By Tom Garmeson / Special to the Santiago Times
There’s only one bus to Huerquehue each morning from Pucón, and it leaves early.
Indeed, most of the usually bustling tourist town was still sleeping off the previous night’s excesses as we pulled out of the terminal; the sun still barely above the horizon. We dozed as the bus trundled along the highway, passing the little farms and squat cottages which dot the Araucanian countryside.
Arriving at the park an hour later, the passengers unloaded and lined up outside the small CONAF cabin to pay the entrance fee. The official on duty inside was a picture of contentedness. He smiled and joked while noting down nationalities, and had the air of a man who had found what he wanted, and didn’t need anything else.
We opted for the “Tres Lagos” (Three Lakes) hike; a five-hour round trip which is one of the easiest routes in the park, but still involves some 500 metres of ascent to reach the end of the trail.
Setting off, we cut through the dense, temperate rainforest along the edge of Lago Tinquilco, whose water matched the deep green of the surrounding trees. The footpath soon opened out into fields of sheep and pigs, and passed through a couple of campsites perched on the shores of the lake. Looking up, thick, grey mist drifted over nearby hills as the trail plunged once again into the forest.
We soon began to climb, and the lush, humid landscape gave way to a sparser, drier climate above. Before long the sun had burned off what remained of the morning fog, and gaps in the trees allowed for brief glimpses of the lake below; now a dazzling blue. Small lizards, sunning themselves on the path, scuttled away as we passed by. We began to see the unmistakable outline of Chile’s national tree; the araucaria, towering over us at a height of up to 40 metres.
At a couple of points the trail winds back on itself, and hikers who stop for a rest at the bend are rewarded with magnificent views of the snow-capped Villarrica volcano in the distance, enveloped by ever-shifting clouds. There are also a few waterfalls along the way which are well worth the slight detour needed to reach them.
The rewards for hours of uphill hiking are the three stunning lakes at the top which give the trail its name. Lago Chico, Lago Verde and Lago Toro all lie at over 1200 metres above sea level, but are separated from each other only by a few minutes walking, and all three are beautiful in their own right.
Surrounded by araucaria forests hung upon dramatic cliff-faces, they are the perfect end to a trail which, for me, ranks among the best that Chile has to offer.
Return bus trip from Pucón to Huerquehue national park: $3.600
National park entrance fee: $3.000 for Chileans, $5.000 for foreigners