A few hours east of Putre, up in the cordillera, Parque Nacional Lauca has become one of the most popular attractions in the north of Chile. A few of Arica’s tour operators will get you there if you don’t relish the idea of driving yourself.
A 4400-metre-high mountain pass signals the boundary of Parque Nacional Lauca. Up here the air is thin and cold, and the road is flanked by light-green bofedal (highland pasture) where herds of wild vicuña come to feed in the mornings. Ten kilometres into the park, you reach the Conaf hut (erratic opening hours) at Las Cuevas, a good place to stop to check on weather and road conditions and observe the comical antics of vizcachas, cuddly chinchilla-like rodents with curly tails and a spring-like leap.