Lauca national Park in Chile - what a border!
The Lauca national park in north of Chile is not like any other border.
This is the border between Bolivia and Chile, and this magnificent national park (which is the only free fee national park in Chile) is one of the best places to visit in South America.
So what is Lauca national park?
This is a great place to see amazing lakes (Chungará and Cotacotani)with snowy peaks volcanoes - Parinacota (6.348 m - 20.767 ft) and Pomarape (6.223 m - 20.401 ft) and some wildlife like birds, vicuñas and llamas.
1)Taking a tour with some agency in Arica (a big city in north of Chile). You can take one day tour but I think 2 days tour is better because you get acclimatized to the high altitude better and this park is 4 hours away by car from Arica so you do want to spend some time in the park.
2)Get there on your own (cheaper than taking the tour) - you can take a bus to Bolivia and drop off at the border (This is where the national park is located), or you can take a bus to the very small village of Parinacota (buses leaves twice a week from Arica).
3)Rent a car in Arica - you can find many agencies, including the famous brands. If you rent a car, you can stop in the beautiful village of Putre a long the way.
What I have done is got to the small but beautiful village of Parinacota (when I mean small, I mean REALLY small) after taking a 2 hours bus ride with the most amazing views along the way (sand dunes, llamas and landscape).
I went on a short hike around Parinacota. It was hard to walk because of the high altitude. Very hard to breathe.
I spent the night in Parinacota.
In the next morning you can either hike to the border of Bolivia for about 5-6 hours and see the beautiful Chungara lagoon, or you can hitchhike to the border.
In the border you see a line of trucks coming in and going out from Chile. It's hard to imagine how beautiful this place is. Perfect snowy cone volcano, lots of birds in the lakes and groups of lovely Vicuñas walking around the area.
*It is very cold there. it is hot in Arica but don't get confused. at 4,500 mtrs, Lauca national park is cold. Especially at night.
*Take it easy. if you haven't been in such high altitude places prior to this park you might feel bad. drink water, walk slowly and don't hesitate to get to lower altitude if you really feel bad. Even if you have already acclimatized - walk slowly and don't rush.
*Bring snacks. Parinacota is a very small place and don't expect too much.
I really liked Lauca national park. I think unlike other amazing Chilean national parks - this park is tourists free and you can really see nature here. Not a lot of people go there. Some prefer to go only to Patagonia and forget about the amazing views of Chile's far north.