Sunday, January 19, 2014


Concepción is Chile's second largest city and our last stop on our road trip. It is home to the widest river in Chile, Río Bio Bio, and our friends, the Gibney-Morenos. We visited Mike and his family at their lovely little cabin in the Club Alemán and they were kind enough to share their lake and good company with us. We were treated to wonderful views, copihue flowers, and best of all, an incredible display by some fireflies lighting up the forest. Magic!

Laguna Chica

A turkey vulture circling the sky

Laguna Grande - the view from our apartment

Copihue, Chile's national flower

Huilo Huilo

On our return trip north we stopped off at the Reserva Biolóica Huilo-Huilo, which is run by a private foundation dedicated to sustainable tourism. It is, without doubt, the most random place we've ever visited! The park is home to Volcán Mocho-Choshuenco, which is actually two volcanos bridged by a large glacier.

Volcan Mocho-Choshuenco

The reserve was obviously designed by an eccentric genius (Victor Petermann), and construction in the park is a combination of ingenuity and malfunction. La Montaña Mágica (Magic Mountain), one of the top hotels in the reserve, is a fantasy castle with a waterfall plunging down its sides. The escape routes are fun wooden swing bridges into the forests. (We were staying in the campsite down the road...)

Montaña Mágica Lodge

Nothofagus Hotel

We explored the surrounding areas, including the Canopy Village, a boardwalk through a deer park. We saw some deer - including a bambi! - and some geese and llamas. At the far end of the trail was the Mirador de Jabalí, an interesting spot overlooking a compound of wild boar. Truly bizarre!

Huilo Huilo is also home to the Cervezería Petermann (brewery) which produces four types of Ales - blonde, golden, red and black. This was a most welcome stop for us after the Canopy Village. The beer has a distinctly artisanal flavour, and it is delicious and refreshing. We enjoyed some beer at the brewery and back at our campsite.

Cervezería Petermann

A 'rubia' and a 'dorada'

Attractions at the reserve include several waterfalls, and we visited the Salto La Leona. We also completed the Sendero de Los Espiritus, a boardwalk trail winding through the forest, past several Mapuche carvings. Unfortunately, everybody on the trail seemed to get lost, even though the guide insisted that it was a loop. We eventually doubled back on ourselves and managed to escape. Perhaps it was all part of an elaborate spiritual journey...

Salto La Leona

Sendero de Los Espiritus

A "dragon-worm" Mapuche carving

We enjoyed our time in the park, but it was a pity to see that so many of the attractions had fallen into disuse. Clearly a mega effort was put into creating some fun and alternative entertainment at the reserve, such as mini golf, water slides and cable cars, but in the 13 years this park has been open, these are no longer functioning. Perhaps the inspiriation behind the project ran out of money or eccentricity. We sure hope they get their groove back soon, as this could easily have been the best part of our road trip.

Bavarian towns

Lago Llanquihue, South America's third largest natural lake, was colonised in the 19th century by German immigrants. This German heartland of the Lake District is fronted by steepled Bavarian towns with authentic Teutonic buildings. Here is a selection of buildings we found on our wanderings:

Lago Llanquihue

One of our highlights from our 2013 Road Trip was Lago Llanquihue and its charming lakeside villages. We returned to the lake as the southern-most point on our trip, but as with Pucón, decided to stay out of the towns and along the lake shore. We found a cabaña between Puerto Varas and Volcán Osorno with access to the lake, which was very idyllic.

Volcán Osorno from Puerto Varas

Sunset over Volcán Osorno from our cabaña

We have previously driven east around Lago Llanquihue to Volcán Osorno and Saltos de Petrohué, so on this trip we decided to go clockwise around the lake and up to Puerto Octay. We had read excellent things about Puerto Octay in our guidebook, but the reality was a little less charming than the Eyewitness Travel's superlatives.

Map of Lago Llanquihue

View over Puerto Octay - pretty from a distance!
Needless to say, we hastened back to our old favourite, Frutillar. It was no less lovely this time around and we had time to explore the town properly. We visited the Museo Colonial Alemaán which recreates pioneer-era life with life size buildings, including a mill, a farmhouse and a blacksmith's forge. The landscaped gardens are beautiful and the buildings and artefacts very interesting.

The mill in the Colonial German Musem

Us with Lago Llanquihue and Volcán Osorno in the background

The iconic treble clef tree on the lake edge. Frutillar is famous for its music festivals

While Daniel went out for a long run, I headed to the Reserva Forestal Edmundo Winkler, a forestry school sanctuary which has a short trail through the woods at the northern edge of Frutillar. I saw some exquisite hummingbirds in the Valdivian forest, as well Laurel trees which were hundreds of years old.

A 700-year-old Laurel tree


We visited Lago Villarica for the third time since our arrival in Chile, this time staying along the shore between Villarica and Pucón. We holed up in a picturesque little cabin for a couple of nights.

Our cabin, halfway between Villarica and Pucón

Pucón is a bustling little town which is very popular among Chile's more affluent citizens (e.g. my students!). It's a great town with lots of activities to keep its visitors entertained, including water sports and adrenaline-charged excursions. We settled for a simple stroll around town and a quiet lunch.

Colourful boats on Lago Villarica

Charming streets in Pucón
The town's natural surroundings include the black shores of the lake and Volcán Villarica. We didn't hit the beach during our stay, but we did go the entrance of Parque Nacional Villarica where we did a small interpretative trail loop. We saw the beautiful flowers of the wild Hummingbird fuschia (Fuschia magellanica), leaf-lined forest paths, the passage of the lava flow from the last eruption and a cute little fox. Unfortunately the volcano stayed hidden behind the clouds while we were there.

The Hummingbird fuschia

Volcán Villarica (aka the Denali of Chile - always behind clouds!)

Parque Nacional Conguillío

Our second stop on our trip south was at Parque Conguillío, one of the Lake District's best natural attractions, where we camped for the night.

The Conguillío National Park is dominated by Volcán Llaima which has shaped the park's landscape dramatically. The first 10km into the park are characterised by deep valleys scarred by jagged lava flows. The volcano last erupted in 2008-9 and the landscape is now dark and rock-filled where forests once stood.

Volcán Llaima, which last erupted in 2008-9,
and the landscape blackened by its lava flows.

The park is famous for its ancient Araucaria forests, and the Araucaria is the national tree of Chile. The name Conguillío derives from the Mapuche word for "water with Araucaria seeds". The English nickname for this tree is a monkey puzzle tree.

A giant Araucaria tree

The park has excellent camping and trail facilities and we enjoyed a walk through parts of the national forest. We walked to the first mirador of the popular Sierra Nevada trail and on the way back we saw a pair of Magellanic Woodpeckers, South America's largest woodpecker. They are huge!

Part of the Sierra Nevada trail

We also visited Lago Captrén, a shallow lake which was formed when lava flows from Volcán Llaima obstructed the Río Captrén. The lake formed where there was previously a forest and now there is a large underwater forest, with the tips of dead trunks piercing the surface of the lake. It's quite eerie to see the large, submerged logs lying in the green water.

Lago Captrén, the underwater forest

A consequence of the volcanic eruption and its destruction of the landscape can be seen in the new growth in the park. Where there were once expansive forests, trees now struggle to grow and this has resulted in natural bonsai trees fighting through the volcanic rock. It's very cute to see the little splashes of life in the bleak landscape.

A natural bonsai

Our last stop in the park was at the Trufel Trufel waterfalls. We walked a small loop through the lava field and volcanic debris to see the beautiful river canyon and the waterfalls.

Río Captrén

Saltos de Truful Trufel

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is one of the largest towns in the Colchagua Valley, Chile's premier wine-producing region which stretches from the foothills of the Andes towards the Pacific coast. The town itself has not been very well developed, but the surrounding vineyards are beautiful and well worth a visit.

We went to Viña MontGras, which had an impressive colonial hacienda and offered the best wine tour we've ever been on. We arrived a bit early and were offered a complimentary bottle of chilled Sauvignon Blanc while we waited. On the tour, we got to go into the rows of vines and see the leaves and grapes and soil; we tasted some Chardonnay from the tiny tap on the giant fermentation tank (it needed a while yet); we dipped our fingers into a barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon (very smooth and nearly ready); and we tasted four different types of wine with a group of fun Colombians. At the conclusion of the tour, we bought some good bottles of wine for our road trip and we received a complimentary bottle opener. What a great afternoon!

Viña MontGras

The courtyard where we did the wine-tasting

The vineyards. These are rows of Cab Sav grapes.

Grenache grapes which we crushed to see their red juice.

Our table at the end of a very successful wine tasting!