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In a fold of the Andes lies the singularly designed village of Lonquimay, whose name means "The Great Ravine" in the Mapuche’s language. The center of town is shaped as three concentric ovals (Calles O'Higgins, Carrera Pinto and Portales) with the wooded Plaza de Armas as the “hub.” Like spokes of a wheel, side streets radiate off inner ring, connecting the circles. The village has a significant Pehuenche indigenous population. Few people may live in this hamlet, but they do know how to roll the carpet out for tourists coming to explore Reserva Nacional Malalcahuello-Nalcas and Reserva Nacional Alto Bío Bío, both within a stone’s throw. Lonquimay is also near the Paso Icalma and Paso Pino Hinchado border crossings into Argentina. Because of this strategic position, the first branch of the Chilean portion of the Corredor Bioceánico, a transportation route to connect the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, passes through the town.

Lonquimay’s proximity to the Chilean-Argentine border has always made it important. In the early 20th century, a trans-Andean rail system from Temuco-Victoria to Bahía Blanca, Argentina, was proposed. The line, however, only arrived as far as Lonquimay on the Chilean side. Regular rail service ended in 1982. For several decades, the Tren de la Araucanía carried tourists to Lonquimay. The dream ended in with the deterioration of the lines. One of the last surviving remnants of this line is Túnel de las Raíces, 21 kilometers (12.6 mi) southwest of Lonquimay. This 4.5 kilometer (2.72-mi) long tunnel was built in the 1930s at a great cost, and was Latin America’s longest tunnel at the time. But it's a white elephant: The train never arrived past Lonquimay and the tunnel was never used. The steam locomotive that powered this line, Engine number 429, a North British 57, is in Temuco's Museo Nacional Ferroviario Pablo Neruda. In recent years, interest in connecting the two neighbors has increased, and studies have been done about possibly building the Ferrocarril Transandino del Sur through Lonquimay.

Lonquimay was founded January 25, 1897 by Coronel Gregorio Urrutia, as part of Chile’s colonization of this region after the peace treaty was signed with the Mapuche. Its original name was Villa Portales, but was later changed to the indigenous name. Come in February to savor Lonquimayino hospitality during Semana del Turismo. This week-long festival has theater, music, cinema and sporting events, culminating in southern Chile's largest goat roast (asado de chivo) . Goats have a growing role in the local economy. Sociedad Caprina Lonquimay makes Valle Lonquimay goat cheese (queso de cabra) in a variety of flavors (Los Avellanos s/n, Tel.: 89-2060, URL: Proyecto Caprino Boer is working exclusive with the Boer goat breed, known for its meat (Av. Zapala s/n, Tel.: 09-784-9047).

The alluring nature surrounding Lonquimay is what draws many travelers to Lonquimay. Reserva Nacional Malalcahuello-Nalcas to the west and Reserva Nacional Alto BĂ­o BĂ­o to the east are just two of the reasons. Many lakes and rivers weave across the forested landscape. Horseback riding to area sites and indigenous Mapuche-Pehuenche communities, fishing and boating are a few of the activities available. Laguna San Pedro, a mere 2 kilometers (1.2 mi) northeast on the road to Troyo is one place for canoeing, kayaking or fishing (Entry: free). Stretching across that horizon of Lonquimay is Cordillera Las RaĂ­ces. Mountain biking and horseback riding are some of the ways to discover this range of hills covered with old araucaria forest. Views of Llaima, Tolhuaca and Lonquimay Volcanoes are spectacular.
The big attraction in the Cordillera, though, is the Centro de Esquí Los Arenales. This 200-hectar winter sport center has two lifts and four downhill ski runs of different grades of difficulty. You can also practice alpine trekking (esquí randonée) and cross-country skiing (esquí de fondo) here. The resort is set in a landscape of araucaria and other native trees, populated with foxes, hares and condors. Facilities include cafeteria, restaurant, equipment rental and lessons. (Open July-October. 8 km/4.8 mi east of Lonquimay in the Cordillera Las Raíces. Information from Municipalidad de Lonquimay, Tel.: 46-4870 or the city’s Oficina de Turismo, Tel.: 46-4842).

On the Andean steppe 36 kilometers (22 mi) south are the headwaters of Río Bío Bío. Through the forest of araucaria, coirón (fescue, Festuca spp), cepa caballo (spiny cocklebur, Xanthium spinosum), calafate (Magellan barberry, Berberis buxifolia), ñirre (Antarctic beech, Nothofagus Antarctica) and coigüe (Nothofagus dombeyi) you can camp, horseback ride or boat (entrance fee). Towards Paso de Icalma border crossing into Argentina is Lago Galletué. This deep-blue lake has beaches, swimming, boating nautical sports, horseback riding and campsites (4 km/2.4 mi south). More distant is Lago Icalma. In summer, enjoy the beach, camping, sailing and sport fishing (75 km/ 45 mi south). Both places receive lots of snow in winter. Also in this area is Lolén, near where dinosaur eggs were found in 2005.

Seven kilometers (4.2 mi) west of Lonquimay is La Cascada , a 30-meters (98-ft) high cascade surrounded by a forest of coigüe (Nothofagus dombeyi), canelo (winter's bark, Drimys winteri), ñirre (Antarctic beech, Nothofagus Antarctica) and roble (Nothofagus oblicua). At the base of the waterfall is a pool where you can swim. Public transportation passes by the turn-off, from where a 400-meter road goes to the falls (entry charged).

Oficina de Turismo (O'Higgins, Plaza de Armas, Tel.: 46-4842 / 46-3027) or consult or Banco Estado (O'Higgins 1375), Centro de Llamados y Casa de Cambio Pako has phone service and changes U.S. dollars and Argentine pesos (Carrera Pinto 101). Centro de Llamadas CTC offers national and international phone service and internet (Condell 199). The town also has a carabinero post and hospital (O'Higgins 1060, Tel.: 55-7500).

Cabalgatas Lanco Patagonia (Km 104 Ruta Internacional Pino Hinchado, Tel.: 89-1959 / 09-789-2097) Circuitos TurĂ­sticos Huellas Pehuenche (Portales 720, Tel.: 09-670-0904)
Lonkitur (O'Higgins 1495, Tel.: 89-2139)

Camping Lolen (14 km/8.7 mi from Lonquimay, Camino Internacional, Tel.: 35-4144)
Hospedaje Lonquimay (Carrera Pinto 620, Tel.: 89-1104, E-mail:, URL:; $12 per person)
Hotel Turismo Lonquimay (Caupolicán 925, Tel.: 89-1087, E-mail:; single $16, double $50)
HosterĂ­a Donde Juancho (O'Higgins 1130, Tel.: 89-1140, E-mail:, URL:; single $20, double $40-50)

Restaurant Donde Junacho (O'Higgins 1130, Tel.: 89-1140)
El Pionero (ColĂłn 840, Tel.: 89-1044)
HosterĂ­a Restaurant Follil Pewenche (Carrera Pinto 110, Tel.: 89-1110, E-mail:

(Altitude: 2765 meters / 8986 feet, Population: 327, Phone Code: 045)


Other places nearby Lonquimay: Coñaripe, Pucón, Lago Puyehue, Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales, Lago Pirehueico, Reserva Nacional Malalcahuello-Nalcas, Frutillar , Melipeuco, Villarrica and Reserva Nacional Alto Bío Bío.

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

01 Aug 2011

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