SOUTH AMERICA – THE JOURNEY PART 4
HIKING TO EL CANI NEAR PUCON, CHILE
Beyond Pucon’s steaming volcano awaits a fairytale forest straight from the Chronicles of Narnia. El Cani’s frozen lakes, layers of snow and mystical trees could rival any enchanted forest film set. Even the view across the Andes could be make-believe, with three volcanoes jutting through the clouds.
El Cani is a 30-minute bus ride from Pucon, southern Chile. The day hike starts off along a gravel path beyond the information centre – not open in winter – and winds through deciduous trees basking in autumnal colours. (The turn-off is marked and the path ascends quite quickly.) The surrounding landscape initially looks like Wales in the UK with undulating hills caked in red and yellow-leaf trees. But after snaking upwards through a welcome committee of midges I was well and truly in Chile with a native coigue forest takeing centre stage. The towering trees, with dangling moss on their branches, eventually give way to an expansive pond.
Within the privately owned nature sanctuary there are a mix of landscapes and wildlife. Wild pumas live in the area but the locals say they’re rarely seen. Eagles, horses and mosquitoes filled our wildlife watching trip but the diverse and postcard-friendly scenery left us gawking in awe.
The route to El Cani takes you into a snowy Christmas grotto with brilliant green monkey puzzle trees. It’s like stepping into a scene from a Christmas card – quite surreal in June but it is winter in Chile.
After meandering past two ice covered lakes, the path, if you can see it under the snow (we couldn’t, we just made our way upwards), takes you to an amazing mirador or viewpoint. The lookout over volcanoes Quetrupillan, Lalin and Villarrica is a fantastic reward for clambering to the top of the trail. It can be quite slippery so hiking poles or no sense of fear are needed. I had the former.
How to get to El Cani from Pucon
Take the bus for El Cani from Pullman bus station on Palguin Street, Pucon. If you take the 8.50am bus, you’ll be able to complete the day hike and get the 6pm return bus. The trail starts from behind the information centre, turn left on the path and follow the signs. The first one is 1.5km down the track on the right hand side.
BIKE RIDE FROM PUCON TO LAKE CABURGUA, CHILE
This is a bike ride not to be missed and I’m not a huge cycling fan. However the scenery and tranquility were worth the sore knees and saddle bum. It’s a 50km round trip from Pucon to Lake Caburgua along an almost deserted gravel road and returning back along the main highway into town, S-919. It’s not a particularly busy road so even people terrified of riding on highways should be OK, I was.
The route crosses a river with unexpected hills jutting out in the distance and swings along a leaf-lined path where Volcano Villarrica and Quetrupillan vie for paparazzi attention. At each side small farms with cattle and horses interrupt the grass fields and locals watch and smile from a safe distance.
We reached the lake after a 3km uphill struggle (it was for me anyway) but the serenity we found there with enveloping mountains and transparent water was the perfect antidote to sooth my aching muscles. In the high season – December to February – rowing boats can be hired.
How to get to Lake Caburgua from Pucon
Um, you cycle there! Be selective when choosing your bike from the shops in Pucon. Don’t hand over your money or passport (this is for safe return of the bike) until you are satisfied with the bike. Get a map from the cycle shop, most have them.
THE SECRET WATERFALL
It’s so secret I can’t reveal the directions. But if you stay at El Refugio hostel in Pucon they’ll give you a map (which I have since lost) and away you go. It’s easy to miss the path so it’s best to go with a few people. The waterfall itself is well hidden and at least 25m high, a great discovery in the middle of a forest. Again the path can become slippery so make sure the treads on your footwear are sufficient.
A Mapuche village where you can learn about the culture of the indigenous people of Chile. The small museum is in Spanish and Mapuche (not originally a written language) but I was lucky enough to run into an ecotourism lecturer who spoke fluent English. Traditionally, their houses were built from wooden logs and the entrances faced the east which represent the dawn of a new day. However, in Curarrahue they look like any other in a small Chilean village but the Mapuche people still living in the surrounding mountains follow this tradition. The indigenous people inhabiting the valleys or the northern desert, however, build their homes from clay and straw as they won’t be battered by snow and icy conditions.
After a wander across the river to take in the rural setting, enjoy the sumptuous home-baked food at Pasteleria La Cocina de Elisa.
How to get to Curarrahue
Take the bus from the station next to El Refugio hostel (opposite Pullman bus station). The final destination is Curarrahue, 700 pesos, and takes 35 minutes.
WHERE TO STAY IN PUCON
I stayed at El Refugo, a cosy hostel with a chilled-out vibe. There’s a giant fire-place to heat things up but the bedrooms are quite cold. Peter, the Dutch owner, is uber-friendly but his co-worker Victor can be quite abrasive. Still, I’d recommend the place. Beds from 7,000 pesos per night, no breakfast included.
WHERE ON EARTH?
- The outdoor capital of South America with national parks galore
- Has more earthquakes than anywhere else on the continent
- Is home to 17 million people, half of whom live in the capital, Santiago
- Hike, raft, bike ride, horse ride, you name it, you can probably do it here. But it’s all low key in winter months, the best time to enjoy the place without hoards of tourists
- A great place to simply kick back and do nothing or to be as active as you like
- Is in Patagonia and takes 11 hours by bus to reach Santiago
PHOTOGRAPHS COPYRIGHT OF JANE BATCHELOR