Exploring the awesome volcanoes of Sur Chico
24.01.2019 - 31.01.2019
As we left the fertile wine valleys behind on our way south, we entered an area of Chile that is dominated by its volcanoes. We saw more than a dozen of them in just one week. Chile’s volcanoes are extremely active and a few of them had major eruptions within the last decade.
Our first stop was at the waterfalls Salto del Laja. We were a bit surprised with the amount of Chilean tourists that were also visiting the falls. It seems they are a popular family vacation destination. For the night we drove to the Parque Nacional Laguna del Laja, which was blissfully uncrowded. Back in Santiago we had decided to buy a tent for our road trip, in order to be more flexible with accommodations. Here in the national park, we used it for the first time. We stayed at an official campground which was almost empty. For dinner, we wanted to open a bottle of wine we had bought at one of our wine tastings, but we lacked a bottle opener. Fortunately, the elderly inhabitants of a nearby campervan helped us out. As it was the case surprisingly often in Chile, they turned out to be Swiss (with a Swiss campervan they had shipped from Antwerp, Belgium to Montevideo, Uruguay). The next day we did a short hike in the park with great views of a hanging glacier and the dark and imposing Volcán Antuco (2979m).
Later that day we crossed into the region known as Sur Chico. The drive offered spectacular views of three snow-capped volcanoes. We spent the night at a lodge owned by Swiss people, which Sam chose primarily because of the promise of Fondue and Raclette on the menu. Disappointingly, à la carte dinner was not available that day and we had to settle for a set menu which had nothing Swiss about it. On the upside, the lodge had some very cute lamas in the backyard.
South of the lodge was Parque Nacional Conguillío, which was only accessible by a difficult dirt road that made us fear for our little rental car. Still, we made it into the park and with some difficulty, we managed to secure a campsite for the night. Given the condition of the road, we had assumed that only few people would go to the park but we were wrong. The park and the campings were quite crowded with mostly Chilean vacationers. We enjoyed the beautiful mountain views from Lago Conguillío in the evening, but the giant Volcán Llaima (3125m) at whose foot we were standing could not be seen from there. To get this view, we had to do a hike the next morning. The path led through a beautiful forest of Araucaria trees, which look a bit like trees with cacti on top. At the final lookout, high over the lake, the volcano could be seen in all its glory.
The next two nights we spent in Villarrica, from where there are amazing views of the town’s namesake volcano, Volcán Villarrica (2861m). We treated ourselves to a great Asado dinner with perfect volcano views. Asado is a traditional Chilean barbecue. We were served three different cuts of beef, still on the sizzling grill.
Our favorite experience in Sur Chico was the visit to a husky farm south of Villarrica. A German ex-air force instructor founded this place and was by now owning 57 competitive sled dogs. In the summertime he trains his huskies by letting them pull a wheeled cart with tourists as payload, in this case the two of us. It was fascinating to learn about these animals. Through hundreds of years of selective breeding, these dogs now have a stronger will to run than to survive. It was absolute madness when we were starting to take out the dogs to go for the run, as every dog barked and ran around to show how much he wanted to be chosen. As Konrad, the owner, explained, if he did not tell the dogs to stop at some point, they would run until they die of exhaustion. During the run, he controlled the dogs solely with his words, telling them to slow down, speed up or to turn. They were extremely well trained and followed every command. After the training was over, we could play with the incredibly cute puppies.
Along the way south on the Pan-American highway, we stopped for one night at a beautiful remote lodge run by an eccentric Frenchman. There were great views of Volcán Osorno (2652m) and Volcán Puntiagudo (2498m) from the lodge. Many places towards the South of Chile have strong influences from European immigrants. Especially Germans have left their mark on the region, which is why great local craft beers can be found everywhere. The last two nights in the Sur Chico region we spent in Puerto Varas, which is located at a beautiful lake, of course with views of several volcanoes. From there, we also explored Lago Todos Los Santos, a lake surrounded by mountains and forests untouched by human developments.