On my way down to Patagonia I’d decided it would be best to get in some practice hikes so I could get back into shape, I hadn’t done much while I was home for a few months despite my having been a hiking guide in Bolivia. The first stop I’d settled on happened to be Parque Nacional Conguillio at the start of the lake district.
I kind of winged this one without doing sufficient research which made getting there a little harder than should have been necessary, admittedly though information was hard to find and everything worked out in the end anyway. If you’re looking for how to get there and other information, skip to later on in this article.
I accidentally ended up taking a guided tour into the park that dropped me off at my camp site. Some of the sites included Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon), some other small watering holes, Truful Truful waterfall, and a hike up the Sierra Nevadas. I’m rather happy that I ended up doing this tour and not heading directly for the campsite on day one as it gave me the opportunity to see parts of the park I likely wouldn’t have otherwise. In speaking with the guide, some cabin owners, and park rangers it seemed as though very few foreigners make it to Conguillio when compared to storm of tourism that Patagonia receives. My guide thought it a shame as he felt from all the guiding he’d done throughout the country that Conguillio was the best of the parks and though its the first I’ve seen, I can see why he feels that way.
The park generally seems to form an arc around the snow topped Volcan Llaima which is skirted by desert like lava field, a few lakes of various colours, a forrest, and finally ending in a formidable mountain range. On my second day in the park I headed back up the Sierra Nevada range until it turns into a mountaineering route and was presented with a spectacular view over the park, Lago Conguillio and Volcan Llaima. The third day was spent hiking to Laguna Captren where I setup for the night.
The following day starting at 6am I began climbing the slope of Volcan Llaima on route to travers the side on the hike known as Sendero Chile Tramo Los Escoriales. Its 20 km of poorly marked desert terrain freezing in the morning and boiling in the afternoon, but you’re between a snow covered volcanic slope on one side and a lush green mountain forest on the other. Desert hikes can be harsh but in this case the exposed nature of the slope provided an incredible view of the surrounding area from start to finish, it was all I could do to keep hiking and not pull out my camera every ten minutes. The only real frustration on the hike was the inconsistent and confusing marking system, it was so bad at the end of the hike that I completely lost the trail for 5 km and came upon the main road a km shy of the finish line.
How to get there, both bus options start from the rural bus station in Temuco at Av. Balmaceda and Av. Pinto:
- Take the Melipeuco bus from the rural bus station at 8am, they run several times a day and ask to get off at a company called TrufulCo which is near the end of town. For 20,000 CLP (which includes the park entrance fee) or hopefully less if you’ve got a group they will take you into the park and drive you to some of the various sites like waterfalls and most importantly Laguna Verde. They do the Sierra Nevada Hike up to the condor look out, another also head to the Laguna Captren. This can be a great option if you want to see any of these and aren’t inclined to walk everywhere or hitchhike.
- Take the bus to Conguillio from the rural bus station, I’m not sure when this is as the information seems to shift, check at the bus station but I’d suspect between 8 and 9. This will take you to the park entrance for 2000 CLP or all the way to Lago Conguillio for an additional 1500 CLP. You can get off anywhere and walk, and if you’re up to it, I’d suggest getting of at Laguna Verde, though the walk to the campsite is at least 6km in the desert, uphill, midday.
- Hitchhike there and/or at any point along the way. This can be tough as a lot of cars are full to the brim with groups or families. You’re best try to to hitch in on Friday or Saturday and out on Sunday otherwise you’ll be waiting a while.
Useful Information for Sendero Chile Tramo Los Escoriales:
- Some park rangers don’t know that you can camp at Laguna Captren for free, you just have to let the ranger at Lago Conguillio infomation center know that you plan to hike the Sendero Chile Tramo Los Escoriales.
- Bring 3-4 L of water per person, cover up, and wear sunblock. You are exposed ALL day and there is NO WATER on the traverse.
- The markers are hard to find sometimes, make sure you have good route finding skills, a compass, a map, and if possible, a GPS. You can get a free GPS map of the area here.
- When you do find the markers, aim for the furthest one you can see, they generally aren’t right on the line of the track and aren’t steering you around any cliffs you won’t see anyway. I found it was much more efficient/comfortable to just cut my own line rather the follow the ups and downs of the markers in many cases.
- At the forest edge I’d suggest trying to find a way to follow the ridge down instead of the valley as the trail is near impassable (drop you bag and explore). I say near impassable as you can and I did do it, but it sucks. I don’t know if there is a ridge route but from below it looked possible.
- Near the end of the hike the trail is near impossible to find, make your own way here to the road if you get lost, though if you follow closer to the forest I suspect you’re more likely to find it.
- I would NOT suggest going from the park entrance to Laguna Captren, you’ll spend nearly all day going up while doing this hike in reverse.