Barren can be beautiful, and Laguna del Laja’s harsh volcanic landscape proves it’s so. The park’s centerpiece Volcán Antuco is actually a volcano within a volcano, rising from the caldera that exploded cataclysmically about 6,000 years ago. Though its last major eruption was in 1869, Antuco has been one of Chile’s most active volcanoes, with 11 separate episodes in the 19th century—when Darwin visited Concepción  a couple of weeks after the calamitous earthquake and tsunami of 1835, he observed that locals had, in their own way, inferred a cause-and-effect relationship between that event and Antuco’s relative silence.
Whatever its role in this and other earthquakes, over the past 130,000 years Antuco’s avalanches and its basaltic lava flows helped form Laguna del Laja and have, at various times, raised and lowered its surface level. There is still weak fumarole activity in the crater, but no indication of a major eruption any time in the near future.
The highway from Los Ángeles  to Laguna del Laja now continues to the border at 2,062-meter Paso Pichachén and the Argentine town of Chos Malal, but it is open in summer only. Parts of the route can be tricky for vehicles with low clearance during the spring runoff—in one spot, the road goes right through the channel of the Río de los Pinos.
At Sector Chacay, from a parking area just off the main road near Conaf’s Centro de Información Ambiental, a short hike leads to Salto Chilcas, which topples in multiple falls over a basalt flow into Río Laja gorge; reached by a spur off the main trail, the Salto de Torbellino is a smaller and shorter but thunderous cascade from a tributary creek. When the sun is out, Torbellino usually sports a rainbow.
For more ambitious hikers, a three-day Volcán Antuco circuit from Chacay offers views of the Laguna del Laja, the Sierra Velluda, and the opportunity to climb the summit itself. The last part of the circuit returns along the road back to Chacay, so it may be possible to catch a lift back to the park entrance or even Los Ángeles .
Within the park proper, the only option is Conaf’s Camping y Cabañas Lagunillas (tel. 043/322126 in Los Ángeles). Wooded campsites here cost US$8.50 with running water, hot showers, and electricity, while three-bedroom A-frame cabañas with kitchen facilities cost US$42 for up to six people.
In wintertime, for skiers, Concepción’s Dirección General de Deportes y Recreación operates the 50-bed Refugio Digeder at the Volcán Antuco ski area. Besides hostel accommodations, it offers meals and rental equipment. For reservations, contact Digeder (O’Higgins 740, Oficina 23, Concepción, tel. 0412/226797).
At Abanico, only five kilometers from the park entrance and 12 kilometers from the lake, the simple but appealing Hostería El Bosque (tel. 043/372719) delivers more than its modest prices (US$6 pp for lodging only, US$12 with half board, US$15 with full board) would suggest. On attractive grounds, with hospitable owners and a small swimming pool, it’s one of the region’s best values. In fact, it’s a better choice than the nearby and more expensive eight-room Hotel Malalcura (tel. 043/372720, fax 043/312768, US$14 pp), which does boast both larger grounds and a larger pool.
For food, the ski area’s Casino Club de Ski Los Ángeles, open all year, is marginal at best. Supplies are cheaper and more diverse in Los Ángeles  than in either Antuco or El Abanico.
Conaf’s Centro de Información Ambiental at Chacay, 11 kilometers east of Abanico, is rarely open. Conaf does, however, collect a US$1.50 admission fee per person at the park gates, five kilometers east of Abanico.
From Los Ángeles ’s Terminal Santa Rita (Rengo and Villagrán), ERS buses go five times daily to El Abanico (US$1.70, 1.5 hours) via Antuco. Departure times are 11:30 a.m. and 1:30, 2:45, 5:30, and 7:15 p.m. daily except Sunday, when departures are at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 and 7:15 p.m. only.
From El Abanico, there’s no public transportation for the five kilometers uphill to the park entrance; the park office is six kilometers farther.