Climbing the Villarrica, Chile’s most active volcano

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to climb Chile’s most active volcano ? Find out why this experience is truly unique and a must-do excursion if you plan to visit Pucón!

Without a doubt, you’ve definitely heard about the incredible diversity of landscape inside the Chilean territory. If you like going on adventures in nature, Chile should appear on your next travel destinations list. Thirsty for thrilling and unique excursions ? Then climbing the Villarrica, Chile’s most active volcano, is for you!

Description and last eruption

The Villarrica Volcano (2.847 meters), or Ruka Pillañ in Mapundungún, is a Chilean stratovolcano located in the southern section of the Western Andes. It is situated at the limit of the Araucanía Region and Los Ríos Region, between the Villarrica and Calafquén Lakes. The slopes of the volcano are divided between the cities of Villarrica (North-West), Pucón (North-East) and Coñaripe (South). Finally, it is one of the most beautiful volcanoes of Chile because of it is perfectly cone-shaped, in addition to have a snow-coated summit all year long.

Currently, it is administered by the CONAF (Corporación Nacional Forestal or National Forest Corporation). The volcano and surroundings form the Villarrica National Park which is a protected area.

With an open crater of 200-meter of diameter, where at the bottom lies a permanent magma lake with a varying depth of 50 and 100 meters. The level of the lava constantly goes up or down. This lake always presents an intense fumerole, frequently accompanied by a weak eruptive activity.

Since 1558, there have been at least 90 volcanic eruptions registered. The most recent happened on March 3rd of 2015 at about 3:00 am. The most energetic phase lasted approximately 55 minutes, characterized by an eruptive column that reached between six and eight kilometers in height. Vertically from the crater,  the emission of lava reached up to 1,5-kilometer high.

Following the eruption, the Villarrica National Park around the volcano was closed until the end of the year. As of today, the ski center opens for the ski season every year, along with the organized excursions to the top.

 

 

The Villarrica Volcano or Ruka Pillañ in the Mapuche’s cosmovision

In the Mapuche’s native language, Mapudungun, the Villarrica Volcano is named Ruka Pillañ, which means “House of the ancients’ spirits”. For them, the volcano is inhabited by the main spirit of nature who owns it. It is a kind of spirit from of the hills and volcanoes. Alongside this tutelary presence, there would inhabit some other minor spirits in relation to nature, but extremely powerful.

In other words, the Villarrica and its inhabitants take a very special place in the Mapuche’s cosmovision. The simbolism is clear: associated with the good, in opposition with the Llaima volcano that they associate with the bad. As a result, the propitious Rucapillan inspires beneficial dreams and “good weather”, whereas the Llaima transmits bad omens.

Finally, the Villarrica is symbolically related to a group of other elements associated with the positive. For example the colors violet and green, the Moon, the stars in general, the South and the East.

mapuche people of the land
The Mapuches are the people of the land.

Ascent to Villarrica Volcano’s open crater

 

Open crater with a view

 

If your next travel destination is Chile, you definitely have to add the visit of Pucón and the excursion to the top of Villarrica Volcano. Not only the amazing 360° panoramic view will blow your mind, but you will feel the unique sensation to step on Chile’s most active volcano.

As this activity requires optimal conditions, the hike mostly depends on the weather. A clear sky and a minimum wind are the required conditions for the hike to be safe. During this excursion, 3 professional mountain guides and assistant will accompany the ascent, along with a mountain gear. This includes: gloves, helmets, snow pants, mountain boots, crampons, ice axe, and mountain bag.

The ascent is available almost all year long, but the level of difficulty mostly depends on the season. In summer, the hike is easier for the snow only covers the crater, thus making the climb accessible to every hiker. In winter, the snow fully covers the Villarrica volcano and the hike gets more difficult. It usually requires a good physical health since hiking on snow during 6 hours can be exhausting, but definitely worth the effort.

Excursion

 

villarrica volcano
Villarrica volcano ascent

 

Usually in Amity, we set the departing hour early in the morning. At 6:30, we gather with our mountain guides and leave towards the ski center. Once arrived, we put on our mountain gear, and then the ascent begins.

In summer, we use the ski lift, in order to gain approximately 1 hour of walking. Then begins the hike, which lasts roughly 4 to 6 hours depending on the group’s walking pace. All along the climb, the view is mind blowing as the summit gets closer. Before reaching the open crater, we’ll take a pause to enjoy the view, relax, and get to refill energy with a picnic lunch.

At around 1 pm, we reach the summit which is the ultimate reward of the hike. A stunning view over 8 different volcanoes, 6 lakes and the valley surrounding the volcano awaits you. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to observe some lava flows depending on the magma lake’s level.

After then, we begin the descent. It basically consists in sliding down the volcano. In winter, enjoy skiing down the slopes of the volcano which is truly an incredible to live for every ski lover!

 

open crater
Open crater with fumerole

 

If you’re interested in climbing the Villarrica volcano, we highly suggest you to take a look at our hiking tours.

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you want a tailor-made trip in the Lake and Volcano including the climbing of Chile’s most active volcano!

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The best hikes in Chile’s Lake and Volcano District

Hiking Villarrica National Park
Pichillancahue Glacier Trail – Villarrica National Park

Discover the best hikes in Chile’s Lake and Volcano District.

If you are an avid hiker, nature lover or fellow traveler looking for some amazing landscapes, here’s a list of the best hikes you can find in Chile’s Lake & Volcano District!

Kutralkura Geopark – Christmas Crater Hike

The Christmas Crater is a pyroclastic cone of the Lonquimay Volcano located in the Malalcahuello National Reserve. It was formed during the volcanic eruption on December 25 of 1988, and reaches a height of 190 meters from its base.

The hike to the crater is not technical; but you’ll do require mountain gear to climb it in winter as it is covered in snow. However, in summer (from November to Early April), the trekking doesn’t require any gear.

Regarding difficulty, it is relatively short, and takes approx. 2 to 4 hours back and forth depending on your walking pace. It is ideal for families with young children, or people with not a lot of hiking experience.

From the top, you can enjoy a panoramic view over the foothills of the Lonquimay Volcano. In addition to the lava field, extended araucarias tree forests, along with view over the Tolhuaca and the Callaqui Volcanoes.

Kutralküra Geopark & Lonquimay Volcano – Lake and Volcano District

Coloradito trail hike – Malalcahuello National Reserve

The Coloradito trail, located at the Malalcahuello National Reserve, is a place shaped by tectonic and volcanic processes with an interesting and endemic fauna and flora.

This trail is a good alternative featuring typical landscapes of the Andes mountain range under the watchful eye of the Lonquimay Volcano.

All along the way, you’ll pass through forests of endemic trees such as the araucaria and the lenga tree surrounded by the ground vegetation with a predominance of michay, quila and viola trees.

Called “El Coloradito”, it is unique access to the Lonquimay Volcano that ending near the Coloradito River. The landscape is dominated by the presence of the Lonquimay Volcano and the Sierra del Colorado. During the hike, you can observe the Llaima Volcano and the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

Cerro Coloradito Trail – Malalcahuello National Reserve

Sierra Nevada hike – National Park Conguillio

The Conguillio National Park is one of the most outstandings places Chile has to offer. With the stunning Llaima Volcano, Sierra Nevada, lagoons everywhere, araucarias tree forests, endemic fauna and flora, it is a must-see for everyone who wants to visit Southern Chile.

The national park has a wide variety of trails, but without a doubt, the Sierra Nevada hike is the most accessible and offers a wider range of landscape, enough to get a good idea of the natural richness existing in the region.

The Sierra Nevada trail begins from one of the most beautiful beaches of the Conguillio Lake, passes through a spectacular endemic forest with several viewpoints facing the lake along the way. After 3 hours, the trail reaches a clear and an out-of-the woods viewpoint facing the Llaima Volcano and the Conguillío Lake.

The hike is not technical, but does require a minimum of good health as the path can sometimes be steep. In winter, the trail is covered in snow, requiring mountain gear and good hiking experience.

This 10-kilometer long hike is recommended for active people.

Sierra Nevada Trail – Conguillio National Park

Andean Lagoons hike – Villarrica National Park

Close to the Argentinean Border, and located at the foothills of the Lanín Volcano, this trail called “Lagos Andinos” is a must-see of the Villarrica National Park. During this amazing hike, suited for families, you’ll visit 3 lagoons in a large endemic forest with Coihues and Araucarias trees and end up in a volcanic landscape dominated by the majestic Lanín Volcano.

The hike begins at the shores of the Quillelhue Lagoon at 1200 meters above sea level. After 40 minutes of hiking on a flat terrain, you’ll arrive at the Huinfiuca Lagoon, the perfect spot for picnic.

Andean Lagoons Trail – Villarrica National Park

While you visit the park you will witness how the Lanin volcano has permanently shaped the landscape of the area with its eruptions and you’ll have the fantastic opportunity to see and walk on the lava flows that once came from the heart of the earth. You’ll also visit the pristine lakes Quillelhue, Escondido (Hidden) and Huinfiuca with its clear waters that reflect stunning colors.

That is to say, the hike is not technical and only requires a minimum of good health.

Huerquehue National Park

The Huerquehue National Park is located at the foothills of the Andes, 35 km (22 miles) from Pucón. The park covers 12.500 hectares (30.890 acres) with various lagoons, dense vegetation and gigantic trees that are the habitat of several endemic birds.

The hike, called “Sendero Los Lagos” starts easy but after a short distance the trail becomes rougher and sometimes steeper, but is still considered a relatively easy hiking level.

On your way to the lakes, you’ll get to see the Nido de Aguilas (nest of eagles) waterfall before the terrain gets steeper, surrounded by gigantic coigües (Nothofagus dombeyi) and mañíos (Podocarpus nubigena).

The first lookout point is where you’ll get to appreciate the views of Villarrica Volcano (2.847 m / 9.349 feet) and Tinquilco Lake which are absolutely stunning; here you’ll find great photo opportunities as well as chance to reenergize with a snack.

If you’re lucky, you can spot some birds that live in the forests of Nothofagus, such as chucao tapaculo (Selorchilis rubecula), black-throated huet-huet (Pteroptochos tarnii) and the magellan woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus) among others.

Huerquehue national park
Los Lagos Trail, Huerquehue NP

Once you pass the Trufulco falls, the hike gets a little more demanding. Once you’re over 1000 meters above sea level, you’ll see the first araucarias trees. You’ll then walk through a mixed forest before arriving at the first lake called Lago Chico. It is characterized by its clear waters reflecting the image of hundreds of araucarias, and the snow-capped peaks around.

After visiting the different lakes, you can then start to turn around and walk back to the entrance of the park.

El Cañi Reserve

El Cañi Reserve is located approximately 21 kilometers from Pucón. This 500-acre private reserve committed to the preservation of the Araucaria Araucania tree species.

This hike, although not technical, does require an overall good physical condition since you’d be constantly walking on a steep terrain until arrival to the final viewpoint. It starts with approx. 1,5 kilometer of flat terrain, and from there you’ll start the stiff climb for 3 more kilometers.

You’ll then arrive at Aserradero Refuge (1000 meters above sea level). It is the entrance of the reserve, with the first panoramic views over the valley and flora. You’ll pass through the Las Totoras Lagoon, Negra Lagoon surrounded by the thousands-year-old Araucaria, Lengua and Coihue trees.

The final path climbs until you arrive at the final viewpoint, your reward. You’ll have a 360° panoramic view over 4 volcanoes, two lakes and the valleys around the Reserve.

Moreover, you can walk around a small path that starts at Laguna negra and takes you to 6 mores lagoons.

El Cañi Sanctuary

Villarrica Volcano Ascent

Without a doubt, the Villarrica Volcano (2800 meters) ascent is a must-do activities if you plan to visit Pucón. As of today, it is one of the most active volcanoes in South America. The climb to its open crater is definitely a one of a lifetime experience.

The adventure starts at approx. 6 am, when the van takes you to the ski center located at 1.300 meters. After putting on your mountain gear, the hike begins with 2 options: use the chairlift, or start walking immediately.

Depending on your walking pace, it will take you approx. 4-5 hours to reach the open crater. From there, you’ll get to have an incredible 360° panoramic view over volcanoes, lakes, mountains and valleys around.

The descent consists in sliding down until the base of the Volcano (approx. 2 hours) where the van awaits you before taking you back to Pucón for a well-deserved rest.

Villarrica Volcano Climb

Pichillancahue Glacier hike – Villarrica National Park

The hike to Pichillancahue is not very famous but will surely take your breath away for its landscape. This is a hike suitable for everyone who seeks connection with nature, from children to elder adults.

This Glacier is located at the Villarrica National Park, Coñaripe side. Youll get to see several majestic snow-capped volcanoes such as Quetrupillan and Rucapillan. The vegetation changes from raulí and hualle forests to araucarias as you ascend to Chinay. The highest point of the day at 1.250 meters / 4.101 feet altitude.

After approximately 1.5 hour of hiking, you’ll arrive at the Pichillancahue Glacier trail. A good spot to relax and eat a good snack to refill energy if needed. The rest of the trail (3.5 hours round trip) leads to a phenomenal glacier covered by black volcanic ashes. Once again, you’ll be able to enjoy the stunning views of four volcanoes.

This hike is not technical and does not require any mountain gear. The best hiking time is during summer season.

Pichillancahue Glacier – Villarrica National Park

Visiting Chile’s Lake and Volcano District is definitely a must-do for every hiker & nature lovers.

Take a look at our hiking experiences in Southern Chile for some wild adventures!