We arrived in the outdoor adventure town Pucon via an overnight bus from Santiago, and immediately got on a regional bus to Lake Tinquilco, to the entrance of Huerquehue National Park. Pucon is on Lake Villarrica, and the whole lake is littered with chalets and other fancy resorts beneath the looming Villarrica Volcano, but we really just wanted to get to the park.
We arrived at Lake Tinquilco about midday and took the short hike around the lake to some campsites and refugios (a refugio is like an outdoor hostel that offers basic rooms, or bathrooms and kitchens for campers who pay a small fee) at the entrance to the park. As we hiked to the park entrance, we bought some honey from a farm stand set up along the way. That night, the refugio we camped at was offering a big dinner of roast lamb, salad, bread, wine, desert, etc. We would have preferred to have a big feast after our big hiking trip, but it seemed like a good time and so we went for it. The food was great and after we had kuchen (a German inspired desert cake), there where a bunch of Chileans who played music and sang some Chilean folk songs long into the wine filled night.
The next day we bought two loaves of homemade bread and set off into the park with our salami, cheese, honey and soup mixes. The first part was a long hard hike up onto a plateau of lakes and araucaria (monkey puzzle) trees. In the distance we had periodic views of the Villarrica Volcano as we did the climb up. The landscape here is almost surreal since the vegetation is so different. There are hardwood trees with thick vines climbing up them, and tall bushes that look like bamboo that make a thick underbrush, along with many other flowering plants, not to mention the unique araucaria trees. The birds all make very different noises and the whole experience, with intermittent granite peaks visible through the forest, looks and feels like a pre-historic forest.
We hiked through the pretty lakes and the up onto a old burn area with great views of Lake Caburga and some other mountains. Along the way we saw a large spider in the trail, and we decided right then to keep our shoes in the tent for the rest of our nights camping. Then we had a long, steep descent to a campground within the park (Renahue). We were tired and had a decent trail dinner and then went to bed.
The next day we woke up and hiked over another saddle in the mountains and down into a somewhat remote valley with farms and hotsprings (Rio Blanco) at the bottom. Some sections of the trail were really eroded, they don’t seem to use water bars to keep run-off from eroding the trails.
We were pretty tired from our second day of hiking, and when we got to the river, crossed the footbridge, and came to the campground, we knew it was worth it. The campground was a nice grassy lawn beneath some old fruit trees, right next to a series of stone pools for the hot springs.
There were three pools (really hot, hot, and warm) right next to the cold river (Rio Blanco), where the hotsprings were mixed with cool water and you could chose the pool that had the temperature you wanted. It was great to soak in the warm water after all the hiking, and we did it well into the evening. When we thought it couldn’t get any better, the campground host came and offered us cold beer, more homemade bread and tomatoes.
The next day (after one last early morning soak to get over the chill of the light rain that night) we packed up and hiked back up to the campground within the park. This time we took a different part of the loop, hiking steeply up the side of the valley to enjoy some really nice alpine meadows with more of the araucaria trees and great views of distant snow-covered volcanic ridges. We met some Germans on the trail who suggested we try the homemade bread at the refugio near the campground were were headed for. We arrived in the campground with enough time to investigate the sign (as suggested by the Germans) at the edge of camp that said “homemade bread, 15 minutes”, with an arrow pointing down another path. When we arrived at this little farm in the middle of the forest, the bread was still hot from the oven and was excellent with a little butter. They also had cans of cold beer and freshly cooked steaks, all for under $6. This good homemade bread is called pan amasado, look for it and eat it if you come here.
The next day we stopped at Lake Verde, for a lunch of homemade bread and honey and a cold swim before we made the tiring hike back down and out of the park. That night (Valentines Day) we arrived back at the Tinquilco Refugio for our final night of camping before heading to Pucon. For Valentines day, they were cooking salmon and making ceviche, which sounded great after all the hiking. We had another excellent feast, with more music afterwards. This was a great time and in very nice area and we met lots of good people (Chileans and fellow travelers). Ever since seeing the monkey puzzle tree in Lithia Park (Ashland, OR), Jason has always wanted to see a forest full of these trees, and this part of the trip fulfilled this dream, and then some.
<click on the photos to enlarge them>