Returning to Chile after our short visit to Argentina was easy. We camped right next door to the immigration office and began the process of leaving Argentina first thing in the morning. After checking out of Argentina, we drove to the top of the Andes Mountains eventually finding the Chilean Immigration on the other side. We were prepared for the strict control on bringing fresh foods into the country but they still found our garlic, an avocado and a box of lettuce. Oh well.
Dropping off the mountain, our growing excitement for pine tree forests and beautiful mountains was fulfilled. This was the Chile we have been looking forward to and expecting for over a year. Around every corner, we gawked at the ridiculously beautiful scenery ahead of us.
Following the Ruta 5 to the south, we drove quite a distance until we arrived at a nice campsite near the Antuco Volcano. From our perch on the side of the valley, we could see the volcano majestically placed at the end of the valley. Throughout the day and night, we watched the clouds form just above the volcano similar to a crown. It was spectacular. We hadn’t seen green valleys like this since we left the Argentinian/Brazilian border two months earlier.
In the morning, we drove to the base of the volcano for a closer look. Along the way we found a beautiful waterfall dropping over 200 feet. Later, we squeezed down a narrow dirt road and found a great campsite with a swimming hole just below. The crystal clear water and multicolored stones were just beautiful. Since it was a little cool, we decided to return to our previous campsite for one more night with fantastic views and a steady breeze after a short day of exploring.
From the Antuco Volcano, we returned to the Ruta 5 and continued south. With New Year’s Eve quickly approaching, we decided to drive to the north end of Lake Caburgua. The rolling hills with green pastures fenced by majestic trees was breathtaking. Eventually we made it to the lake and parked in a grassy field right next to a small stream.
On New Year’s Eve and with little to do, we enjoyed a short walk to a nearby lake and watched the people pass by. For dinner, we grilled a nice piece of meat and topped it with sautéed mushrooms and onions. After dinner added some wood to the coals and enjoyed a fire as the sun set over the mountains. It was surprisingly quiet on the lake, especially for a holiday, and we found ourselves with peace and quiet as 2017 wrapped up.
To get started with the New Year, we drove towards the town of Pucon where we would begin to get back in hiking shape. Three hikes in three days was our plan. Unfortunately, the rain had other ideas for us. The Pucon area is heavily forested and everything is spectacularly green. Lots of rain is necessary to achieve this level of green and we were rained out for five days. We knew this area would be a highlight of the trip, so we waited for the forecast to clear.
Pucon is best described as the Jackson Hole of Chile. The small quaint town is nestled between huge mountain ranges, right on a lake with rivers and streams running everywhere. The town hummed with locals and tourists alike renting bikes, loading up kayaks, people taking tours, etc.
To the south of the city is the Villarica Volcano. This volcano lies just above the city and is covered in snow for the majority of the year. Everyday, tourists climb the volcano for a chance to look at the magma inside. We opted to take smaller unguided hikes and view the volcano from a distance.
Finally, the weather cleared enough to begin hiking. We realized that having waited for so long, we would have to hike in the clouds and settle on two hikes rather than three.
First on our list was the Los Lagos Sendero trail in Huerquehue National Park. This hike begins at the base of San Sebastian Peak and winds its way up to a plateau high above. Once at the top, the trail becomes a loop between several small lakes. When we arrived at the first lake, there was no wind and the water was like glass. It was so clear, that it was possible to see the bottom of the lake even in some of the deepest spots. As the trail took us to the next lake, we crossed over one of the many rivers connecting the lakes to one another. These too were crystal clear and they silently but quickly moved an extraordinary amount of water. Visiting the lakes was sort of a mystical experience. Everything from the trees and vegetation to the rocks and sand and quiet waters was satisfying. Although the clouds still hung above us and threatened to rain, we enjoyed the hike greatly and were tired at the end of the day after 6.5 hours on our feet.
In the morning, we made our way to the trailhead for the El Cani Sanctuary which would be our next hike. When we checked in, we were provided a nice map of the entire loop which included small bits of information about each point of interest along the way. El Cani is a private reserve purchased in 1990 and has been slowly reclaimed to its original state after logging threatened its majestic Coihue trees. We started hiking up the 45 degree slope which never seemed to end until we finally reached the plateau at the top nearly two hours later. From here, the terrain was much more manageable. A series of lakes waited peacefully at the plateau. Near the end of the plateau, we began uphill once more to the viewpoint at Cani Peak. Eventually we made it to the peak and the views were very nice. In every direction, green mountains capped with clouds surrounded us. It was a bit disappointing, however, as the point of this hike is to admire the view from atop which the clouds all but obscured. We could only see small bits of snow from the Villarica Volcano and couldn’t make out any of the other three volcanoes that can be seen from the top. We made our way back to the truck and arrived 8.5 hours later. Our melancholy moods were swayed a little when we found a shower at the trailhead to enjoy our first shower in eight days!
At the viewpoint from the top, this little tarantula tried to sneak up behind Laughlin as we were enjoying our PB&Js! It was entertaining watching it work its way up and down the rocks in front of us in figure 8 type motions.
On each hike, we saw many of the Araucaria trees which are unique to this part of the world. They have very hard and sharp leaves covering the entire tree when it is small. As it goes up in the air, the leaves on the stem fall off and are replaced by a hard bark. They are truly a unique tree and can live more than 2,000 years.
After El Cani, we enjoyed a nice beer at Mama’s & Tapas bar in Pucon brewed by Austral Brewing. Although the service was terrible, the beer hit the spot.
As we left Pucon, the clouds dissipated and we could finally see the the green mountains all around us. Most impressive was the Villarica Volcano towering higher than all of the mountains by a long shot. Covered in glaciers and emitting small puffs of smoke, we realized that waiting for so long was entirely worth it. As the sun set, the clouds, snow and lake changed colors as it marked the end of our visit to the Pucon area.
Pucon is locate in the Los Rios Region of Chile, fittingly named for the huge number of rivers in the area. As we headed to the south, we entered the Los Lagos Region also fittingly named for the huge number or large lakes. We drove south until we ended up on the shores of the largest lake during our visit to Chile. The lake is Llanquihue just outside of the city of Osorno. We found our way to a viewpoint on the west end of the lake where we could see the Puntiaguido, Osorno and Calbuco volcanos. All three were covered in pure white glaciers and towered above the lake. From a few feet above the lake, it was possible to see the large pebbles several feet below the surface as the waters were crystal clear. We watched the sunset and the sunrise from our campsite with another million dollar view.
The next clear phase of our trip began in the city of Puerto Montt as we prepared for traveling along the Carretera Austral through some of Chile’s most beautiful and isolated coastal mountain ranges. We will share that experience in our next blog post!