Most summertime visitors coming to Puc√≥n have their eyes set on one goal: to climb the snowy cone of Volc√°n Villarrica and peek into its glowing crater. This active volcano is just one of the wonders sheltered within Parque Nacional Villarrica. The 63,000-hectare park was founded in 1940 to protect these and other mountains, waterways and plant and animal species. Not only is there the opportunity to scale a simmering volcano, but in the warmer months you can trek senderos through the varied landscapes. More sedate activities include fishing, birdwatching, spotting flora and fauna, and photography. In winter, the park is a wonderland for alpine and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding and other cold-weather sports.
Parque Nacional Villarrica has it all when it comes to geologic features like glaciers, and active and dormant volcanoes that have scarred the land with escoriales, or lava fields. It has typical Andean mountain terrain with high peaks and steep gorges. The altitude within the park ranges from 600 meters (1,950 ft) to 3,747 meters (12,178 ft). The highest peaks are Quetrupill√°n, a.k.a El Mocho, with a truncated cone (2,360 m / 7,670 ft), Rucupill√°n or Villarrica, which is presently active (2,847 m / 9,253 ft) and Lan√≠n on the Argentine border (3,747 m / 12,178 ft). A low chain of hills, Cerro Las Peinetas, is another attractive feature of the park. The protected area is laced with many streams created by glacier and snow melt-off. Major rivers wending through Parque Nacional Villarrica are R√≠o Trancura and R√≠o Palgu√≠n. Lagoons include Laguna de los Patos (also called Laguna Azul), Laguna Avutardas and Lago Quilleihue. Waterfalls like Salto Pichillancahue tumble down the rugged landscape.
Mottling the landscape between all these geological highlights are humedales, or wetlands, which are favorite haunts for myriad bird life. Those to keep an eye out for are the Carpintero Negro (Campephilus magellanicus, Magellanic Woodpecker), Tagua (Fulica armillata, Red-gartered Coot), Pato Rana Pico Ancha (Oxyura jamaicensis, Ruddy Duck), Pato Real (Anas platyrhynchos, Mallard), Aguilucho or Pueco (Buteo albigula, White-throated Hawk), C√≥ndor (Vultur gryphus, Andean condor), √Āguila (Geranoetus melanoleucus, Black-chested Buzzard-eagle) and Carancho (Polyborus plancus, Southern Crested Caracara). Fauna isn't just limited to feathered creatures. Native coipo (Myocastor coypus, nutria), zorro chilla (Psuedolopex griseus, South American grey fox), pud√ļ (Pudu pudu, Chilean miniature deer), puma (Puma concolor), chingue (Conepatus chinga, Molina's hog-nosed skunk) and monito del monte (Dromiciops gliroides, austral opossum), as well as the introduced jabal√≠ (Sus scrofa, wild pig) and ciervo rojo (Cervus elaphus, red deer) make their home in the park. Forests are composed of araucaria (Araucaria araucana, monkey puzzle tree), raul√≠ (Nothofagus alpina), ma√Ī√≠o de hoja larga (Podocarpus salignus, willow-leafed podocarp), coig√ľe (Nothofagus dombeyi) and √Īirre (Nothofagus Antarctica, Antarctic beech).
Parque Nacional Villarrica is divided into three sectors. Each has a ranger station, first aid post and camping. Rucupill√°n, the nearest to Puc√≥n, is the main ranger post. Volc√°n Villarrica and the Andarivel Base 5 ski center are here. Quetrupill√°n, the next sector east, is accessed by dirt road from Termas de Palgu√≠n. In winter, this part of the park is closed due to heavy snows. The third sector, Puesco, is on the Camino Internacional to Paso Mamuil Mala on the Argentine border. Except for the hotel and restaurant at the ski lodge, no other conveniences are found within the park. Overnight visitors must camp and bring their own food supplies. Good camping equipment, warm and waterproof clothing and good sun protection are necessary. In summer (January-March) temperatures reach 20-23¬įC (68-73¬įF), and drop to 9¬įC (48¬įF). In winter, the park experiences lows of 4¬įC (39¬įF). Rains occur from March to August, reaching 2500-3500 millimeters per year. Snowfall accumulates to 2 meters (6.5 ft), and from May to November may affect accessibility to some parts of the park, especially Challup√©n Chinay trail, from the Rucapill√°n to Quetrupill√°n ranger stations. Check with the Conaf office in Puc√≥n for conditions (Lincoy√°n 336, Tel.: 44-3781).
Entry for foreigners is $6 for adults, $3 for senior citizens and $2 for children; for Chileans, entry is $3 for adults, $1.50 for seniors and $1 for children. The Conaf administration office in Puc√≥n has a free, excellent topographical map of the park with GPS coordinates. More information about the park may be read at: www.parquenacionalvillarrica.blogspot.com.
Other places nearby Parque Nacional Villarrica: Co√Īaripe, Curacaut√≠n, Lago Panguipulli, Lago Ranco, Parque Nacional Vicente P√©rez Rosales, Valdivia, Lonquimay, Parque Nacional Alerce Andino, Villarrica and Licanray.
Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...