Villarrica climbing is one of the favorite tourist activities in Chile. Now I get it, the experience was simply incredible. How was my ascent to this active volcano? Was it dangerous? How did I prepare for it? That and more are to be found in this article. My experience, tips, accommodation, and other recommendations.
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When you say Villarrica, there’s more that may come up in your mind than just the volcano itself. There’s obviously the volcano towering over the area for thousands of years. Logically, the lake and the town were named after the volcano over time and so was the National Park. Let’s now get it straight.
It’s the most active volcano in Chile. And it’s one of the few permanently active volcanoes in the world, meaning they have a consistent lava lake inside the crater. Now, let’s take a look at some interesting numbers and information:
Well, what do you want to say about a lake? It’s a huge hole in the ground filled with water. People tend to enter the water for entertainment purposes and sometimes move through it or on the surface in some floating device.
And now, seriously. The beaches around the lake are famous for the black volcanic sand (selfie alert!). On the shores of Lake Villarrica lie two tourist hubs: Villarrica and Pucón. The joke is, Pucón is actually closer to the volcano, than the city named after it.
If you’re interested, you can rent a kayak, surf, or paddle boat on site. I recommend kayak because it’s fun and also very cheap.
Villarrica lies on the western shore of the lake and it’s also the administrative seat of the Villarrica commune. So, in a nutshell, it’s bigger and more important than Pucón, but less tourist oriented. Most of the tourist agencies are based in Pucón.
Now to the thing y’all are interested in most: how was my own experience? It all started long before our arrival to Pucón, when I and Karin booked the tour online. Better safe than sorry, right? Well, not exactly. In Chile, in 99.9 % of cases, it’s better to book the experience on-site. Not only it’s usually cheaper, but it’s also safer. Imagine our surprise, when we were all excited about the ascent and the agency forget about us!
It was all paid in advance, so I had to go to the bank to get my money back for the trip that didn’t happen. Minor setback won’t bring me down. So, we went to look for a different agency in Pucón. Fortunately, the ascent is so challenging, the tour wasn’t booked out even in high season (we were there in January). Great, now we had our tour booked, so we could anticipate the big adventure.
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Not at all, when you go with a tour guide. You need to consider that it’s a long and strenuous ascent though. No body shaming, but if you have troubles taking the stairs to sixth floor, don’t sign up for this. I would say I’m in shape and even so, it was quite challenging for me. You start at an altitude around 1 500 m (4 921 ft) and you climb to almost 3 000 m (9 842 ft). All of that within 3 hours with gas masks, gear, and backpacks. Imagine walking a stairs three hours in a row. No messing about.
If you want to climb the volcano on your own, you need to get a permit from CONAF (National Forest Corporation responsible for the national parks administration). You need to provide documentation of your mountaineering experience (e.g., national mountaineering federation card), have your own obligatory gear—helmet, crampons, ice axe, and gas mask, AND made all these arrangements in Spanish.
As it can get seriously dangerous up there due to air pockets in the glacier, strong wind, and hydrogen sulfide vapors, I strongly recommend undertaking the ascent to Villarrica only with a professional guide.
Read also: The Big 3 of Altitude Sickness: AMS, HAPE, HACE.
Our Tips for Climbing Villarrica: What they don’t tell you: Book the tour on-site. That way, you make sure, the agency won’t forget about you (like it happened to us). First Aid for sore muscles: Termas Geometricas
To start with, climbing Villarrica is the toughest, most challenging trek I’ve ever been to. The first discomfort starts with getting up really early. We had to be at our meeting point in front of the agency at 6 am. Which is obviously a nice feeling, when you get up this early and you are ahead of a dangerous, steep, several-hour trek.
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When we all had checked in, we hopped on a bus that took us to the gates of Villarrica in about half an hour, there we picked up the gear: crampons, ice axes, helmets, and gas masks and set forth on our journey. The regular-hiking part was okay, we were admiring the landscapes, anticipating the adrenalin rush further up the mountain. After the first 1 500 m (4 921 ft) you need to get the crampons on, because the rest of the path is covered by glacier and it’s super slippery. And that’s where the fun starts.
I was kind of stunned by how dangerous this trek is. The slopes are pretty steep, so if you slip and panic, you’re practically in for a free fall. Besides, there are lots of air pockets under the ice, so stick to the rest of the group and don’t ever try to find your own way up! After about three hours, we reached the top of the mountain, feeling like the biggest heroes on earth.
The temperature on top is significantly warmer than on the way there. There’s around 60 °C (140 °F) on the caldera edge. You can even feel the heat coming up the ground under your feet. On the other hand, it’s also extremely windy up there. Like, no gentle breeze, we’re talking the wind that would carry an adult cow away. If you’re lucky, you can catch a shot of the volcano spitting lava on the other side of the crater. It seems Villarrica was in her chill and Netflix zone when we were there—no lava, mild sulfur fumes and bright, sunny weather.
To give you a perspective of how it looks like on top, here is an aerial shot taken by Johny Copter. At the time of our ascension, there was, unfortunately, no visible lava in the volcano crater.
Honestly, climbing our way through the glacier, standing on the top of the volcano, and checking out the views, was perhaps the top experience in Chile, surely the top experience in Lakes District. The heat of the moment is beyond words. I certainly recommend experiencing this if you head to Lakes District. For more fabulous, less dangerous places check the Top 6 Things to See and Do in Lakes District.
Now, the fun part. One would think, the path down will likely be more strenuous than the way up. Great, now I have another 3 hours of pushing my body to its limits. And here comes the plot twist. Here’s your plastic sledge, sit down, hold tight, and enjoy an hour drive down the volcano! Almost a Beyond Belief story...however, this one took place.
After this thrilling Fast and Furious: Kindergarten edition experience, we decided to reward ourselves with massages and hot springs baths in Termas Geometricas. No kidding, soaking in the hot springs amidst the forests and cliffs was the best possible decision (I think I heard my muscles praising me the next day).
Conclusion? Climbing Villarrica was a soul-moving experience, and I would do it again. Pricey? Yes. Challenging? As hell. Rewarding? 100 %.
And the most important thing, of course, don’t forget to fully charge your cellphone and make enough space in your storage for the best selfies!
As I said earlier, Pucón is the nearest bigger city to Villarrica volcano and the National Park and with full tourist service. All the travel agencies offering the Villarrica ascent with a guide or rafting in Lakes District are based in Pucón. Therefore, I recommend booking the hotel there.
A cozy hotel in the center, with free private parking, garden, and terrace with Villarrica volcano views. Apart from that, the Maki hotel staff are extremely helpful and friendly.
The beachfront boutique hotel Antumalal is located on the shores of Lago Villarrica, just 2 km (1.20 mi) from the center of Pucón. The hotel boasts with spa, restaurant, and private beach.
If you want to go all-in, the Vira Vira lodge with its own organic garden is an exceptional accommodation experience. This high-end hotel is modern, stylish, and with huge windows in each room. They offer tailormade tours through Villarrica National Park and a wide range of activities. And what is better than a hot outdoor tub and a fireplace in your room after a volcano hike?
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