Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pucon (1), Chile - check out the Villarrica Volcano

In April 2012 we spent 5 days in the beautiful town of Pucon. On the southeastern corner of Lake Villarrica, Pucon is one of the most popular destinations in the Chilean "Lake District". According to our guide book, "famous above all for visiting the 2840m active Villarrica volcano, which dominates the view to the south. Built across the neck of a peninsula, the town has two black-sand beaches, which are popular for swimming and water sports. Whitewater rafting us also offered in nearyby rivers and excursions are available to a number of thermal springs which lie to the east of the town. So, as you can see there is a lot to do and see in Pucon and the surrounding area.

View of Lake Villarica from the Gran Hotel Pucon
We flew from Santiago into Temuco, a flight of less than an hour before transferring by van to Pucon, which takes around an hour and twenty minutes. During the Chilean summer there are direct flights from Santiago into Pucon. We stayed in the Gran Hotel Pucon which as you can see from the photo above has a spectacular view. Sadly that's almost all we can say for the Gran Hotel, the service was shocking almost laughable, the hotel itself is in a real need for a makeover, the kindest thing would be to knock it down and start again. This is such a shame as the location is spectacular and the hotel should reflect the location!

View from the park in front of the Gran Hotel Pucon

Pucon beach

There are approximately 20,000 inhabitants in Pucon, this quadruples during the summer season. The town itself is very relaxed full of shops, bars and some very good restaurants. Check out Senzo (an Italian restaurant) and Cassis (for the most delicious pancakes), both are found on Fresia. The centre of the town is very attractive with a wooden "ski resort" style, no neon signs in sight.

Downtown Pucon

On our first evening we booked with the tour company based in the hotel, to climb the volcano the following day. Being out of season we were lucky that we were able to book a trip for just the two of us. The tour companies provide you with all the gear you need for this trek/climb, this includes crapons, helmet and iceaxe, just to let you know this is not a walk in the park. All you really need is to bring some warm long socks, some layers to wear under the gear they provide, sunglasses, suncream and some food and water to keep you going on the trek. The tour company will let you know if they do/do not provide food. 

Villarrica volcano

We left out hotel at around 7am for the short drive to the base of the Villarrica volcano, less than 30 minutes. From there if you are lucky and wind conditions permit it, you can take a short chairlift which reduces the uphill trek by up to an hour depending on your fitness. We were lucky! Having successfully negotiated the dismount from the chairlift we set off on a day which saw us learning how to use crampons, how to use an iceaxe in the event of falling and took us to the edge of the crater of a live volcano. A truly fantastic day, hopefully the following pictures will tell the story better than words.

A hint of the great views to come

First break, just another 3.5 hours to go

Getting icy, time for the crampons

Getting closer, yet perhaps the most tiring section lies ahead
Finally the crater

Short break before checking out the edge of the crater

Red hot lava deep down in the crater

After taking some time to enjoy the stunning scenary at the top, it was time to go down again, more pain to come. Fortunately if the snow conditons are ok, there are four "carved runs", where you can slide down using your iceaxe to control the speed. This was fantastic and the adrenalin buzz helped you to forget how tired your legs actually were. Climbing the Volcano was a brilliant experience which we'd highly recommend, just remember its not easy and you need to be reasonably fit. If you enjoyed this post, you can read more about Pucon, Villarrica and the region in our second post, Pucon (2).