Situated just to the south of popular tourist town, Pucón, Villarrica Volcano’s snow-capped, smoke-puffing peak dominates the skyline.
But as well as providing a nice view from the ground, the active volcano is a beacon to hundreds of tourists who hike to the summit every year. If you’re in the south of Chile, it’s an activity that should be near the top of your to-do list.
The climb: Taking you 9,341ft (2,847m) above sea level, the trek up Villarrica is no walk in the park but it’s still highly accessible to those with no mountaineering experience.
The main streets of Pucón are teeming with experienced tour operators offering day trips to the volcano’s peak. These companies usually provide equipment such as crampons, ice-axes and helmets, while hikers are asked to bring their own snow boots, thick socks and waterproof clothing.
The climb to the top through snow and ice takes between four and five hours and in parts, it requires concentration. It is possible to save some time by taking ski lifts for the first leg of the climb for a small extra fee.
The view: Once you get the top, you soon realise that the long hike was well worth the effort. Standing atop Villarrica, it’s possible to take in the snowy peaks of several other stunning volcanoes including Lanín, Tronador and and Osorno, as well as the placid turquoise waters of Lakes Panguipulli and Calafquén.
The sulphuric gas rising from the crater may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s all part of the experience. And compared to the satisfaction conquering the summit, it’s only a minor inconvenience. Just sit back, catch your breath, and enjoy the view.
The descent: After the tough slog to the summit, the trip to the bottom is much easier and a lot of fun. For large parts of the descent you can sit down in the snow and slide down the slope, using the ice axe as a brake. From there it’s an easy walk back along the paths until you reach the base of the volcano.
The alternative: It’s also possible to climb to the edge of the glacier halfway up Villarrica from the town of Coñaripe, which sits on the shore of Lake Calafquén. While this hike is not as spectacular as the more popular route, it’s still a beautiful walk. The well-marked path winds its way through untouched native forests until it reaches the thick, dark volcanic sand which covers the volcano’s slopes. From the glacier, you are rewarded with breathtaking views of Quetrupillán Volcano jutting out from the rugged Andean peaks.
By Tim Dixon