And So the Andes Fell into the Earth - The Chilean Lake District
In a Tolkeinesque way, this describes what happens to that South American mountain range as one moves from the highlands of northern Chile to the south closer to Patagonia. The whole range seems to gradually descend into the Pacific Ocean. Super high peaks become shorter peaks, and valleys become lakes. The Lake District in southern Chile is a region majestically beautiful, authentically rustic but also refined in places which helps frame the beauty for your senses.
All of Chile, but especially the Lake District, is ideal for road tripping. The natural beauty and the many opportunities for discovery are best available by car and a 4 x 4 all wheel drive one to boot.
To immerse ourselves in the region we first went deep into nature by traveling to the Huilo Huilo Reserva Biológica. It is a large nature reserve close to the Argentinian border and right next to the Choshuenco Volcano. Our first nights we stayed at a fantastic Airbnb on the Quebrada Onda Estuary with our own rocky beach and wood burning hot tub.
Last minute we got lucky to get a room for one night at Nothofagus Hotel nearby, which can best be described as an elegant tree palace. Imagine a western American lodge but designed like the Guggenheim museum. It was an idyllic location to launch a couple days of hikes to waterfalls and the volcano.
On the road again, we decided to take the road less travelled, which basically meant 100 miles of dirt road until our next location. We passed by a lot of small wooden Catholic Churches in this back country. They were like religious depots for the lost traveler or lost soul.
Also prevalent was the Chilean national tree, the Araucaria, known as the Monkey Puzzle Tree, part cactus, part evergreen, with the uniqueness of a Joshua tree.
Approaching Pucon, needing to grab a bite, we stopped when we saw a sign “Empanadas”, by a road side stand. I bet these will be good… and they were delicious, the best, rolled and fried to order.
Pucon is a popular destination year round. It is called the adventure capital of Chile which made sense the more time we spent there. It had the vibe of a mini Boulder, Colorado. It might have more going on than Boulder though, with its abundance of Lakes and rivers surrounding. The town also has one conspicuous feature that looms over, that Boulder cannot claim, a giant active conical Volcano. This one is called Villarica and it last erupted in violently inn 2015. Currently as of Dec, 2023 it is experiencing daily mild explosions.
In decades past, Pucon was considered a bit exclusive. With transportation harder to come by, the well to do were able to make it a destination. We saw this when we went to stay at the Hotel Antumalal, an absolute gem of mid century design and construction. Approaching the front entrance, we noticed the hotels integration into the surrounding landscape, a key feature of MCM design. Large panoramic windows, furniture designed for the spaces and an overall sense of discovery as you moved from room to room. The Hotel Antumalal gives one a reason to visit Pucon all on its own.
Before we could leave the region we had to confront the beast. If we had more time we could have attempted to summit the volcano. That probably wasn’t likely but we had to try. We ended up two hours short of time as we confronted other hikers on their descent. The lava lake was glorious, we were told. A portal to another realm perhaps. That’s fine, I thought. The realm we were experiencing now, on this trip, was above and beyond what we were hoping for.