Lake Chungara, Chile

     After exploring and trekking the Atacama desert for four days; I took my truck-rental and drove north to Arica, Chile.  There, I stayed the night of July 13th and continued driving east to Lake Chungara 190 km away on July 14th, 2019. 

Area map for Northern Chile; 2019

     Chungará is a lake situated in the extreme north of Chile at an elevation of 4,517 metres (14,820 ft), in the Altiplano of Arica y Parinacota Region in the Lauca National Park. It has a surface area of about 21.5–22.5 square km and has a maximum depth of about 40 m.

     Pictured below, Arica is a port city with a population of 223,000 in the Arica Province of northern Chile’s Arica y Parinacota Region. It is Chile’s northernmost city, being located only 18 km south of the border with Peru.  Its mild weather has made Arica known as the “city of the eternal spring” in Chile while its beaches are frequented by Bolivians.  The city serves a free port for Bolivia and manages a substantial part of that country’s trade.

A beach at Arica, Chile; (just outside my hotel door)

     Lake Chungara lies at an elevation of 4,517 m (14,820 ft) in the Chilean Altiplano; it is one of the highest lakes in the world and the second highest-largest after Lake Titicaca in the Altiplano. The lake is part of the Lauca National Park, (pictured below) a nationally and internationally designated protected area.

Entering Lauca National Park from the west. Looking west at Volca Parinacota (6342 m) and Volca Pomerape (6282 m).

    Pictured above, the Parinacota volcano started its life about 160,000 years ago and reached its full height about 10,000 years ago. The giant collapse occurred about 8,800 years ago and decapitated most of the old edifice. Since then, the “new” Parinacota was rebuilt by frequent eruptions.

Volca Parinacota  and Volca Pomerape in Chile. (The Payachata volcanic group). Note the Chilean flamingos in the small lake in the foreground.

      Compared to other volcanoes in the area, Parinacota is a youthful volcano that may just be at the beginning of its long eruption history. With its high rate of eruptions, future eruptions are very likely.

Volca Parinacota (6342 m) and Volca Pomerape (6282 m) in Chile. Note the herd of Alpacas in the foreground.

          Volca Parinacota is fringed in wetland and serves as critically important habitat for high-elevation specialists such as vicunas and alpacas (pictured above).  (Also pictured above), the alpaca (Vicugna pacos) is a species of South American camelid descended from the vicuña. It is similar to, and often confused with, the llama. However, alpacas are often noticeably smaller than llamas. The two animals are closely related and can successfully cross-breed.

Cotacotani Lake found at the foot of Parinacota and Pomerape

     Pictured above; Laguna de Cotacotani  lies 4 km west of Chungará Lake, which is one of the highest lakes in the world and is surrounded by several volcanoes, such as the Payachata volcanic group (Parinacota and Pomerape).  Cotacotani is separated from the lake Chungará by a strip of volcanic rock and receives groundwater inflow from that lake.  Cotacotani Lake’s main feature is the considerable number of islands and islets that it holds, which are really lava hummocks generated by a past volcanic event.  Although much of its present hummocky topography is related to a large volcanic debris avalanche occurred in the zone, this lacustrine area was not originated by such event. Recent investigations suggests that Cotacotani originated as a series of kettle hole ponds. 

Cotacotani Lake found at the foot of Parinacota and Pomerape

     Hummocky surface formed by a gigantic flank collapse of Parinacota volcano (about 8,800 years ago). Each of the thousands of little mounds all around represent a block that slid down during the collapse from the volcano, which was left beheaded after this catastrophic event. Since then, the new youthful” and conically shaped stratovolcano has been rebuilt by frequent eruptions.

Lake Chungara and the snowcapped Parinacota Volcano in Chile, 2019

     Chungara Lake was formed by volcanic-tectonic phenomena; specifically, a major collapse of the Parinacota volcano dammed a former Rio Lauca, forming the Lake, at some time between 8,000 and 17,000 years ago. This collapse involved about 6 cubic km and covered about 140 square km with debris. Before the collapse took place the lake floor of Chungará Lake consisted of alluvial and river sediments left by the Rio Lauca, which drained the area. Upon damming, water from the river accumulated and formed Chungará Lake.

Two local birds found on Chungara Lake. (Left) two Andean Ducks and (right) the Giant Coot.

     The Andean Duck are small, compact ducks with stout, scoop-shaped bills, and long, stiff tails they often hold cocked upward.  In July, they are dull gray-brown above and paler below with dull gray bills. 

     The extremely endangered giant coot (Fulica gigantea) is a species of coot from South America. Adults are considered functionally flightless. It is the only coot with reddish legs. It has a small white frontal shield and a beak that is tipped black. 

Looking east across Lake Chungara at Nevado Sajama, (highest peak in Bolivia) and Kisi Kisini (on the right).

     To the east, across the Chungara Lake, is Sajama. Nevado Sajama rises about 2.2 km from the surrounding terrain to a height of 6,542 m (21,463 ft) making it the highest mountain of Bolivia. Sajama is an extinct stratovolcano located atop several lava domes. The stratovolcano consists of lava flows and pyroclastic material which radiate away from the center of the volcano. Some parasitic vents occur southeast of Sajama and their location appears to be controlled by radial dikes; the whole complex is a compound volcano.

Looking southeast towards the Bolivian border,  across Lake Chungara; The Mountain is Acotango and note the Andean Gull in the foreground.

       The Andean Gull is unusual for a gull in that it breeds inland in mountain areas. It may be variously found around rivers, freshwater lakes, saline marshes, and pastureland.  In the wetlands of the Altiplano it is resident and breeds at 4,000 m.  The Andean Gull is large for a black-headed gull (it is the largest gull with that kind of plumage in the Americas). It is the largest species in the genus Chroicocephalus and has a dark hood, a pale grey back and a pattern of black and white on its primaries.


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