Introduction

It's not just the exaggerated altitude (3000m to 6300m above sea level) that leaves visitors to this national park breathless. Situated 160km northeast of Arica (near the Bolivian border), Parque Nacional Lauca, comprising 1380 sq km of altiplano, is a Unesco Biosphere Reserve home to breathtaking scenery, snow-sprinkled volcanoes, sparkling lakes and isolated hot springs. It also shelters pretty highland villages and a huge variety of wildlife. The nimble-footed vicuña and rabbit-like viscacha are the star attractions, but you're also likely to see other South American camelids and a variety of bird species (there are more than 150 species in the park, including the occasional condor and fast-footed rhea).

Lauca's most spectacular feature is glistening Lago Chungará, one of the world's highest lakes, abundant with birdlife. Looming over it is the impossibly perfect cone of Volcán Parinacota, a dormant volcano with a twin brother, Volcán Pomerape, just across the border.