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Reserva Nacional Malalcahuello-Nalcas

Northwest of Temuco, between Curacautín and Lonquimay, lays the twin nature reserve of Reserva Nacional (RN) Malalcahuello-Nalcas. The Malalcahuello, which means "horse corral" in Mapudungún, part was established 1931 and consists of 13,730 hectares. To the north is Nalca, created in 1967 to protect 13,775 hectares, and named after a native plant with an edible stalk. On the on reserve boundary are Volcán Tolhuaca (2,806 m/9,206 ft) and Volcán Lonquimay (1400 m / 4550 ft). Its active crater Navidad was so called because it was born Christmas Day 1988. Within the parks flow the Nalcas and Lolco Rivers, both tributaries of Río Bío Bío.


RN Malalcahuello-Nalcas summers are warm and dry. Rains and snows come between May and September, with precipitation reaching 2,045 millimeters (81 in) per year. The four winter months, June through September, are icy cold. Temperatures plummet to below freezing and two to four meters of snow fall.


Covering RN Malalcahuello-Nalcas are forests composed of coigüe (Nothofagus dombeyi), lenga (lenga beech, Nothofagus pumilio), araucaria (monkey-puzzle tree, Araucaria araucana), ñirre (Antarctic beech, Nothofagus Antarctica), nalca (Chilean rhubarb, Gunnera tinctoria), roble (Nothofagus oblicua), canelo (winter's bark, Drimys winteri), canelo enano (Drimys andina) and raulí (Nothofagus alpine). These woods aren’t purely native, though. Introduced species, such as pino oregón (Douglas-fir, Pseudotzuga menziessi) and pino ponderosa (Ponderosa pine, Pinus ponderosa) also grow here.


Fauna include the mammals puma (Puma concolor), zorro culpeo (Patagonian fox, Lycalopex culpaeus), zorro chilla (South American grey fox, Psuedolopex griseus), pudú (Chilean miniature deer, Pudu pudu), guiña (kodkod, Oncifelis guigna), chingue (Molina's hog-nosed skunk, Conepatus chinga) and tunduco grande (Chilean rock rat, Aconaemys fuscus). Bird aficionados should get their binoculars out for Cachaña (Austral parakeet, Enicognathus ferrugineus), Carpintero Negro (Magellanic woodpecker, Campephilus magellanicus), Águila (black-chested Buzzard-eagle, Geranoetus melanoleucus), Aguilucho (white-throated hawk, Buteo albigula), Condor (Vultur gryphus), Chucao (Scelorchilus rubecula), Pitio (Chilean flicker, Colaptes pitius), Gallina Ciego (band-winged nightjar, Caprimulgus longirostris), Carpinterito (striped woodpecker, Picoides lignarius) and Lechuza (common barn owl, Tyto alba).


Observation of flora and fauna is just one of the adventures you can enjoy in RN Malalcahuello-Nalcas. Much depends on the season. In summer, go trekking, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, mountain biking or climbing the volcanoes. Winter sports include downhill skiing and snowboarding at Corralco. In autumn and spring, the amount of snow will dictate the type of activity you can do.


If hiking and trekking is your sport, then head out to explore the seven trails in the Malalcahuello part of the national reserve:



Las Araucarias (Distance: 1.5 km; difficulty: easy; duration: 1.5 hours) – Although this path goes through reforested areas of araucaria and area of other native trees, you'll still see stands of introduced species


Tres Arroyos (Distance: 2.5 km/1.5 mi; difficulty: medium; duration: 1.5 hours) – A hike through mixed forests with views of Cordillera de las Raíces and other hills.


El Raleo (Distance: 3.5 km/2.1 mi; difficulty: medium; duration: 2 hours) – Into the Valle Malalcahuello and Río Cautín, and the forest habitat of the chucao bird is the promise of this hike.


El Coloradito (Distance: 30 km/18 mi; difficulty: medium; duration: 8 hours) – This trail reaches an altitude of 1438 meters (4674 ft) while traversing different vegetation zones. Fauna include the puma, fox, águila, condor and other birds.


Laguna Blanca (Distance: 40 km/24 mi; difficulty: difficult; duration: two days) – A continuation of Sendero Piedra Santa, this trail cuts across over lava flows and through araucaria and lenga forest where you will see lots of fauna and birds, and have vistas of Lonquimay, Llaima and Sierra Nevada volcanoes.


Crater Navidad (Distance: 1.5 km/0.9 mi; difficulty: hard; duration: 2 hours) – To the geologically active crater, whose last eruption was on December 25, 1988. On cold days it is possible to see the vent steaming.


Cerro Cautín (Distance: 4 km/2.4 mi; difficulty: hard; duration: 3 hours) – Climb the cerro to the headwaters of Río Cautín. From atop, you'll have views of Volcán Copahue, Sierra Veluda, Callaqui, as well as Lonquimay and Tolhuaca. The wind and rain erosion have created natural rock sculptures.


The Nalcas part of this reserva nacional has three trails:


Laguna La Totora (Distance: 1 km/0.6 mi; difficulty: easy; duration: 20 minutes) – This trail passes through forest to a lagoon teeming with birdlife. This is the nesting ground for Pato Rana Pico Ancha (ruddy duck, Oxyura jamaicensis), Pimpollo (white-tufted grebe, Rollandia rolland) and Pato Real (mallard, Anas platyrhynchos).


Mocho Chico (Distance: 8 km/4.8 mi; difficulty: medium; duration: 3 hours) – On the way to the inactive crater Mocho Chico, you can see how vegetation recuperates after a volcanic eruption.


Tolhuaca (Distance: 40 km/24 mi; difficulty: hard; duration: 1 day) – This trek to Volcán Tolhuaca includes varied landscape that includes Cajón de Nalcas and virgin forests. Keep your eyes open for condor, puma, eagle and other birds. Experience and special equipment are essential.


Two legs of the Sendero de Chile go through RN Malalcahuello-Nalcas:


Piedra Santa – Laguna Blanca (Distance: 20 km/12 mi; difficulty: low-medium; duration: 2 days) – This trek begins at Laguna Blanca, goes around the base of Volcán Lonquimay, to Malalcahuello.


Cordillera Blanca (Distance: 22 km/13.5 mi; difficulty: medium-hard; duration: 3 days) – This trail goes from Malalcahuello village to the Sierra Nevada travesía (crossing) and ends at Lago Conguillío in Parque Nacional Conguillío.



The Temuco office of Conaf has a topographical map-brochure of RN Malalcahuello-Nalcas showing the trails, campsites and other services. The park administration also publishes a bilingual pamphlet-map, entitled Guía Senderos / Araucanía Trails (free) which has GPS coordinates for Conguillío and other regional national parks. Check for current road and weather conditions with Conaf or the carabineros. Entry into RN Malalcahuello-Nalcas for Chileans costs adults $1, children and seniors $0.50; for foreign adults $2, children and seniors $1.


There are no established campsites within the reserve. Backcountry camping is allowed on the longer treks, but fires are prohibited (take a camp stove). The ski center, Centro de Montaña Corralco, is an exclusive lodge. For current rates for ski lifts, rental and lodging, consult the website (Santiago: Apoquindo 6275, oficina 4, Las Condes, Tel.: 02-202-9325; lodge, from 7 p.m.-midnight: 02-196-3547, 02-196-3549, E-mail:, URL:


In and around nearby Malalcahuello are several hostels and restaurants: Residencial Los Sauces (Avenida Estación 510, Tel.: 09-883-7880), Hostería y Cabañas La Casita de Nahuelcura (Balmaceda 320, Tel.: 045-197-0311, URL:, Restaurant Los Pinitos (Camino Internacional Km 84, entrance to Malalcahuello village, Tel.: 045-197-1464). For more information about Malacahuello pueblo, see


Other places nearby Reserva Nacional Malalcahuello-Nalcas: Reserva Nacional Alto Bío Bío, Coñaripe, Ensenada, Parque Nacional Alerce Andino, Parque Nacional Conguillio, Parque Nacional Tolhuaca, Puerto Montt, Lago Puyehue, Curarrehue and Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales.

By Lorraine Caputo

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

22 Jun 2009

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