From the sea lion, whale and penguin inhabited beaches of Punta de Choros in its desert north, to the soaring granite towers of Torres del Paine in its Patagonia south, to mysterious moai statues of the remote Easter Island, Chile is renowned for having some of the best national parks in the world.
And while these wilderness reserves certainly deserve their reputations, the country is full of smaller parks that offer stunning natural beauty, without the crowds.
In the lush Lakes Region of southern Chile, Huerquehue National Park – a haven for hiking enthusiasts – certainly fits into the latter category.
It is often overshadowed by Villarica National Park, literally that is, as the Villarica Volcano looms large over its smaller neighbor, offering stunning views of its imposing conical shape throughout all of Huerquehue’s winding trails.
But that’s not all your likely to see if you take a hike in Huerquehue, the park is renowned as one of the best places in the country to catch a glimpse of some of Chile’s most rare and elusive wildlife.
Pumas and Andean Condors abound, and you’re also likely to see the Magellanic woodpecker – given away by the tak-tak-tak noise it makes as it hunts for bugs in the trees of the forest – and a whole host of other bird life, if you spend a day or two hiking the area.
If you’re really lucky, there is a host of even rarer critters, like the monito del monte (“mountain monkey”), one of three marsupials in the country and considered a living fossil, the güiña wild cat, which looks like a spotted leopard shrunk to the size of a house cat, and at under 20 inches (50 cm) long is the smallest feline in the western hemisphere, or the pudú, the world’s smallest deer.
And if you’re the type who’s always looking the other way when the rare animal darts across the path, then don’t worry, there’s plenty to see in the park that is significantly less mobile.
Huerquehue is famed for its ancient Araucaria pines, trees which can live for as long as 3,000 years and were a staple in the diet of indigenous cultures of the south, to whom the distinctively shaped trees still hold a central cultural role.
And with its string of remote and crystal-clear lakes, thick stands of old growth lenga trees, and high mountain look-outs, there’s plenty to keep the hiking enthusiasts enthusiastic.
Huerquehue National Park is just 35 kilometers from the adventure mecca of Pucón, on the road to Caburgua.