Salto del Laja
With its kitschy clutter of campgrounds, cabañas, hotels, and souvenir stands, Salto del Laja is Chile’s mini-Niagara. After descending from the Andes, the Río Laja drops more than 50 meters over a broad escarpment before flowing on toward its confluence with the Biobío at La Laja, 40 kilometers west.
Like Niagara, though, Salto del Laja is also vulnerable to irregular releases from reservoirs in its upper drainage, and power needs may or may not coincide with tourists’ desire to view the spectacle. In dry years, the flow can slow to a trickle.
One positive development is the relocation of the Panamericana, now a four-lane divided toll road, to the west. No longer do long-distance buses, overloaded 18-wheelers, and speeding SUVs clog the former Panamericana, a two-lane road that bridges the river—though walking in the middle of it is still inadvisable. The falls are close enough to the highway that, when the water’s high, it justifies a brief stopover—but not an overnight stay.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition