If you find yourself in the northernmost part of Chile – Arica – and you have the time then I suggest to go see Lauca National Park.
It’s quite interesting to find communities in the altiplano where it’s cold, dry, high, and surrounded by volcanoes. And it’s beautiful especially Chungara Lake. The tricky part though is that the park is found on the road to the Bolivian border which is mostly used by cargo trucks only. While I’m not sure about this, I think to go there one must take a tour or rent a car. However since there are communities up there, it is possible that there are local buses too.
I was staying in Sunny Days Hostel in Arica and was preparing to go to San Pedro de Atacama the following day when I suddenly remembered reading about Lauca National Park. “How much is the tour to Lauca?” I asked Ross, the hostel owner, when I found him in the dining area. He told me it’s 23,000 pesos but he has to check if there is a tour the next day. Thankfully there is.
“Do you think I’ll be fine with the altitude?” I’m not great with altitude. I can sometimes manage it but it’s never a breeze for me. In the end we agreed that I just drink coca tea in the morning and drink lots of water.
After a few minutes, we arrived in Poconchile and saw the first church in Arica.
Somewhere along the way we stopped to check out some really tall cactus but before we could get off the van, the guide said – “There’s a magnetic phenomena in this area, watch” – then the van started moving backwards. I honestly don’t know what that was about or where the pull is coming from so I just blurted – cool!
And then it was Lauca National Park.
At some point out there I started to feel the altitude. But it wasn’t super bad, I think I was sleepy more. Sleeping actually helped me keep the headache at bay.