Pretty much as soon as you arrive in Pucón, you’ll realize that that town’s main attraction is the Volcán Villarrica, just begging to be climbed. The path leaves from the ski centre, and it’s four hours up to a crater in which, if you’re lucky and the gas clears, you’ll see bubbling pits of molten rock. If it’s not too windy, the chairlift trims an hour off the climb. While it doesn’t demand technical climbing skills, you do need a hard hat, ice-axe, sturdy boots, gaiters, waterproof overtrousers and crampons – all provided by the tour agency you go with. The view from the top on a clear day is stupendous (though you won’t linger for long because of the noxious fumes), followed by a rollicking tobogganing down the side of a volcano along snow slides, using your ice-axe as a brake.
Guides and prices
Conaf keeps a list of companies authorized to guide climbers up the volcano. A maximum of nine climbers are allowed with one guide. Though the tour agencies may tell you otherwise, there is nothing to stop you from tackling the mountain without a guide, as long as you have proper equipment, but unless you’re an experienced mountaineer, it’s not advisable. Competition keeps prices down to a reasonable CH$45,000 or so, which includes transport and all necessary equipment. Most agencies start off at around 6.30am, though a couple leave at 4.30am to beat the crowds. Do not be tempted to go for the cheapest trip – cost is commensurate with safety, and companies offering much cheaper deals can sometimes do so by using inferior equipment and hiring inexperienced guides.