Arica, Chile is certainly not the most happening place on Earth. We visited as we wanted to explore Lauca National Park and Arica seemed like a natural stopping off point on the way to Bolivia. Here’s our travel guide to Arica, the northern Chilean city.
Exploring Lauca National Park near Arica, Chile
One of the main things to do in Arica, Chile is visit Lauca National Park. Lauca National Park is 147km from Arica. It’s a scenic National Park, with volcanoes and high altitude lakes. It’s home to all of the South American camels: llamas, alpacas, guanacos and the rarer vicunas. Flamingos also enjoy the salty bodies of water. If you are lucky you might spot a cougar or a vizcacha (a rabbit like South American rodent).
Most of Lauca National Park is over 4,000m high, which is pretty high altitude. Arica is at sea level, which can make for a sick-inducing bus ride from Arica to Lauca National Park.
You have to do a tour to Lauca National Park
We looked at hiring a car to get to Lauca National Park, but as usual in Chile it costs an absolute fortune. And there is limited to no opportunity to get fuel so you have to fill up spare cans in Arica.
The cheapest option we found was doing a 12 hour day tour with Turismo Lauca. In Arica, we were only able to find day tours. We contacted a couple of companies about multi-day tours but as it was out of season (late August) they only offered private tours that were in the region of $400-450 USD each for 2 days in basic accommodation.
Turismo Lauca Tours
We could find barely any reviews of any of the tour agencies so had to take a punt on the one offered at our hotel (Turismo Lauca). Luckily the tour company wasn’t shite, but it wasn’t amazing either.
Price: It cost us 30,000 CLPs each
No hablo español
None of the tour companies in Arica seem to offer affordable tours in English. If you want a English tour, you’ll have to fork out for a private tour.
Our Lauca National Park tour experience
Lauca National Park was beautiful. I really liked the volcano and all of the animals. The minivan was in good shape and the driver was decent and the tour was very affordable
A very long day
However, 12 hours is a long day. And it does not need to be that long. For some reason most of the tour agencies (ours included) make pointless stops for uninteresting things. An average church, a view of some dusty rocks, a view of Putre and 45 minutes in Putre. Putre is a small village, and the only tourist attraction, the church, was closed.
Not much time in Lauca National Park
However, when we started seeing the cool animals like alpacas, flamingos, vicunas and such, we had to take photos through the van window and only stopped for a moment.
I’m someone who loves their photography and felt we should have stopped more in the actual National Park we all came to visit. We hardly got any time at the actual lake, only managing to do a very short walk along a fraction of one of the sides.
A language barrier
We knew the tour was in Spanish, however it surprised me when the tour guide knew absolutely no English. Fine, but then he spoke super fast and had no consideration that we are still learning Spanish. It’s a shame there are no affordable bilingual options for this tour in the whole of Arica.
Here’s an example of how our guide did little to help us. We ate our 4pm lunch in the restaurant and then were told we had 45 minutes to explore the tiny village of Putre. He then mumbled something unclear about the toilets in the village. We assumed he was just telling us about them.
Where is our van?!
We headed back to the restaurant after having not much to do for 45 minutes to find the van not there. We had no idea where it was. After looking, we finally found it by the toilets in the village. This was obviously what he said but why move the van?!
Anyone who has tried learning a second language and is a considerate tour guide keeps it as simple as possible. We’ve both studied Spanish for months now. Although we aren’t brilliant at it yet, we can normally get ourselves around when locals are clear and understanding with us.
Lauca National Park: Litter and fly tipping
Lauca National Park is really beautiful, there’s no doubt about that. But for a National Park, it was sad to see there was loads of litter and fly tipping.
Putre: Explore Lauca National Park from Putre, rather than going from Arica to Lauca National Park and back again. Putre is closer and the day would be less long.
On the way to Bolivia, you drive through Lauca National Park: If you are heading to Bolivia, it’s the same road to Lauca National Park and you drive right through the national park so you have to make the same journey twice over a matter of days. You might find that a little tedious.
Other things to do in Arica, Chile
Arica is on the sea, and from Arica you can enjoy a small part of Chile’s 4,300 km of coastline. You can wander along the coast for miles and see lots of interesting sea birds going about their business.
Anzota Caves, near Arica
Along the coast from Arica is are the Anzota caves. From Arica you can rent bikes (or some hostels allow you to use theirs).
Crossing over from Arica, Chile to Bolivia
How to get from Arica to La Paz
There are a number of bus companies that operate from Arica International Bus Station. Most seem of average quality. Pop in to the international bus terminal (the shitty looking one next to the slightly nicer but still shitty national bus terminal) and book your tickets in advance.
We opted for Nordic Bus as they were the only one that came up when we Googled it so we thought if they had an online presence they might be a bit better. I’m not sure it made a difference! The bus cost us 8,000 CLPs each. We were the only westerners on the bus as I think it is not a popular route for travellers. The bus left around 8.30ish and we arrived about 4pm in La Paz, Bolivia. The bus drove through Lauca National Park so went up from sea level to over 4000m!
Border crossing: Chile to Bolivia
The border itself was a little chaotic and confusing, as the Chilean/Bolivian border is jam packed with trucks full of goods. The toilets were difficult to find and we weren’t 100% sure where our bus was meant to pick us up after passing through immigration and customs.
We made it through though by using the tried and tested traveller method of follow the locals. A woman got on near the border to offer cambio services. The rate wasn’t amazing but was better than you can get in La Paz.
Crossing from Chile to Peru
How to get from Arica to Tacna
Arica is right on the border with Peru and about 20 minutes from Tacna on the Peruvian side. You can get a taxi to drive you across to Tacna where you can pick up a bus to Arequipa.
Alternatively you can get in line at the international bus terminal for a collectivo or small bus over the border. Either way the rates are very cheap but we think you have to pay a small exit fee at the terminal to do this route, so keep some change handy.
Found this blog on Arica, Chile useful?
Do share it with fellow travellers.