Highway 11, the road to Lauca National Park, is also the major road used by Bolivian truck drivers (24 hours) and tourists should avoid using the road at night. From Arica one travels through fertile Lluta valley which is surrounded by the Atacama desert, known as the driest desert in the world, as well as one of the oldest deserts in the world. NASA has tested instruments in this desert for missions to the planet Mars. After leaving the green valley, large areas of the desert completely barren. When the road enters the "altiplano" or "high plateau" lands, the climate changes. This region is still semi-arid, but has sufficient rainfall for sparse vegetation and a large variety of animals can survive there. Camelids, like Alpacas, Vicunas and Llamas are easily spotted and often right at the edge of the road. Especially around Lake Chungara there are plenty of animals, including flamingos, ibis, ducks, teals, condors and geese. Two species of fish inhabit the lake. The lake is surrounded by several snow and ice topped volcanoes and since the air is always clean and clear, the scenery is spectacular.
Elevation of the lake is 4.500m, so some people experience hypoxia. It is important for tourists to make sure that tour companies carry oxygen equipment. People should also bring their own food because there are very few to no restaurants or stores along the road and in the park. Most of the road is in very good condition, but repair crews are always working on some rougher sections. Watch out for inconsiderate, pushy truckers, especially on the downhill direction back to Arica. (we were happy to have a very cautious driver)
Local people proudly point out that Chungara is the highest salty lake in the world, but...it does belong to the thirty highest lakes in the world.
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