Parque Nacional Conguillío
Directly east of Temuco, 3,125-meter Volcán Llaima’s smoldering crater is the Parque Nacional Conguillío’s most eye-catching feature; since colonial times, Chile’s second most active volcano has recorded dozens of violent eruptions and other events, some as recently as 1999.
Within its 60,833 hectares, though, this UNESCO biosphere reserve also abounds with dozens of lava flows, secondary cones, alpine lakes, river canyons, and the araucaria forest that it was created to protect—the name Conguillío derives from the Mapudungun kongüjim, “to enter the pewen forest.”
In fact, the fame of the pewen was such that, in late 1911, the aging pioneer U.S. conservationist John Muir traveled here simply to see, sketch, and photograph the tree in its native habitat—“A glorious and novel sight, beyond all I had hoped for.” As he so often did in California’s Sierra Nevada, Muir slept in the open air, beneath the trees he had come to visit.
For foreigners and Chileans alike, Conguillío is one of Temuco’s most popular excursions. It justifies a day trip but deserves at least an overnight.
At Laguna Conguillío, Conaf’s Centro de Información Ambiental has good natural-history exhibits and a cozy fireplace; it’s open 10 a.m.–1 p.m. and 3–7:30 p.m. daily in January and February, when it organizes children’s programs and hiking excursions and provides evening naturalist talks.
Conaf also has ranger stations at the Laguna Captrén and Truful Truful park entrances.
Because public transportation is inconvenient to almost every sector of the park, it’s worth considering a car rental, but it’s not absolutely essential. Even with a car, the steep, narrow, and sometimes muddy road between Laguna Captrén and the park administration can be difficult to negotiate.
Reaching Curacautín and Melipeuco, the northern and southern gateways to the main park loop, is easy enough by public bus. From Curacautín, Flota Erbuc goes to Laguna Captrén (US$1) Monday and Friday at 6 a.m. and 5 p.m., but that’s the only scheduled transport. From either Curacautín or Melipeuco, it’s possible to hire a taxi or pickup truck to Conguillío.
Sector Los Paraguas is most difficult to reach by public transportation. Voga Bus (Pinto 032, Oficina 6, Temuco, tel. 045/910134) goes to the village of Cherquenco (US$1.50), but from there it’s 17 kilometers more to the Los Paraguas ski lodge. An alternative route, requiring a high-clearance vehicle and preferably four-wheel drive, goes from Captrén to Los Paraguas.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition