Declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, Lauca National Park is the most accessible park in the Chilean Altiplano. It treasures a collection of flora and fauna unique in the world, in a setting of lakes, volcanoes and salty lakes. Here you'll find Chungará Lake, one of the world's highest lakes, and wetlands habitat which home to a singular community of wildlife, including wild and domesticated American camels (Llama, güanaco, alpaca and vicuña) and over a hundred bird species. Situated near the town of Putre, (100miles from Arica), the park is breathtaking, and not only because it is situated at 10,500 feet height, with peaks climbing to over 20,600 feet, but because of the imposing scenery. You begin to notice this amazing landscape as soon as you arrive to the emerald colored Chungará Lake, the highest non navigable lake in the world, at 14,760 feet above sea level, surrounded by extinguished snow covered volcanoes. Flamingos roam around and a variety of ducks, Andean goose and hundred of bird species fly over the place. These share the rest of the park with güanacos, vicuñas, foxes, llamas and alpacas, among others. As in summer it rains and in winter it snows, it is recommended to visit the park from September to December, a period characterized by pleasant temperature and no rainfalls, or between March and May, after the rain associated with the altiplanic winter.
Located 19 miles northeast of the city of Chañaral, this park is characterized by a barely developed littoral plain and a coastal cliff of about 2,600 feet height above sea level, which is ran through by several ravines. Many beautiful sites can be sighted from this cliff, such as Las Lomitas, El Mirador and the interesting Humboldt Island, which is filled up with penguins. The park has two beautiful beaches: Laguna Blanca and Los Piqueros. This park shelters fauna both from maritime and arid continental ecosystems, such as chungungos, lobos de un pelo (a variety of Chilean seal), guanacos, seals, "chilla" foxes and "culpeo" foxes. We can also find many bird species, such as regular eaglets, red-headed turkey buzzards, "blind" hens, swallows and pelicans. Among marine bird’s fauna, it is important to mention the Humboldt penguins. In relation to the flora, more than 20 cacti species have been reported with those of the copiapoa cacti genus, an endemic species in Chile, standing out, among other plants proper of the coastal desert. The impressive landscape and the surroundings transforms during the spring (Sep-Dec) in rainy years, when a mantle of wild flowers covers the zone. This phenomenon of indescribable beauty is known as "Flowered Desert".
In the fifth region, near the peaceful, slow pace and relaxing interior towns of Limache, Olmué and Ocoa we find LaCampana National Park. The park, created in 1967 has an area of approximately 17,500 acres. This is a place where the giant Chilean Palm Tree (Jubaea Chilensis) can now be seen growing in abundance within the park. The palm tree can reach a height up to 100feet and live for up to 1,000 years. These remarkable trees used to be found almost throughout the country, but their distribution today is limited to certain areas. Profusion of this variety can be found in the Ocoa sector, where it is protected. Their typical silhouettes crown the lonely mountain peaks as the araucaria trees do in southern Chile. The main road within the park comes to an end at a peaceful spot next to the stream, which is an ideal place to bathe in its pools surrounded by the enormous 300-year-old palm trees which grow densely, one against the other. The scenery in this area is magnificent and well worth a daily trip from Santiago or the nearby cities in this region.
This park can be reached from Curacautín in the north or Melipeuco in the south. Both routes skirt the snow-covered Llaima volcano (10,253 ft), and lead through virgin forests of araucaria and other Chilean species such as coigüe and raulí, as well as oak and cypress. 1,200 year-old araucaria trees can be seen in Parque Nacional Conguillío, which was set up in 1950. Three tiny lakes in the park (Verde, Captrén and Arco Iris) were formed by lava flows which blocked several rivers. The lakes are just a few decades old, and the trees that once grew on their beds can still be seen below the water.
The Puyehue National Park stretches from the Golgol River to the eastern shore of Rupanco Lake. The park contains 107 thousand hectares of exuberant vegetation, and includes part of the Puyehue volcano. The park’s visitor center, which has an exhibit presenting local flora and fauna, is located at Aguas Calientes next to the Chanleufú River. There are several routes into the forest, but for striking scenery, hiking, trekking and thermal baths take the road from Aguas Calientes to the Antillanca Ski Resort (11miles), which passes through gorgeous old-growth native forests and by small jewel-like lakes such as Espejo, El Encanto and El Toro. During the warmer months (Nov-Mar) access is unrestricted, and during the winter months (July-Sep) access is allowed during certain times of the day. For accommodations and lodging, nearby we find the attractive Termas de Puyehue hotel.
The VicentePérez Rosales National Park was the first park established in Chile, dating back to 1926.It covers an area of 253,780 hectares at an altitude ranging between 160 and 11,500 feet above sea level. While in the park, one of the main attractions is the Saltos del Petrohué, a waterfall on the river of the same name which runs between volcanic rock formations. A number of signed trails, fishing trips and trekking activities start from this point. Within the park, you can also see the Osorno volcano, Laguna Verde, Petrohué, Todos Los Santos Lake, Termas El Callao, Peulla, Puntiagudo volcano and Tronador volcano. Todos Los Santos Lake, which is within the park limits, has a surface area of 175sq kms. and it is at an altitude of 600feet above sea level. This lake is also the starting navigation point of the Crossing of the Lakes program towards the city of Bariloche on the Argentinean side.
Located in the XI Region of Chile, we find Aisén’s most popular attraction, the Laguna San Rafael National Park with its magnificent glacier. This sight provoked awe and gloom in Charles Darwin when he visited it in 1831. He described the place as “sad solitudes, where death more than life seems to rule supreme”. He must have seen the glacier on one of the many days of low cloud. When the sun is shinning, it is an awesome spectacle, with light glinting off the aquamarine ice and the landscape alive with black-necked swans and distinctive furry beavers. Several of the ferry companies in the region, some classy and luxurious, some aiming to the low-budget traveler offer tours to this area, where passengers are taken by boats to the very base of the glacier where it meets the sea. Icebergs float by so close you can reach out with your hand and touch them.
By far the most impressive sight in the Chilean Patagonia is the Torres del Paine National Park. Lying at the far south of the Andes mountain chain, it is the newest nature reserve in South America, having been formed in 1959 and only reaching its present size in the early 1970s (UNESCO made it a biosphere reserve in 1978). The uninhabited park is crowded with glaciers, lakes and gnarled Magellanic trees, and provides some of the most magnificent walking in the world. The dramatic mountain formations are a sight that few people will forget, while the park itself is full of animals, including guanacos, foxes, flamingos and condors. Like everywhere else this far south, weather in the park can be unpredictable, to say the least. The best times to visit are December to April, but even then clear skies are rare and can disappear within minutes. The famous Torres (Towers) del Paine are even more spectacular than the Cuernos (Horns) del Paine, but often difficult to see because of cloud cover. The one thing that never seems to change is the gusting Patagonian wind that drives from the plains to the west.
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