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Chile’s Route 11: one of the world’s most scenic drives (Page 2)

Candelabre cactus © Craig FastPutre is a charming, if earthquake prone, Aymara village, nestled below the mountain peaks. The centre of the village boasts colonial architecture and friendly inhabitants in traditional dress.

Thanks to its convenience as a base for exploring nearby Parque Nacional Lauca, Putre has a good range of hotels, hostels and restaurants. Browse the gift shops, take a few short walks into the surrounding countryside, or make like a gaucho and explore on horseback.

Thermal baths
The Termas de Las Cuevas, up a right-hand turn 22km after Putre, reputedly have anti-ageing properties. For 2,000 pesos (less than £3) you can bathe in a very rustic bath with a very royal view, smother yourself in mud and regain a few years. There are a further two baths (one very hot and one bearably so) inside a basic building with rudimentary changing rooms.

Thermal baths © Craig FastParque Nacional Lauca
The climax of Route 11 is Parque Nacional Lauca. At 3,000m to 6,300m above sea level the park stretches from just above Putre to the border with Bolivia. A visitor centre next to Lago Chungará, one of the world’s highest lakes at 4,500m, provides snacks, souvenirs and a toilet (for a fee). It also offers an incredible view, taking in the snow-capped twin Payachata volcanoes (Parinacota at 6,350m and Pomerape at 6,240m), the smoking peak of Guallatire and Bolivia’s highest volcano, Sajama (6,542m). Salty Lago Chungará teems with giant coots, Andean gulls and flamingos.

Payachata volcanoes © Craig FastThe best view point though, is found near the 180km mark. Pull into the generous parking space and take it all in; the foreground of moss-covered rocks and puna gives way to a white-rimmed blue lake which, in turn, wraps around the feet of smooth grey mountains. These mountains, in any other landscape an attraction in their own right, are dwarfed by the twin giants of the Payachata volcanoes which tower above the scene, snow clad and majestic.

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