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Parque Nacional Volcán Isluga - National Park - Chile

Just north of Colchane is Parque Nacional (PN) Volcán Isluga. This 174,744-hectare park was founded in 1967 and modified in 1985. The land rolls from 2100 meters (6825 ft) altitude to 5400 meters (17,550 ft). The highest peaks are Quimsachata (5400 m / 17,550 ft), Tatajachura (5252 m / 18,382 ft) and Latarani (5207 m / 19,923 ft). The namesake mount, Volcán Islaga (5218 m / 16,959 ft) has permanent snows and fumeroles steaming into the blue sky. The most important river is Río Arabilla. Its headwaters are on the southern slopes of the Quimsachatas. The river changes it name several times during its course, to Río Islaga and finally Río Sitani. Lagunas Parinacota and Arabilla are important bird habitats.



PN Volcán Isluga has two ecosystems. In the Precordillera (3000-3900 m / 9750-12,675 ft) zone, the principal flora are cacti like chastudo (old man of the Andes, Oreocereus leucotrichus), guacaya (Corryocactus brevistylus), perrito (Cumulopuntia sphaerica), puscaya (Cumulopuntia boliviana) and such low plants as chilca (Baccharis Latifolia), tola (Baccharis spp). Common animals are guanaco (lama guanicoa) and zorro culpeo (Patagonian fox, Pseudalopex culpeus).



The Altiplano (over 4000 m / 13,000 ft) is where grow tuna (Indian fig opuntia, Opuntia ficus-indica), llareta (Azorella compacta), queñoa de altura (Polylepis tarapacana Phil.) and paja brava (festus, Festuca spp). On these high-altitude plains live vicuña (Vicugna vicugna), alpaca (Lama pacos), llama (Lama glama), vizcacha (Lagidium viscacia), Ñandú or Suri (Puna Rhea, Pterocnemia tarapacensis) and perdiz de puna (Puna Tinamou, Tinamotis pentlandii). At Bofedal Isluga are Huairavo (Black-crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax). Río Islauga and Río Todos los Santos are home to Guallata (Andean Goose, Cloephaga melanoptera). Along rivers you can also spot Pato Juarjual (Crested Duck, Lophonetta specularioides alticola) and Jergón Chico (Brown Pintail, Anas georgica spinicauda).



PN Volcán Isluga protects many threatened species, including the mammal species puma (Felis concolor), gato colorado (kodkod, Oncifelis guigna), taruca (North Andean huemul, Hippocamelus antisensis) and guanaco. Endangered avifauna include Aguilucho (White-throated Hawk, Buteo albigula), Condor (Vultur gryphus), the different varieties of flamingos, Tagua Gigante (Giant Coot, Fulica gigantea), Tiuque cordillerano (Mountain Caracara, Phalcoboenus megalopterus), Cuevo de Pantano de la Puna (Puna Ibis, Plegadis ridgwayi) and the aforementioned Caití. A reptile unique to Isluga is Liolaemus islugensis, an altiplano lizard.



PN Volcán Isluga is divided into three sectors. Sector Enquelga, 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the park’s northern entrance, is where the ranger station is. Entry is free. Sector Poblado de Isluga is at the south end of the preserve, near Colchane. Both of these sectors have information and environmental education centers. The third sector is Laguna Arabilla. At Aguas Calientes, two kilometers (1.2 mi) south of the Enquelga guardería is a campsite for two tents and a fire pit at the side of two natural hot spring pools. The park has no restaurants; the nearest food facilities are in Colchane, the southern gateway town to the park. Lodging options are there, also.



Photography of landscapes and observation of wildlife are just two activities you can undertake in PN Volcán Isluga. Tucked in the landscape are archaeological sites, like Pukará de Isluga, Cementerio Aymará Usamaya, the towns Chok and Cholloy, and the Chullpas de Sitani. You may also visit Aymara villages and learn about indigenous culture. The park also has two trails, or senderos:



* Laguna Arabilla (Distance: 600 m / 1950 ft, Difficulty: medium, Duration: 30 min) – Five stations, or miradores take you through different ecological niches to the shores of Laguna Arabilla, where Flamenco Chileno and other birds are found in abundance

* Pukará de Isluga (Distance: 3 km / 1.8 mi, Difficulty: medium-hard, Duration: 2-2.5 hours) – This stone path off the Enquelga-Colchrane road goes to the top of a hill with great vistas of the altiplano and volcanoes. Do not do this if you are being affected by the altitude.



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. PN Volcán Isluga receives only 50-250 millimeters (2-10 in) of precipitation per year, mostly December-March. Temperatures average between 10ºC (50ºF) and -5ºC (23ºF).

National Park

Here are other activities in and around Norte Grande that may be of interest: Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos and Reserva Nacional Pampa del Tamarugal.

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