Considering that this area -starting from Putre and bordering Bolivia- has some of the best natural attractions I've ver seen, I'm wondering why it is still (maybe not for long...) so calm and genuine. People in Chile say that it will be another San pedro de Atacama. I like the area so much that I do hope it will not be a second "San Pedro". It is so nice not to see tourists anywhere and enjoy these nature wonders on your own.
I spent a few days in Putre because I went to see most of the parks around: Lauca (UNESCO Biosphere); Las Vicunas (don't limit yourself to the path provided -here are the vizcachas which you can almost touch, but cross the road and climb the easy and gentle hill in order to see more animals, birds and scenic views, volcanoes included); Lake Chungará and Cotacotani Lagoon, where there are flamingoes and other bird species; if you can, go to visit Surire as well and you will probably meet "nandus" (a ostrich-like bird).
I suggest you walk at night if the sky is clear; if there is the full moon you can easily read a book and if there is no moon it is even better because you can see thousands of stars thanks to the Atacama desert dryness (it seems that there is a project to build an observatory on the way to Arica).
In Putre (a friend told me) there are chances to spot "colibrís" (hummingbirds). Fortunately I saw them around Arica and Valle de Azapa.
About the accomodation in Putre: from basic to OK, with hot water. A few have heating too but not for budget travellers' pockets. Some Europeans are investing in accomodation facilities and I do hope there will be better choice and quality in a near future. I don't know about the thermal pools around Putre because I didn't have enough time.
To see the region I rented a car in Iquique (better choice)but I could have done the same in Arica; if you want to save money buy the local newspaper (Estrella de Arica) and search under VEHICULOS ARRIENDAN (car rental), where privates rent cars starting at $10.000 pesos (ten thousand) per day. Don't forget to have enough petrol if you are not close to Arica.
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