As this is just my second entry in a new trip (after a four-year travelling hiatus), I am going to preface this blog with a little reminder to some of my readers:
I have two core audiences for this blog, and they are quite different to each other.
Many of the e-mail subscribers are people I know personally, and perhaps some of them will one day visit the places I have been to, but most merely wish to follow my adventures from afar.
I do however also get a lot of hits from people who find my blog on Google and other search engines, and I suspect that many are contemporary backpackers seeking information.
Huerquehue National Park was one of the places I found to be lacking in practical information for backpackers (particularly English-speaking ones) and when this happens I do like to weave in threads of information that might be beneficial to them.
I will always try to do it as seamlessly as possible when it happens – to ensure that both kinds of readers find my blog rewarding – but there may be some instances where certain people might feel inclined to skim certain sentences and paragraphs. That is fine. If in doubt, scroll down until you get to photos again (as that is usually a good indication that I am talking about the journey/experience rather than waffling about some practical info). I hope I find the right balance in this – so that you all enjoy it – but feel free to give me feedback.
10th – 17th March, 2023
CONAF (Chile’s National Forest Corporation) is an establishment most Chilean residents and visitors end up developing a love/hate relationship. Created as a corporation in 1970 and since amended as a government agency in 1984, it operates under the strange limbo of being a state-owned yet private organisation.
And perhaps I am just biased – being from Britain, where the incompetencies of privatised national services are very noticeable – but I suspect this to be part of the reason for some of its inefficiencies. I still vividly remember tearing my hair out over four years ago whilst trying to book my eight-day trek through Torres Del Paine. And whilst Herquehue wasn’t quite so painful, the information CONAF currently provides on its website for this National Park was quite hazy and unhelpful, only mentioning there being ‘camping’, ‘hiking’, and other ‘facilities’ in a vague sense, but lacking in the kind of detail that can help someone meaningfully plan their time there.
And, as is often the case when a national service is somewhat lacking, it falls upon the people who exist on its periphery to recover for its shortcomings. In this case, the example is that when you purchase your bus ticket to get to Huerquehue at the terminal in Pucón, it is the drivers who warn the incoming passengers that they need to fill out a form on CONAF’s website or they will not be able to enter the park (at which point many immediately reach for their smartphone and rush to do so, in fear that they will run out of signal sometime during the journey there).
So a note I will send to those heading to Huerquehue: the form takes a couple of minutes to fill out, and shortly after, you get e-mailed an online ‘ticket’. You do not pay for this ticket online but rather present it to the rangers at the headquarters, who then take your fee (cash only). So if you don’t have a Chilean sim card, ensure you do this when you have wi-fi. And one more note (before I continue the blog); each ticket only lasts for one day, so if you plan on spending more than one day at the park, ensure you fill out the form for any subsequent ones so you have more potential ‘tickets’ ready to purchase if needed. Obtaining several potential tickets online does not necessarily mean you have to pay for them.
Once I arrived at Huerquehue National Park (at around 9:30 am), we were all instructed to get off the bus. A ranger came out and gave a long speech about the park and its various trails before we paid for our tickets, and perhaps it was partly because I was tired (having just caught a night bus from Santiago), but I found myself struggling to understand him. My Spanish proficiency is still rusty, and my understanding varies based on whom is speaking. If it is someone who is used to conversing with foreigners (and thus knows to speak clearly and simplify their vocabulary a little), I can follow and even engage in conversation, but if someone speaks very fast – and in a Chilean accent, no less, which is full of many colloquialisms – I easily get lost. Luckily, however, I befriended a pair of Chileans who spoke some English, and they helped me translate the parts I didn’t understand.
I originally planned to camp at the CONAF headquarters but was surprised to discover this was a jaw-dropping 24,000 pesos a night (something they are sheepishly quiet about on their website, no doubt because they are hoping people will turn up and think they have no other option). Luckily the two Chileans I had just befriended – Frances and Florencia – had booked a pitch at one of the private campsites in the park and offered to share it with me so we could split the cost. This was a stroke of fortune for me not only in a fiscal sense but also enriched my time there in general; the two of them became my companions for much of the weekend. We hiked together, cooked together, and helped each other practice English/Spanish.
This is one of the reasons that I enjoy backpacking alone. Once you learn to be content in your own company (a gift I acquired during my first trip and has benefitted my life exponentially), you never feel lonely anymore. And the thing is, you are not always alone anyway because you often make friends along the way (something you feel less inclined to do when you already have company).
And now – no doubt to the relief of many of you – I am going to get off my soap box a little about CONAF, the inefficiencies of privatisation, travelling alone, etc – and start telling you about the amazing time that I had at Huerquehue.
It was a two-kilometre walk from the headquarters to Olga Campsite, but it wasn’t gruelling, and we got to see some of the park. Once there, they gave us a plot close to a little beach on the shore of Lago Tinquilco.
And, after setting up our tents, we embarked upon the first hike of our stay.
There are two main trails in Huerquehue, Los Largos and Sendero San Cristobal. Another piece of advice I would give to this who might be heading this way is to check the weather if you want to do the latter, as it is forbidden if there has been any rain (even if it is just a little shower in the morning, such as was the case the day I arrived).
So, the three of us set off to see the lakes.
The trail is mostly uphill but not too steep. On the way we got to see not only two waterfalls but also many examples of Huerquehue’s ‘monkey-puzzle tree’ (also known as Araucaria araucana or ‘the dragon’), an ancient genus of Chilean pine. They are everywhere, so you can’t miss them, and they come in many sizes.
Shortly before reaching the lakes themselves, you also pass by a couple of miradors where one can catch amazing views of Lago Tinquilco (where Huerquehue’s headquarters and campsites are located) as well as Villarica Volcano (also known as Rucapillán, ‘great spirit’s house’ to the Mapuche people).
Once you reach the top, there are three lakes, each of which can be seen through a circular trail. We decided to walk it widdershins, so the first one we saw was Lago Chico.
Followed by Lago Toro.
And, finally, Lago Verde.
Each of these was stunning. The forest, its trees, and the way the lakes are so clear and still that they reflect it all is just magical. I will also say that, whilst the pictures I took later that day – after the sun came out – made for more eye-catching photos, there was a gloomy eeriness before that which I preferred and can’t quite be captured on camera.
The following morning, I got up early and went to the lakeside in time to catch the mist rising from Lake Tinquilco. After that, I ate breakfast and set off for the second hike of the weekend: Sendero San Cristobal.
In hindsight, I am glad that I wasn’t permitted to do this hike on the first day. It is much harder going than the Los Largos trail, and heading straight from the campsite in the morning meant we had more time. Another tip I will give to other backpackers heading this way is that – unlike Los Largos – there isn’t a ranger checkpoint at the trailhead for Sedero San Sebastian, so if you are staying at one of the campsites past the headquarters you should be able to skip paying the park entry fee twice by saving Serdero San Cristobal for the second day.
(I don’t feel guilty giving this information considering the problems I have with CONAF trying to rip off campers and making foreigners pay twice the price of residents.)
Sendero San Cristobal was much tougher than I thought it would be. The first half of it is the kind of trail that most hikers will be all too familiar with. You know. The kind that is steep and zig-zags back and forth up the side of a mountain. The kind that – if you are foolish enough to check your satnav – you’ll be dismayed at how little distance you seem to have covered so far. The kind that feels like it will never end. The kind that you’ll spend the last fifty per cent of thinking, ‘WHY DO I FUCKING DO THIS TO MYSELF?!!!!’.
But, you are eventually given some respite once you reach a windswept moor dotted with trees; a place that is not only stunning visually, but also where the trail levels out for a while into a gentle incline.
It is also here that you begin to glimpse some of the incredible views this trail has to offer.
From Senero San Sebastian, you can not only see Villarica Volcano.
But also, another one further to the distance. One that I looked up online and discovered is called Quetrupillán.
One can also see the lakes from the Los Lagos trail.
As well as many other things. San Cristobal is the highest point for quite some miles, so the panoramas up there are numerous and spectacular.
But, it is also tough. Shortly after the windswept moor you reach the trees again and the trail gets steeper. At some points, you are not even hiking anymore but rather climbing. I can completely understand why the rangers forbid this trail when it has been raining because in some parts you are clambering over rocks, and some sections made me – as someone with a fear of heights – wince. A slip in the wrong place here could be fatal. I did however see quite a lot of children and elderly people among the hikers, so I will say that it is overall doable for most able-bodied people as long as they are careful and prepared to take their time. It is certainly a trail to take care during.
Once we reached the summit we took lots of photos, and then Florencia, myself and several others all took shelter on the side of the bluff facing away from the wind to eat a quick lunch before making our way back down again.
Overall, I was very impressed with Huerquehue national park. Patagonia is vast and was a very special place for me during my last trip. I had previously believed myself to have already seen the best of it, but Huerquehue exceeded my expectations and made me realise that many treasures are still left unexplored.
After my time in Huerquehue, I spent five days in Pucón, a picturesque town nestled between the base of Villarica Volcano and a lake of the same name. Francisco and Cristobal (my friends from Santiago) had arrived by then, as they had a family event there that week. They were busy most of the time, and my legs were aching from the hikes in Huerquehue so I took it easy and spent much of my time relaxing, enjoying the little cafes and going for little wanders at the shore of the lake.
The three of us did, however, go on a couple of little day trips. First, there was one up to the nearby city of Temuco, passing miles and miles of farmsteads and old Mapuche lands, and then Cristobal took us to see an old farmhouse where his grandparents lived and he spent many summers during his childhood; a charming, dated yet grand, and homey place. It was very interesting for someone like me to see, but I refrained from taking photos as it would have felt a bit weird treating the family home of a friend like a museum.
On another day, we went to see Salto El Leon, a huge waterfall over 92 meters high and just a short drive from Pucón.
After my time in Pucón was over I caught the bus back to Santiago, where I stayed for one more night before flying to Ecuador.
It will probably be a while until you hear from me again as I am about to return to Merazonia Refuge (the wildlife rehabilitation centre I volunteered at during my last trip) for five weeks. You can read about my previous time spent there by clicking here.
After that is over, I will be crossing the border into Colombia, and that is when the adventures will truly begin, my blogs will be more exciting, and you will hear from me more!
Click on the following links for more photos from Huerquehue National Park and Pucón.
2 thoughts on “Travelblog LA#2: Huerquehue & Pucón – Chile”
Hola cariño! Lovely read this. Find the informative bits super interesting. I will be back in Pucón at some point so will find that info useful. Huerquehue looks mega tranquil, glad you had a nice time there. How lovely is Pucon right!? I could definitely live there. Seeing your photos took me right back to my trip. Photo of the waterfall is epic, nice shot! Thanks for posting. Take care! x
💚 feliz de haberte conocido! It was a great weekend at this amazing park.