Pucon, Chile: Villarrica Volcano's Birthday Present
I arrived in Pucon, Chile knowing little about the town besides the fact that I could hike a volcano. I was pleasantly surprised by the quaint mountain town vibe that the town had. I have never been to Vail or any other Colorado ski town for that matter, but I imagine that it would be quite similar. My birthday was in two days and I think most people would want to find something that involved relaxing or sipping drinks on an outside patio. Me, on the other hand, I wanted to hike the Villarrica Volcano. Shortly after arriving in Pucon, I started searching for the best deal I could to hike the volcano. The French girl that worked the reception at my hostel, Paradise Pucon, told me that she had climbed the volcano earlier in the week for 75,000 CLP ($112). Using that as my base price, I started going from tour agency to tour agency. Every agency told me the next two days would be the only days possible to do the hike for the next week since the weather would be too rainy ascend the volcano. If you are planning on going to Pucon to hike Villarrica Volcano, email tour agencies ahead of time to get the best deals and make sure that the weather is good enough for the tours to run. The agencies check the reports on the volcano each morning so they will be able to tell you if the climb is possible or not for the coming week. Anyway, I ran into the issue that every
tour was booked. I went to at least 10 tour agencies on my quest to climb the volcano, but all told me that their tours were full for the next two days. Luckily, I stumbled on Mawida Adventures that had openings for the hike that would take place the next day. The tour was 95,000 CLP ($142) so a little pricier than most, but the gear was high quality, the guides, Andres and Javier, were knowledgeable, and they included post climb cocktails and food. I thought to myself that I only turn 23 once so I said what the hell and decided to splurge. They fitted me for my pants and shoes and told me to bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and sunglasses so that the sun would not burn my eyes.
The next morning we all met at 6:30 AM at Mawida to do the hike and by 7AM, we were at the base of the volcano getting last minute instructions and mentally preparing for a 5 hour trek that would eventually bring us to the rim of the 2,800 meter (9,200 foot) high volcano. The first section was a 45 minute “warmup” hike up the ski lift that brought us to our first rest point. It is crucial to have enough food and water. I would suggest bringing at least 3 liters of water just to be well hydrated and avoid any altitude sickness. Protein bars, energy gels, and sandwiches
are a perfect combination of carbs, protein, and fats to keep you fueled throughout the hike. The second phase was more steep and was where we first encountered snow. The third phase of the hike we put on crampons and took out our ice picks to easily move through the combination of ice and tightly compacted snow. This part was the most grueling as you were hiking up the volcano’s steepest section and each step felt heavier than the next. I also was not the most graceful using my crampons and tripped over myself several times! My adrenaline was pumping as we got higher up the volcano and closer to the rim.
Our fourth and final phase was the last ascent onto the rim of the
volcano. The national park requires that you wear gas masks to filter out the sulphur spewing from the volcano. As we got closer to the top, you could see everyone smiling again and excited that we had finally made it to the top! It was a great moment as everyone in the tour group hi-fived each other and hugged, celebrating the big accomplishment. The trek was well worth it as the view from the top into the crater was spectacular and you could see lava bubbling up to the surface! The most fun part though was on the way down as we slid down the volcano on plastic sleds. It was only a 45 minute trip back down and is a great reward for making it to the top.
The trek was a great workout too and allowed me to be outside, do something very unique, and get some great exercise at the same time. Sometimes while traveling it’s important to find balance in your workouts and throw some variety into the mix. I can tell you that climbing the volcano was one of the best leg days I’ve had in awhile and my whole body was sore the next day after the hike. Don’t miss out on chances to go see and do unique activities just because you think you might miss a workout. I always look for opportunities to combine fitness and different activities I can do within a country. Overall, hiking Villarrica Volcano is absolutely worth it and is one of the best things that I have ever done while traveling. My sore body was my reward for the hike and my birthday present to myself the next day in Pucon :)