The Parque Nacional Nevado de Tres Cruces is a stunning collection of high altitude lakes, bright white salt flats and multi-coloured mountains. It is a beautiful and enigmatic landscape of constantly changing colours, and unlike the better known area around San Pedro de Atacama or Bolivia’s Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, the park sees very few visitors.
It is so remote and there are so few visitors that its difficult to get there without your own transport, and with the exception of a couple of CONAF refugios there is no tourist infrastructure in the park. The ‘road’ (I use the term loosely) that runs closest to the park is in theory an ‘international’ road to Argentina, but it is in terrible repair for much of its length, there is no public transport and, apart from the occasional mining vehicle, little in the way of passing traffic.
In the Parque Nacional Nevado de Tres Cruces it is possible to be apart from the rest of humanity – and from almost every other living thing. One of the reasons I wanted to visit the park was to go to Laguna Verde. Laguna Verde isn’t in the park itself, but is a must see if you are going to come this far from civilisation.
Driving around a bend on the dirt road the sudden sight of Laguna Verde is a special moment.
Thanks to the geo-thermal activity in this region there are a couple of hot springs right on the shore of Laguna Verde. Despite the stench of sulphur they are lovely places to soak weary feet while soaking up the magnificent scenery.
Even though we live in Bolivia at an altitude of 2700m, at over 4500m the park was having an unpleasant effect on us and I frequently found myself short of breath. I wasn’t alone…two young German travellers who were camped by the lake asked if they could get a lift back towards civilisation. They had arrived the day before with the intention of spending a week in the area and climbing the 6893m Volcan Ojos de Salado. Unfortunately they were suffering badly from the altitude and just wanted to descend.
With our new companions we headed back towards the Parque Nacional Nevado de Tres Cruces and the dramatically located Laguna Santa Rosa, home to a population of flamingos – I’m not sure there is a more unexpected sight in this landscape than these bright pink birds. Before we left Laguna Verde we saw another extraordinary sight – a fully desiccated adult cow. I’m not sure where it came from since we didn’t see any other cows, but it provided warning of the dangers of this region.
Much better adapted to this landscape are the rare camelids, guanacos…
We had lunch at an unmanned CONAF refugio on the shore of the lake before driving into a vast, flat plain that seemingly extends for ever and contains a salt flat.
Our journey out of the park was a little fraught. The authorities haven’t put any directional signposts or distance markers anywhere in the park. This leaves you driving down dirt tracks hoping you are going in the right direction and that you have a enough diesel left to get you to civilisation. This isn’t because they don’t want unnecessary signposts in the park, there are signposts, just none with any useful information.
Luckily our map reading skills were proficient enough to get us out of the park and back to asphalt.
One final peculiar sight awaited us as we exited the park – a desiccated horse. I don’t know where these things come from, or if they are in fact placed there by the park authorities as visual warnings to careless travellers, but they are quite ghoulish.
16 thoughts on “A desiccated and surreal world: Parque Nacional Nevado de Tres Cruces and Laguna Verde”
I am planning to backpack from San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago in middle March, and on the way I would like to see the Parque Nacional Nevado Tres Cruces, and your beautyfull pics made me even more determined to go!
Did you go with a guided tour? Do you remember the name or even have the contact information of the guides?
Anyway, guided tours seems to be quite expensive (if you are alone like me), would it be really dangerous to rent a car around Copiapò and make a day trip by myself?
Thanks in advance!
It is a beautiful area to visit, with very few other visitors. Definitely worth the effort to get there.
We hired a car and drove ourselves, which is easy to do. There are good maps and only a few roads. It isn’t cheap renting cars in Chile – we had a 4×4 – but we had planned to hire one before we went. Take plenty of petrol/diesel/water as there are no facilities in the park. Alternatively, we met people who hired a driver to take them to the park, camped in the park and hiked from place to place. The driver then returned to collect them a week later.
A word of warning, it is good to have acclimatised to the altitude before you go to the park. It is at high altitude and we met people who were camping and were struggling with the altitude.
Good luck with your travels and let me know if you have other questions, Paul
I’ve never been to a place like that so thank you for an interesting journey via your post.
Thanks Ana, it is a fascinating part of the world, strangely alive yet with much living there
Reblogged this on bearspawprint.
Thanks bearspawprint, much appreciated.
The sort of landscape where a reliable vehicle is essential!
Absolutely, and one with extra fuel! We had a 4×4 that is used by miners, about as sturdy as you could hope for.
Wow, it’s quite lovely.
The thing I love most about the landscape is the dramatic changes of colour throughout the day – a photographers dream.
I can definitely see why!
Great post! – The amazing beauty of the landscape , touched by the foreboding power of nature….with a hint of loneliness. The lakes and the flamingoes must have been totally surreal. Nice adventure. 🙂
Thanks Scottie. The most incredible thing about that area is that there is no noise except for the wind. It is a rare pleasure to hear nothing!
I experienced the same thing in the middle of the Northern Territory outback , made me truly understand the expression “a deafening silence” , it is an incredible thing!
The place is beautiful but I have to admit, a bit spooky, with all the desiccated animals :/. Wonderful post! 🙂
Thanks Anarya, it is an amazing place and, to continue your end of the world theme from the other day, it is a bit of an end of the world landscape – the animals are for dramatic effect!