Although I had already booked my stay at the Terrace Lodge in Putre for two nights, I hadn't done any additional planning in terms of getting to and seeing Lauca National Park. I figured as long as I could get myself to Putre, it would be very straightforward to book a day trip with a local tour agency. Boy was I wrong.
First things first, I got settled in at the Terrace Lodge. This quaint little property on the edge of town is owned by a polyglot couple from Italy who are also extremely knowledgeable about the Chilean Altiplano. While slightly more expensive than the few other options in town, the quality here is quite high. There are only five rooms at the lodge, and mine was the last unit.
The bedroom was nicely decorated and spotlessly clean. A small portable heater was included, but I still found it to be rather cold at night. Luckily, the thick duvets were sufficient for keeping in the warmth. The bathroom was modern and had plenty of hot water throughout the day. A standard hotel safe in the closet area was also much appreciated.
A complimentary continental breakfast was served between 8:00 and 9:00 am. While portions weren't huge, I really enjoyed the delicious bread and fruit pancake. They also served ham, cheese, cereal, juice, coffee, and tea. In the lobby/common area, there were two computers for guest use during open hours. Free WiFi was also available throughout the property, though I found the signal to be a bit weak in my room.
Complimentary continental breakfast
Putre and the Taapaca volcano
One of the few tour agencies in town
Flavio's tour of Lauca National Park the next day was indeed excellent. He was extremely knowledgeable about the area, and knew exactly where and when to view specific locations for the best photographs and wildlife sightings. Hiring a personal guide definitely had its benefits, like being able to stay at one place a little longer if I wished, or doing some hikes that would not have been possible with a large tour group.
We started off the morning at the star attractions of Lauca National Park: the twin volcanoes of Pomerape and Parinacota towering majestically behind Lake Chungará. And what a sight they were to behold. The perfectly symmetrical Parinacota reflecting in the beautiful calm waters is perhaps the most iconic image of the Chilean Altiplano.
Parinacota volcano and Lake Chungará
Afterwards, we headed further west of Parinacota to see Lake Cotacotani, a unique body of water left behind after the last eruption some 7,000 years ago. The debris field is still clearly evident, with piles of convoluted volcanic rock forming islets, inlets, and lagoons in and around the lake. From here, we went off-roading for a bit in search of local birds and wildlife.
Herbal tea in Parinacota
Ground-dwelling Andean Flicker
Reconstructed vicuña trap
On the way back, we stopped at a lookout point high above town, where we had a panoramic view of Putre and the Taapaca volcano. We arrived back at the lodge around 4:00 pm, where I took a brief respite, and then headed into town to grab an early dinner. Overall, the tour was excellent, and Flavio was amazing with his encyclopedic knowledge of the terrain and native species. Would I recommend paying 65,000 CLP for a private tour? Probably not. But even with just one additional person, I'd say it would be highly worth it.
View of Putre and Taapaca volcano
La Paloma bus
View on the way down