When you think about borders, especially in Latin America, you usually think about rough check points, sometimes dirty, sometimes slow and usually you just can't wait to get it over and keep on going.
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.
There are few ways to see this great national park. From just getting a car and stop to take a look of the amazing view, or even hike for 6-7 hours.
So what is Lauca national park?
Lauca National Park is located in Chile's far north and it is a very high altitude place (4,300m in elevation. This is above 14,000 feet).
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.
There are few options to get there:
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.
you can comeback with buses coming from Bolivia (wave them when they are coming) or try hitchhike, but bare in mind that not many cars go by on this road, but you can get lucky with a bored truck driver that wants some company.
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.
Another way you can do it is by renting bicycles in Arica, put them on the bus to Bolivia/Parinacota and from the border you can go all the way down to Arica (from 4,500 mtrs to sea level).
*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.
This is it.
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.