Chile’s most active volcano, Volcán Villarrica is a cauldron of bubbling lava and venting steam that’s erupted dozens of times, including a major 1971 event that expelled 30 million cubic meters of lava in a flow that stretched for 14 kilometers.
A strenuous but nontechnical climb, Villarrica requires crampons, an ice ax, rain and wind gear, high-energy snacks, and a guide—except for those who manage to wrangle one of Conaf’s few individual private permits.
For those who contract a tour with one of Pucón’s adventure travel agencies, it involves a crash course in mountaineering; in good weather, the summit’s about six hours from the ski area, but bad weather sometimes forces groups to turn back. When the sulfurous crater is especially active, Conaf closes the route.
While the ascent can be a slog through wet snow, the descent involves body-sledding down the volcano’s flanks with only an ice axe for braking. In a short time, though, rates for the trip (US$80 pp) have almost doubled, and some think it’s questionable value.
When winter snows cover the lower slopes, the Centro de Ski Volcán Villarrica operates four lifts with nine runs ranging 500–1,500 meters in length. Lift tickets cost around US$30 per day in peak season, US$23 per day in the shoulder season; there are also three-day, one-week, and season passes. For more information, contact Pucón Ski (Holzapfel 190, tel. 045/441901, www.skipucon.cl) in the Gran Hotel Pucón.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition