Parque Nacional Conguillío is one of our favourite parks, the ancient araucaria trees soar up reaching to the southern skies. Peppered with snow-capped volcanoes and crystal clear lakes, it is truly a gem. It’s not super far (for a Canadian anyway!) as it’s only 750 km south of Santiago.
Our first trip to Conguillío was during our first summer here in Chile and we stayed in the area of Lonquimay. We went to the park for the day and loved it. This time we wanted to spend more time so in January 2020 (during a quarantine for us in Santiago due to Covid) when the government of Chile announced a one-time travel permit for people living in Paso 2 to take a holiday just once, to one destination, we chose Conguillío. As this is our summertime we had to choose wisely! We decided to stick with our original plan and go south to Parque Nacional Conguillío and to omit the other places we had hope to visit (which were Lago Carbugua, Conaripe on the coast and Reserva Nacional de los Cipreses.) The permit came out on the 4th and we left at 5:30 a.m. on the 4th and headed south.
We stayed in cabins run by Sendas Conguillío. We are a family of five and booked the 7 person cabin, we saw a few of them and the cabin named Conguillío was our least favourite as it didn’t have a view of the volcano from the main rooms or porch of the cabin. Icalma and Gaullete cabins both had great views so the cabins near them would be a good choice. We stayed one night in Icalma and then moved to Gaullete for the rest of our stay. The cabins are fully equipped, with comfortable beds and a wood-fired hot tub you can use in the seasons outside of summer (fire hazard).
I have to say, this was our best holiday yet. With small children all around the same age, and two with additional physical needs, it has been really hard sometimes to go on the holidays we would like to go on or to try and get all the children to enjoy doing the same things. This is the year it happened! Conguillío has a wonderful path network of varying degrees of hikes and many of them are rated low. Quite a few are really flat which is great for our son with Down Syndrome. Everyone was able to hike, explore, kayak and horseback ride. If you have older children or no children, there are medium / high hikes as well or you could combine a few of the easier ones. They also have some wheelchair // buggy accessible hikes such as Los Coihues.
When we were there the park was closed on Mondays, so it meant only people camping or at the cabins were on the trails.
We left Santiago at 5:30 a.m. and arrived at the Park around 2 p.m. via the Curacautín entrance. We had something to eat at the outdoor, beachside cafe. It serves simple food (pizza, chips, salads, hamburgers). We got set up in our cabin and then we went to the Araucaria Hike to see the waterfall. This was a great easy hike to stretch our legs. It is through a dense Araucaria forest filled with bamboo, streams and many wildflowers. It took just over an hour to do the hike.
We did the Carpintero hike to find the mother Araucaria tree. We didn’t see any carpinteros (woodpeckers) on this hike but we did see a gorgeous tame plump yellow bird, many lizards who scuttled away as we walked on the path and we heard rolling thunder and saw lightening at the end. The whole hike (which takes you to a lake) is 8 km return. The Mother tree is 1,800 years old and called the mother because it’s the oldest one in the park, but actually it has the pine needles of a male tree. It stands an incredible 50 metres high. It took us just over an hour to reach the tree, about 2.5 km one way, and we had lunch on the benches by the Mother tree. It rained in the afternoon giving us picturesque views of Llaima volcano covered in snow once the clouds cleared.
Our third day dawned clear and calm so we headed down early to the lake to rent kayaks. At 10 a.m. the lake was like a mirror and we headed out in three kayaks. (Wear a swimsuit and clothes that can get wet as they are open kayaks.) We kayaked to the left to find the hidden waterfall. The lake is so clear and deep. We pulled up on a beach and had a swim in the gorgeous lake water and then back to the cafe for lunch. It was $24,000 for three kayaks for over an hour. Then we needed some signal to book horseback riding. It’s $1,000 pesos/minute at the cafe, but the girls at the cabins told us you can get a weak signal by Laguna Verde, so we drove over there. Afterwards we continued on to Arco Iris which is a colourful lake with sunken trees and views of Llaima Volcano. You can also park and walk around the lake which we did when we visited the park the first time.
We left the park around 9 a.m. and drove towards Curacautín to Cañón del Blanco where we had booked horseback riding and thermal tubs. (You can also do inner tubing but we ran out of time.) The horses were really tame and the five of us went with two guides. The children (ages 11, 9 and 7) were all on their own horses. We went through fields, up hills, into dense forest where the bamboo was eaten en route by the horses, and over rocky wide rivers. At one point the guide in front heard and saw a puma up the hill! We were on the horses for 2.5 hours, then 2.5 hours of a hike up a hill to see a geyser. This part would have been better if our children had typical abilities. They did it and the crossing of the river was fun, but it was really hard for them. Then we had an hour soak in the hot thermal tubs, then back to our car in a truck (you can also return via horse). The total was $200,000 for the five of us and we brought our own picnic lunch. It was money well spent! The kids said it was the best part of the whole holiday. There are rustic changing rooms on site and each family/person is allocated their own hot tub with a view. We carried swim gear, flip flops and our lunch in backpacks.
I really wanted to do the Sierra Nevada hike and my 11-year-old came with me. My husband dropped us off at 7:30 a.m. and we were the only ones on the trail (until we started to come down we didn’t see a soul!) In just over an hour we were at the first lookout and by an hour and a half we were half way to the top. The first half of the hike is in forest with glimpses of Llaima volcano and the lake.
After awhile you will emerge to the backside of the Sierra Nevada range and it’s more exposed, fewer trees, with a huge drop to your right and views to the back of Volcan Villarrica. You end up walking on volcanic rock on the top of the ridge and then you wind your way to the right, we went over snow, and then you do a sharp left up through a bit of scrub. After you come out you will see the trail descend a bit (we walked over snow and rushing water underneath) and then the trail split in two. To the left is a bench with fantastic views over the araucaria trees, the lake and volcano. If you take the right part of the path it takes you to technically the end of the trail, marked with a tall yellow pole.
Coming down is the same trail and we started to see people after the snow line. We also heard and saw woodpeckers after we passed the lookouts on the way down. When we came to the end my husband and I had our wires crossed and he wasn’t there to pick us up, nor on the beach by the entrance. As there is no service at the cabin or at the end of the trail, we had to walk back to the cabin via the Laguna Trail. Which means in the end we walked 16 km. My son was really tired by the end of it, but we had enough water, food and sunscreen and he picked up a walking stick on the way. It was a great trail and we loved it. The Lake part is really flat and an easy path for young children and would make a great path on its own.
Another day of clear wonderful weather so we went and did the Sendero de Chile Contrabandista trail with the children. The girls running the cabin said not many people do that trail and we couldn’t figure out why as it was nice and flat, wonderful views of the volcano and so fun to wander through the araucaria trees with the crunch of volcanic rock under our shoes. It rather sounded like crunchy snow! We even saw a baby araucaria tree ringed with driftwood to protect. The kids christened it “Groot”! My husband ran this trail as a loop from the door of the cabins in the mornings and really liked it. In the afternoon we spent the day on the beach by Hoyon campground which had really nice, large sites. My husband thought they were the best campsites (based on what he saw on his runs).
Our first day of rain. We kept the wood stove going and played games and watched movies.
Another good day of weather so after lunch we walked out the back of the cabins and down over the hill to the road, crossed the road, and walked to the cafe via the lake and through the campground.
Before the drive to Santiago I went for a walk by myself. I did the same walk as Day 8, leaving via the cabins at the back, going down the hill towards the road and the Lake, except I turned left onto the road and stayed on the road until the CONAF office on the left. I entered that parking lot and took the Contrabandista walk. After a few kilometres on Contrabandista I could just make out the roof of the cabins on my left, so I stopped walking and headed back to the cabin to help pack up. You could keep going on Contrabandista as it ends further down at the road.
- If you can’t get the cabins directly in the park, there were cabins on the edge of the park called Llaima Camp.
- You can also enter from the Melipeuco end of the park as well (which we did the first time) or from Curacautín.
- Make sure you download or look at the maps of the park before you go. There are maps at the beginning of each trail, but no general map of the park to figure out what you want to do when based on your abilities and weather. The Conaf offices in the park were closed everytime we were at a trail so there wasn’t anyone to ask either. The young women running the cabins were extremely helpful in this regard. They also showed us incredible customer service.
- There is no signal in the park. While in the park you can find ok signal at Laguna Verde on the road, and really strong signal starting at the second lookout on the Sierra Nevada trail and up to the top. If you are driving out of the park you don’t get signal until you are almost in the town of Curacautín. In the park, the cafe sells wifi for one minute/$1,000 pesos.