This article will tell you everything you need to know to hike Pucón’s Volcan Villarrica, including what to expect, what to wear, and if you need a guide! Keep reading for everything you need to know to hike Volcan Villarrica!
Pucón is a charming town located in Chile’s Lake District, south of Santiago but north of Patagonia. The town itself is small but lively, with plenty of restaurants, cafes, and shops to explore. Nestled in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, it’s also a popular outdoor destination for tourists seeking adventures and relaxation. With thermal hot springs, lush forests, and crystal-clear lakes, Pucón definitely delivers!
Dominating the skyline of this laid-back resort town is the smoking Volcan Villarrica, one of Chile‘s most active volcanos. Thousands of people climb its 2,847 meters (9,340 feet) each year. Whether you’re an experienced mountaineer or just looking for a fun day hike, this volcano is a must-do trek in Pucón. But there are a few things that you should know before you go. Keep reading for our Ultimate Guide to Volcan Villarrica!
What to know before hiking Volcan Villarrica:
As with any hike, it’s important to be prepared and know what to expect. Here are some questions that you might have before hiking Villarrica:
HOW FIT DO I NEED TO BE TO HIKE VOLCAN VILLARRICA?
You don’t need to be an expert mountaineer to hike Volcan Villarrica. The hike to the summit of Villarrica isn’t a technical hike. It helps to have some level of fitness, and preferably a little hiking experience. But people of all ages and demographics do this hike, and you can do it too!
Hiking Volcan Villarrica is a strenuous climb (imagine climbing stairs for about four to five hours straight). You’ll be ascending ~1,500 meters (4,920 feet) over a distance of about 9 km (5.5 miles). As it’s a volcano, the higher you climb, the steeper it gets.
If you’re in top physical shape, you’ll have little difficulty making it to the top. If you’re somewhat fit you’ll probably still be able to do it but you might just need to take your time.
For me, hiking is more of a mindset thing than a fitness thing. If you can keep putting one foot in front of the other, you can make it to the top of anything! Even if you have to stop a little more – it’s a good excuse to enjoy the views. I’m probably about average fitness, but with this mindset, I’ve climbed the highest mountain in Northern Africa, and trekked the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. Just believe in yourself!
If there’s enough snow, you’ll get to sledge down the volcano in an adrenaline-fuelled rush, manoeuvring yourself with an ice axe as you go! It’s exhilarating, and great fun. If there’s less snow, you’ll have to walk down, so factor this into your expectations.
At the summit of Volcan Villarrica
SHOULD I TAKE THE CHAIRLIFT UP VOLCAN VILLARRICA?
During ski-season, there’s a chairlift that you can take for an additional 10’000 CLP (£10 GBP, $12 USD). This can cut about an hour off your climb up Villarrica. But is it worth it?
The terrain leading up to the snow-covered part of the volcano is loose scree. Every two steps forward will send you one step back, and this might tire you out a bit before you even get to the serious part of the climb. So it might be something to consider if you’re worried about your hiking ability and energy levels.
The chairlift wasn’t running when we visited Pucón, so this wasn’t an option for us, but we coped just fine.
WHAT WEATHER SHOULD I EXPECT WHEN HIKING VOLCAN VILLARRICA?
The weather on the Villarrica volcano can be unpredictable and change quickly. It’s important to check the weather forecast before starting your climb and dress appropriately – we love layers for Chile! It’s also important to be aware of the possibility of sudden changes in weather, such as thunderstorms, and be prepared for any situation.
Because the weather can be so variable, it’s important to have the proper gear and equipment for your hike. Most of the recommended gear will be provided by your guide. If not, you can rent anything you’re missing in Pucón.
Talking about guides…
Sunrise casts a pink glow over the snowy mountains
Do I need a guide to hike Volcan Villarrica?
Bad news for budget travellers, it’s pretty much mandatory to be accompanied by a certified guide to hike up Volcan Villarrica.
Well… you can hike alone if you’re willing to go through the pain of getting a hiking permit from CONAF (Corporación Nacional Forestal). And you’ll still need to buy or hire all the gear you need, and have the mountaineering knowledge and experience to get yourself up and down safely. It’s an active volcano after all, and the sulphur dioxide isn’t fun to inhale!
This won’t save you any money. It’s easier and cheaper to just join a tour.
Although we don’t love organised travel, we think you’ll have a better time as part of a group. Guides are trained and experienced in leading hikes up the volcano. They’ll provide you with all the necessary equipment and gear to ensure that you have a great (and safe) time. They are also familiar with the terrain, weather conditions, and potential hazards. Basically, they’ll get you up and down safely, and provide everything you need to enjoy your hike.
Guides will also be able to give you more information about the history and geology of the volcano and its surroundings, as well as any local flora and fauna that you might encounter on the climb. You might spot Andean Condors, the Chilean pudu (the smallest deer species in the world) and many other species!
View from an abandoned chairlift on the volcano
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT TOUR COMPANY FOR YOU:
Although it’s not a technical hike, climbing Volcan Villarrica is still a challenge; people have died climbing it and weather conditions can deteriorate rapidly. That is why we absolutely recommend you choose a reputable tour company to get you safely up and down the volcano.
There are lots of companies to choose from in Pucón. We really recommend Zenit Travel.
In this day and age, it’s really easy to find reviews online. If you’re already in Pucón, head to the tourism office on the corner of Palguin and Avenue O’Higgins. They have a complaints book where you can read reviews from other travellers who have hiked Volcan Villarrica.
We think the best way to find a tour guide is to just walk around the town, talk to a few tour companies, and see which ones you like. If you’re concerned, you can always pop in to check that their kit is well-maintained etc.
Here are some questions to ask to make sure that you pick the right tour company for your hike up Volcan Villarrica:
Certification and experience: Look for a tour company that is certified and has experienced guides who are knowledgeable about the volcano and its surroundings.
Equipment: The tour company should provide all necessary equipment for the climb, including crampons, ice axes, helmets, and any other safety gear that may be required.
Group size: Consider the size of the tour group, as smaller groups may provide a more personalized and intimate experience.
Cost: Remember that cheaper isn’t always the best deal! Look for a tour company that offers competitive pricing without compromising on safety or quality of service.
Flexibility: Look for a tour company that offers flexible schedules and cancellation policies in case of unexpected changes in weather or other circumstances (this is super common).
Our group on the volcano with our guide
How much does hiking Volcan Villarrica cost?
We went with Zenit Travel as they were so conveniently located next to the Selina hostel in Pucón. A full-day tour hiking to the top of Volcan Villarrica with Zenit Travel cost us £107 GBP ($135 USD). This included all transport costs, guides and equipment for the day – they provided a full list of equipment: boots, crampons, gaiters, waterproof jacket and overtrousers, gloves, helmet, gas mask, ice axe and even a sledge! All wrapped up in a branded backpack to carry it in.
We didn’t need to bring anything special, we just turned up and it was all organised. This is one of the perks of joining an organised tour. Afterwards, some companies may even provide snacks and drinks. Zenit Travel were a fairly new company and they were keen to get our opinions on their tour so they invited us back for a coffee afterwards.
Make sure to ask the trekking company about the protocol they follow in case the weather isn’t great. Most operators will keep postponing the hike until the weather clears up. Some dodgy ones might try to take you up Villarrica anyway then offer no refund when you inevitably don’t make it to the top.
The weather in Pucón can stay terrible for days or weeks at a time. If hiking the volcano doesn’t seem possible for a while and you need to move on with your adventures, you’ll want to make sure they give you back your money.
Views for miles! The mountains in the background are Argentina
How to get to Pucón?
So, you’re ready to hike Volcan Villarrica, but you might be wondering how to get there?
Overnight (or full-day) buses from Santiago operate frequently to Pucón (~11 hours). If you’re working your way down the length of Chile from North to South, you can also catch a bus from Temuco. From the south, buses run from Puerto Montt and Valdivia.
You can also fly, but this is expensive, and we don’t recommend it as a sustainable option. Direct flights from Santiago or Puerto Montt to Pucón are only available during peak season (December to April). Outside of this season, you’ll have to land at Temuco, which isn’t really near Pucón at all!
Flying won’t save you so much time here, and it’s terrible for the planet! Take a night bus, settle in, and enjoy the journey. If you fancy a treat, grab a first class coach with a fully reclining sleeper seat. You’ll fall asleep leaving the noise and pollution of Santiago and wake up to the natural paradise of Pucón. We don’t think you’ll regret it!
HOW TO GET TO PUCÓN FROM SANTIAGO BY BUS
Travel Time: 11-12 hours
Frequency: Frequent! Overnight and day services travel this route regularly.
Cost: Prices start at $29,000 CLP (£29 GBP, $35 USD). There are many operators that run buses along this route, check here for your options. You might need to change buses in Temuco.
Onward Travel: Not necessary – buses will bring you right into Pucón!
HOW TO GET TO PUCÓN FROM PUERTO MONTT BY BUS
Travel Time: 5-7 hours
Frequency: Several times daily. Buses are less frequent than from Santiago but still leave semi-regularly from Puerto Montt bus station
Cost: Prices start at $8,000 CLP (£8 GBP, $10 USD).
Onward Travel: See above
The volcano is very active and is usually smoking
What to wear/bring to hike Volcan Villarrica:
At a minimum, you should be provided with a waterproof outer layer from the tour company you book. We also got given hiking boots, walking poles, crampons, and an ice axe. To keep you comfortable all day, here’s what we recommend to wear underneath that:
- Hiking boots: Some companies will provide these for you! If not, make sure you have sturdy and comfortable hiking boots with good traction for walking on the steep and rocky terrain.
- Layered clothing: Dress in layers to be prepared for changes in temperature and weather conditions. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer, add a mid-layer for insulation. Your tour company should provide a waterproof and windproof outer layer to top it off.
- Gloves: Bring a pair of gloves to keep your hands warm and protect them from the cold and the ice. Some companies will provide these.
- Hat: Wear a hat under your helmet to protect your head and ears from the sun or the cold.
- Sunglasses and sunscreen: Important to protect your eyes and skin from the strong sunlight at high altitudes. Some companies will provide ski glasses.
- Backpack: Bring a backpack to carry your water, snacks, and any additional layers of clothing or equipment that you may need. Some companies will provide this.
- Crampons and ice axe: Your guide will provide you with crampons and an ice axe for walking on the snow and ice.
- Helmet: A helmet is also provided by the guide for safety reasons.
- Water: carry at least two litres per person, you can’t get any more on the way
- Cash: for the ski lift (if you choose to take it) and a tip for your guide
Other activities to do in and around Pucón:
There are so many amazing things to do in Pucón; you could spend weeks here and never get bored. But Chile is one of the most expensive countries in South America, and Pucón isn’t the cheapest destination within Chile either.
We’ve written more in depth about our favourite activities to do in Pucón here. But if you’re short on time, here are the things that you shouldn’t miss out on. Most of them are reasonably priced, or free, making these great budget-friendly options for exploring Pucón!
#1 BATHE IN THE NATURAL HOT SPRINGS OF TERMAS GEOMETRICAS
Pucón is surrounded by volcanic activity and geothermal energy, which sometimes bubbles up in the form of natural hot springs. Termas Geometricas is a popular hot springs complex located in the mountains just outside of Pucón.
Nestled in a forest among ferns and waterfalls, there are 17 pools with temperatures between 38°C to 46°C. The pools are connected by simple redwood walkways and little bridges.
It’s super picturesque, we think it feels like you’ve ventured into an animated Studio Ghibli movie! The design of the complex is inspired by the natural surroundings, with the pools and buildings following the curves of the valley and the river that runs through it. But this beauty comes at a price. A 48’000 CLP (£48 GBP, $55 USD) price. The hot springs aren’t easily accessible by public transport, so getting there costs extra as well.
Budget travel tip: A more budget friendly option is Termas Los Pozones, which only cost 8’000 CLP (£8 GBP, $10 USD). It’s smaller, with fewer pools than Termas Geometricas. But you can get here by public transport, with four buses leaving daily from Pucón, and the vibes are similar.
Termas Geometricas with its little red bridges and walkways
#2 WALK, CANOE, OR PADDLEBOARD AROUND LAKE VILLARRICA
Pucón is really not a classic South American town. It’s clean, calm, and full of little luxuries like fancy bakeries and coffee shops. A stroll around the shores of Lake Villarrica (preferably accompanied by a coffee and pastry) is one of the best ways to spend a leisurely few hours in the town. The best bit? It’s completely free!
If you want to take to the water, there are plenty of places to rent a paddleboard or canoe and enjoy a lazy afternoon exploring Villarrica Lake. If you’re staying in Pucón in summer, we recommend paddling around the peninsula to one of three private beaches. Only people with accommodation on the peninsula have access to these beaches. But if you arrive by kayak, canoe, or paddleboard then you are allowed to relax there too.
#3 HIRE A BICYCLE TO EXPLORE FURTHER AFIELD
You do not need to be super adventurous to enjoy outdoor activities in Pucón. Almost every shop in town will rent you a pushbike. You can cycle to hot springs just outside town for a more budget-friendly option to Termas Geometricas. Other popular day trails – easily doable in a day by bicycle – include Caburgua Lake or waterfalls Ojos de Caburgua.
#4 CYCLE TO OJOS DE CARBURGUA
The name Ojos de Carburgua translates to “eyes of Carburgua,” and it’s easy to see why. The crystal-clear blue water reflects the lush green forests and stunning mountains that surround it, making it a truly picturesque destination.
The main attraction at Ojos de Carburgua is the series of waterfalls that flow into the natural pools below. You can take a refreshing dip in the cool water, walk through the forest, or simply sit back and relax while taking in the breathtaking scenery. Ojos de Carburgara is easily accessible from Pucón by bicycle, making this a great budget-friendly day trip.
#5 SWIM IN SALTO DEL CLARO WATERFALL
Salto del Claro is a hidden gem in the middle of the forest, surrounded by stunning rock formations and lush vegetation. The waterfall itself drops 70 meters into a crystal-clear pool, creating a mesmerizing mist that adds to its enchanting atmosphere.
You can hire a bicycle to cycle here, or it’s a two-hour walk (each way) from Pucón. After a brief hike through a beautiful forest trail (about 30 minutes), you’ll arrive at the falls, where you can take a refreshing swim in the cool, clean water or just relax and take in the breathtaking scenery.
Rent a kayak to explore Villarrica Lake!
Q: Is Villarrica volcano active?
A: Yes, Villarrica volcano is an active volcano located in Chile. It is one of the most active volcanoes in South America, with regular eruptions recorded throughout its history. The most recent major eruption occurred in 2015. There’s a high chance of it smoking on your hike – how cool is that?
Q: Is it safe to hike Volcan Villarrica?
A: Whilst it is mostly safe, Villarrica Volcano is still an active volcano. Follow the guidance of your guide and stay on designated paths to minimise danger to you, and damage to the environment. You’ll need to wear a mask near the crater to protect you from the hazardous sulphur dioxide fumes, but this will be provided by your tour company.
Q: How high is Villarrica volcano?
A: The height of the Villarrica volcano is approximately 2,847 meters (9,341 feet) above sea level.
Q: How fit do I need to be to hike Villarrica volcano?
A: You need to be fit enough to walk for 5 to 6 hours. The terrain is steep and rocky, and there may be snow in places. That said, many travellers complete this hike each year. If you’re reasonably fit and have the right mindset, you’ll probably be fine.
Q: Can I hike Volcan Villarica without a guide?
A: Technically yes, but you’ll need to get the proper permits and buy/rent all your equipment (which won’t save you any money). We think you’ll have much more fun joining a group and letting someone else take care of everything for the day!
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