Pucón and Volcán Villarrica, Chile
7 Dec 2008
Pucón, an overnight trip south of Santiago, in Chile, was the first stop in our nearly three week tour of the southern-most part of South America, taking us back and forth between Chile and Argentina, though their respective Lakes Districts and Patagonia, to the very southern tip of the continent.
Pucón is a small town that sits along Lake Villarrica. German influence in the region has led to many of the buildings made as wooden cottages, leaving us with the feel of a German or Swiss small village. Very charming and cozy!
The main draw here was the nearby Volcán Villarrica. An active volcano, it last erupted in the mid 1980s, though still spews sulfur steam from its crater. A climb up its snow-capped slopes was a highlight of our time in S America.
We left Pucón at 5am, hitting the mountain before 6am to begin our 5-hour ascent up its slopes. After about an hour up rocky crags, we reached the thick and deep snow.
Our tour agency had us well prepared with equipment, from super snow boots and clothing to an ice axe to keep us from sliding all the way downhill as we were trekking up. I´ve never climbed an icy mountain before, and it was a difficult but thrilling experience!
The best part was the views. When we started around sunrise, we were met with distant mountain peaks sticking out above the clouds. That was amazing! As we reached late morning, the clouds thinned and partially cleared, offering a different perspective.
When we finally hit the summit slightly after 11am, the views were astounding as the clouds cleared, and the crater lip quite cool. Peering carefully over the edge, we were met with sulfuric smoke from within.
The way down the mountainside was the best part. We donned even more snow gear and literally slid down the snow as if it were a water slide. Quite quicker on the way down than the way up!
That afternoon, back in Pucón, the skies cleared, offering a chance to hit the lakeside beach full of locals for a bit, though the air temperature (and, of course, that of the water) were fairly cool.