Lagunas area and Border with Chile

by Lawrence Rubey and A. Bennett Hennessey

Heading west toward the border with Chile , Lagunas, a small village with a military post, is just past the entrance to Sajama National Park. Bofedals (wetlands) lie alongside the paved road, on the north-side, and run for about a kilometer between the village of Lagunas and the bridge over the Rio Sajama. The shoulder of the paved road, built higher than the surrounding wetlands and grassland, provides a good vantage point for birding. The views of Mount Sajama are also spectacular on a clear day. The altitude is 4150 meters.

The advantage of the site is that the area is good for many species found in Sajama NP, valuable if you do not have the time or your own transportation to explore the park. Chilean Flamingos are also very reliable here. Unfortunately, the amount of trash in the wetlands seems to be growing. Likely species include Andean Avocet and Gray-breasted Seedsnipe. After scanning the wetlands, it is often worthwhile to wander through the bunchgrass, used as pastures, north of the wetlands. Sierra-finches and canasteros are likely to be flushed and Puna Tinamou is possible in this area. About 1.3 km further west from Lagunas, the paved road crosses the bridge over the Sajama River. This wet area is also worth exploring.

Close by and worth searching out (ask for directions from Sajama National Park staff) is the "Bofedal de los Geiseres," about 10 kilometers southeast of Sajama town. Bofedal de los Geiseres is a tiny patch of cushion bog interspersed with hot springs that also has proven to be a reliable site for Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, particularly in the winter months.

Finally, the border area with Chile , west of Lagunas, is an excellent area. But since the prime area lies in the "no man's land" between the Bolivian and Chilean border post, it is really only worthwhile to spend the time to visit if you are traveling on to Arica. In theory, one could pass through the Bolivian border post at Tambo Quemado, bird the wetland areas in the "no man's land" and return again though the Bolivian border post without ever reaching the Chilean border post. The chief attraction of the border area is the diversity of waterbirds. Giant Coot is common and ducks include Specked Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, Crested Duck, Puna Teal, Ruddy Duck and Cinnamon Teal It is also great spot for Puna Rhea as they come to drink at the water's edge.

Logistics: Lagunas is on the paved La Paz-Arica road, 2.1 km past the right turn for the village of Sajama and Sajama National Park and just after 170 kilometer post. The main birding area is north of the road. From the altiplano town of Patacamaya, Lagunas is 171 km.

For the border area with Chile , re-set odometer at zero at the turn for Sajama National Park (0.0). Passing Lagunas ( 2.1 km), the Bolivian border post at Tambo Quemado is at 11.7 km. At 19 km, "Welcome to Chile " signs appear. Finally, at 26 km reach the Chilean border post. The best birding area is from the causeway just a few hundred meters before arriving at the Chilean border post complex. From the Chilean border post at Chungara it is about 117 kilometers (downhill!) to the port town of Arica.
GPS reading at Las Lagunas: S 18 13.207' W 68 56.151'