South America Travel Tips

Pucón: Chasing Active Volcanoes

I wanted to keep going with my volcano exploring; Puerto Varas was just the beginning.

And if Volcán Osorno and Volcán Calbuco were not sufficiently dangerous, well, Volcán Villarrica in Pucón beats them all. So much so that you wonder why you need a gas mask to hike it…

Puerto Varas > Valdivia > Pucón

Chilean friends told me going to Valdivia was worth it, especially if visiting a little town called Niebla. Well, I listened but then I changed my mind (it’s been quite a roller-coaster recently)… so I went to Valdivia and only stayed in town one night.

Valdivia is a university town located at the intersection of 3 rivers (Calle-Calle, Valdivia, and Cau-Cau) – approximately 3 hours drive from Puerto Varas. The river area is pretty and I’m sure it’s a great place if you’re a student or you practice rowing/kayaking.

For me one night in here was enough 🙂 Valdivia has indeed a lot of history, nice parks and activities, but I strongly believe the best of Chile is towards the Andes. So, another bus ride… and Pucón it was.

Pucón: where hikes get tough!

Again, my main goal in Pucón was to hike the volcano Villarrica, which is only a few kilometers from town and can only be booked via a tour agency. In fact, the hike is pretty complicated, with some snowy/icy paths and some other trails that run close to the active volcano crater.

Apparently (and I experienced some of that in Puerto Varas), the weather had been very wet in the previous days, so tours were booked out for the Wednesday. There are only a few regulated agencies who can sell and run the expedition, which includes alpine guides, technical equipment such as winter gear, crampons and lava-proof clothes 🙂

Therefore, on day one I just got some work done, cooked dinner and got ready for the next day hike. On my to-do list was Cerro San Sebastián, a trail that came highly recommended by a Chileno I met in Puerto Varas.

Unfortunately I barely slept that Wednesday night – roommates kept talking until late and it was difficult to fall asleep. Well, I really thought the lack of sleep was going to affect the hike… but thankfully it didn’t! And what a hike!

Overall a 8km ascent, the first 3km through the forest are really tough. As usual Patagonia wants you to suffer from the very beginning, and in a couple of occasions my tiredness really kicked in.

After that you have a chance to breath a little, with a less steep trail that makes you hope the worst has already finished… NOT!

When you finally get your pace back and your legs are fresh again, a section of steep and muddy paths (where you literally need to grab whatever tree branches are there and pull your body uphill hoping the tree won’t break) gives you the final k.o.

Happiness for reaching a flat hill, is suddenly killed by a very technical section that runs on top of the mountains that take you to the highest peak. It’s not rare needing to show off your rock climbing skills while walking on this section.

Thankfully, I got the best, sunniest, clearest and least windy day ever, so I did this in the best possible conditions. The view from the top was just amazing, very similar to the ones in San Martin de Los Andes and Villa la Angostura – oh, actually I was just on the other side of the Andes!

In fact, I could spot the Volcan Lanin (remember this hike?), as well as another 6 or 7 snow-capped volcanoes on the Chilean side, which totally contribute to the awesomeness of the hike. I had lunch, made some friends (mostly trek runners, which could possibly become my next passion) and got back down pretty quickly.

Overall it was a 4.5 hours round-trip instead of the 6 the Park Ranger told me… typical in Chile!

Waiting on my bus, I relaxed away on the shore of the lake, where I almost dived in – but the cold water and my ongoing digestion kept me away from it! At least this time I had my swimming togs, just in case!

Volcán Villarrica: yes, that bloody weather…

After hiking Cerro San Sebastián, I got back to Pucón, shopped a little and went to try out my clothing and boots for the next day hike at Volcán Villarrica. All good and ready to go!

I slept well that night (eventually), got up at 5.30am and got my backpack ready.

I showed up at the tour agency on time at 6.20am.

The weather outside was unusually calm, cloudy, mysterious.

The equipment that the agency requires you to wear (included in the price), was ready on the bench: a backpack together with… lava-proof pants, lava-proof jacket, lava-proof boots, ice crampons and… a gas mask! Now you see why this trek can only be done with registered tour guides…

But, and here’s the thing I feared as soon as I entered the shop, the hike was cancelled due to unstable weather, which had drastically changed during the night. Yep, no weather forecast websites had… forecasted it. Another typical thing of Patagonia 😀

For security reason the hike could not go ahead. Pity, as this was the exact reason I went to Pucón and I had budgeted my expense of 80,000 Chilean pesos for it.

The agency asked me if I wanted to re-book for the next day, but honestly the forecast wasn’t that great, I had to checkout from the hostel in the morning and grab a bus to Santiago de Chile that night, without the chance to shower in case. Also, I would have had to wake up again at 5.30am, with the chance the hike would have not gone ahead. So, reluctantly, I got my money back and got some work done from the hostel, which ended up being a smart thing to do!

In the afternoon I went for a walk around Pucón, admiring the Volcán Villarrica and the beach (and also I was pretty successful at avoiding crashing into thousands of tourists on the footpaths).

Pity about the volcano.

But I know and feel that this won’t be the last time for me here in the South of Chile. There is way too much to see, discover, visit and love.

Villarrica is not going anywhere – uhm, unless more of this keeps happening (this is from 2015)….:

Well, just another thing to be added to my to-go-back list 🙂

Next stop: Santiago de Chile – stay tuned!