Walking the Chilean Lakes

Chile is one of my favourite countries in South America – I’ve travelled the length of this “long thin” country from Punta Arenas at the Southernmost tip in Patagonia to the far northern town of Arica in the Atacama desert.

I’ve always enjoyed their great culture of outdoor living, the seafood and local wines are tremendous and people are really friendly to foreigners, especially if you make an effort to learn a few words of Spanish. The greatest challenge is trying to understand the Spanish when people reply to you – Chileans do speak rather rapidly!

South of the capital Santiago and before Patagonia proper begins, is the Chilean Lakes district – sometimes described as a larger version of our Fiordland or Mt Aspiring NP, except with even more massive volcanoes dotting the landscape! This is where the Chileans come to play – from towns like Temuco and Pucon– to ski, hike, sail, raft, kayak and fish – especially fly fishing for trout. Further South is Puerto Montt, gateway to the Chilean Fjords and to Patagonia.

In 1996, from Pucon, I climbed the most celebrated of these volcanoes – Volcan Villarica during the warm summer season (Jan-Feb). She’s 2840m above sea level, with great views over the nearby tourist town of Pucon and five other volcanoes from the summit. It’s not a technical climb, but it is an active volcano, with an active lava lake within the crater which continually belches out sulphurous fumes, and occasionally erupts – the last major eruption was in 1971. So even a ‘non technical’ climb in summer involves the use of crampons, an ice axe, trekking poles and (as you get closer to the summit) – a gas mask to protect you from the fumes. When the smoke from the crater clears though, what a view from the summit – a surreal landscape of sparkling glacial lakes and volcanoes sandwiched between impressive Andean peaks to the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West!