Posted: February 16, 2010 at 9:35 am
At 20,800 feet (6,340 meters), the peak of the snow-covered, dormant volcano Parinacota, in northern Chile, commands a view of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile’s high Andean altiplano.
Lauca National Park, named for the Lauca River that snakes through the southern part of the park, is one of South America’s crown-jewel conservation areas. In 1981 UNESCO named the park a Biosphere Reserve.
“(Lauca) harbors a great diversity of natural habitats, including wetlands and lakes, home to birds, fishes and an abundance of flora,” said Pablo Marquet, a biologist at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile in Santiago who has surveyed the park’s boundaries”.
Lauca’s wetlands are home to more than 100 bird species, including the flamingo, giant coot, white owl, Andean geese, and nandus (a flightless South American bird resembling the emu). Three species of flamingo throng the shores of Lake Chungara, at 4,500 meters, one of the world’s highest lakes. Birders from around the world flock to Lauca.
The park contains more than 30 species of mammals, including wild llamas, vicuna, foxes, alpacas, chinchillas, and Andean and pampas cats.
Not all the park’s treasures are wild. In cave sites like Refugio Rocoso Las Cuevas and Chacus Incaico Las Cuevas, artifacts and cave paintings date back thousands of years to the ancestors of the Aymara people who still live in the park.