis) and zorro culpeo (Patagonian fox, Pseudalopex culpeus). Keep an eye on the sky and plains for Condor (Vultur gryphus), Pato Juarjual (Crested Duck, Lophonetta specularioides alticola), Aguilucho (White-throated Hawk, Buteo albigula), Ñandú (Puna Rhea, Pterocnemia tarapacensis), Perdiz de Puna (Puna Tinamou, Tinamotis pentlandii) and Pitío de la Puna (Andean Flicker,Colaptes rupicola puna). Flora includes many endemic species of Munroa, Patosia, Oxyxhloe, Pycnophyllum, Azorella, Fabiana, Parastrephia and Werneria.


The altiplano steppe in RN Las Vicuñas ranges from 4,300 to 5,600 meters (13,975-18,200 ft) in altitude. The highest peaks and volcanoes are Puquintica (5,780 m / 18,785 ft), Aritinca (5,990 m / 19,468 ft), Salle (5,403 m / 17,560 ft), Belén (5,260 m / 17,095 ft) and Anocariri (5,050 m / 16,413 ft) Main waterways are the Lauca and Guallatire Rivers, and the Paquisa and Guallatire Lagoons. The climate is dry, with only 260 millimeters (10.25 in) of precipitation per year. In summer it rains, and in winter it snows. Daytime temperatures range from 8ºC to 15ºC (46-59ºF). At night it gets quite nippy, -5º to -15ºC (10-21ºF).


Activities you can undertake are bird watching, hiking, fishing and climbing. You can also visit the many Aymara villages throughout the reserve. Feast days are celebrated with small musical bands composed of zampoña, bombo and tarka musical instruments. Apachetas, stone altars built as offerings near the road or atop tombs, scatter the landscape. On the highest heights are pre-Hispanic sanctuaries.


RN Las Vicuñas headquarters is in Guallatire (Altitude: 4,270 m / 13,878 ft). In this village is Casa de Hospedaje Guallatire, with hot water showers (per person: $10 common bath, $12 private bath). Entry into the reserve is free. Be sure to take it easy at this altitude and watch for signs of soroche. The sun is strong; use sunglasses and sunscreen. Bring plenty of warm clothing, including hat and gloves.

By Lorraine Caputo

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

24 Jun 2009

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