Climbing Volcán Villarrica is a part of our 200 things to do in Chile list.
If you are going to Pucón in the south of Chile, then you will notice a smoking volcano just out of town. I mean, it is an obvious in-your-face volcano, perfectly conical and generally cool looking… smokin’.
And yes, you can climb to the top of Villarrica Volcano, or least try to. Be warned that if you haven’t done any sport lately or any other type of fitness activity, you will definitely feel it on the way up. (Speaking from experience)
There are many guided tours that leave at 7 in the morning meaning you have to get up at the ungodly hour of 6am or so. You try on the boots, crampons (those spiked shoe things that hurt if you accidentally kick your own ankle) and climbing pants/jackets the day before so that on the morning itself, you all sleepily pile into a van without fluffing around.
When you do the climb in summer, you are taken part way up the volcano where the ski lifts start. Some people take the lift for the first part (about 200m) and others decide to trek from that point. If you are fit and used to hiking, you could start from the bottom. If you aren’t fit, take the ski lift, no seriously DO IT! (The ski lift was an option on our guided trek (of about 8 people) so it might not always be available.) I had to walk up instead of taking the lift, mainly because I didn’t have the cash for it… silly me. I was exhausted by the time I caught up with everyone else.
When you get to where the snow starts (which there is to some degree all year), the guide shows you (or at least should do) how to use an ice-pick to remove someones kidneys. Well, not really, but they do come in mightily useful should you start plummeting down the side of the volcano and need to stop. You also need strap the crampons onto your boots to stop you from slipping on the ice and sliding off the volcano into oblivion. If you are not used to wading through snow, I’ll tell you now, it takes a lot more effort to advance than doing the same distance on rocks.
Once you are at the top of the volcano, the views are incredible (ours was a cloudless day). There is almost always smoke coming out of the volcano (I didn’t see any lava) so keep out of it since it is quite toxic. It was freezing on the summit, and this was in February which is the hottest month of the year in Chile. A wind constantly hits the side of the volcano and goes up and over the top, right where you are marveling at the land far below. Our hands went numb as soon as we took our gloves off to take a photo.
But getting up is only a part of the trek. You have to go back down too which turns out to be a lot of fun. We were given special protective pants that had a type of extra plastic protection in the butt part. Why? The best way down is sliding down on your butt. You can gather quite a lot of speed if you are up for it but if the guide tells you to slow down in certain parts you had better listen since there may be a hidden ledge that goes a long way down. Don’t expect to be able to walk too well the next day. No amount of training can prepare you for that part.
With the Volcano trek, you usually have to book ahead and you sometimes don’t know until that morning whether the trek up the volcano goes ahead or not. They are very cautious with the weather and don’t take any risks. When we did the trek, some people in the group had been waiting two weeks for a clear day to do the climb. Lucky us.
See my wife’s version in Spanish: El ascenso al Volcán Villarrica
Have you been up Volcán Villarrica?