Center Island Sites, Easter Island, Chile

This post continues a series on a 6 day trip to Easter Island in March of 2018. For this series I’ve divided the posts by area of the island and archaeological site rather than chronologically as we visited the top sites more than once. See the Easter Island page for an outline of all the posts in this series and our complete day by day itinerary. 

To organize our independent tour of the island we used A Companion Guide to Easter Island which is a great resource for both archaeological information and photography tips including best time of day to visit the sites. We did find that they are tightening restrictions on visiting the sites, e.g., enforced visiting hours and strict limitations on where you are allowed to walk within the sites, making some routes suggested in the guidebook inaccessible.

Center Island Sites

Center Island Sites (21 of 24)

Ahu Akivi from a distance

The central highlands of Easter Island offer expansive views out to the sea as well several interesting archeological sites including Ahu Akivi, a stunning sight when the last rays of the sun hit these majestic moai.

Ahu Akivi

March 16

Center Island

The late afternoon light on the green and golden hills was beautiful on the drive up to Ahu Akiva. The dark clouds passing overhead threatened rain creating a dramatic mood.

Ahu Akivi

The restored Ahu Akiva with seven standing moai is best seen late in the day. On this afternoon the passing clouds sometimes left the maoi in shadow but soon the sun would come out again leaving them brilliantly lit against a backdrop of dark stormy clouds.

Ahu Akivi

You can’t get very close to the front of this platform. This is true of all the more intact sites. You can, however, walk all the way around the platform.

Ahu Akivi

Ahu Akivi

March 20

Center Island Sites (22 of 24)

Center Island Sites (23 of 24)

We thought that Akivi might be interesting at sunset as it faces west. We arrived close to closing time, 8PM. Luckily, the guard at the gate wasn’t too picky about folks walking around the platform after hours but we did have to leave our car at the gate.

Center Island Sites (24 of 24)

Although the moai glow in the last light the sun soon slips behind the trees so there is no silhouette view of the moai against the setting sun.

Puna Pau Quarry

March 19 – Afternoon Visit

Center Island Sites (11 of 24)

This small crater is the quarry where they carved the red top knots. On the way up the hill to the rim of the crater there are a few impressive top knots scattered about still waiting for their placement on top of the moai abandoned at the quarry.

Center Island Sites (12 of 24)

Inside the crater

Center Island Sites (13 of 24)

View from the top of the crater

Although there is not much inside the crater the views from here are worth the short climb.

Ahu Huri A Urenga

March 19 – Afternoon vist

Center Island Sites (15 of 24)

Despite the long name this is a single moai in a field along the road from Hanga Roa town to Anakena beach. He is known for his four hands.

Center Island Sites (9 of 24)

Continuing on to Anakena Beach the road across the center of the island passes through a eucalyptus forest and beautiful open pasture land.

Center Island Sites (8 of 24)

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Sites of the Central Southern Coast of Easter Island, Chile

This post continues a series on a 6 day trip to Easter Island in March of 2018. For this series I’ve divided the posts by area of the island and archaeological site rather than chronologically as we visited the top sites more than once. See the Easter Island page for an outline of all the posts in this series and our complete day by day itinerary. 

To organize our independent tour of the island we used A Companion Guide to Easter Island which is a great resource for both archaeological information and photography tips including best time of day to visit the sites. We did find that they are tightening restrictions on visiting the sites, e.g., enforced visiting hours and strict limitations on where you are allowed to walk within the sites, making some routes suggested in the guidebook inaccessible.

Central Southern Coast

Central Southern Coast

There are two main sites, Ahu Akahanga and Ahu Hanga Te’e (Vaihu), on the southern coastal road that heads from town to the sunrise site of Ahu Tongariki. Both of these sites are examples of platforms with toppled moai and are interesting from an archaeological perspective. For me the most tantalizing aspect of this section of the island was the rocking wave action.

Access to both of these sites is more tightly controlled than suggested in the guidebook with manned gates that close at 6PM and last entry at 5:30.

Ahu Akahanga

March 16 – Afternoon Visit

Ahu Akahanga

Remains of boathouse

Besides the platform of toppled moai the site also has good examples of the remains of boathouses, the dwellings the Rapu Nui lived in. Unfortunately they now have the route suggested in the guidebook to see these remains “roped off”.

Ahu Akahanga

Marked path

Actually, their route markings were not very clear and following the books advice I ended up at the boathouse and was promptly scolded for not staying on the marked path.

Ahu AkahangaAhu AkahangaAhu Akahanga

Ahu Akahanga

Local Fisherman

Ahu Hanga Te’e (Vaihu)

March 17 – Afternoon Visit

Ahu Hanga Te’e (Vaihu)

At Vaihu they have two models of the boathouses the early Rapa Nui lived in. You can easily tell why they called them boat houses. They are basically an upside down boat with a stone front patio in front. We saw a couple of these patios when we were “illegally” touring the Ahu Akahanga site yesterday (see above).

Ahu Hanga Te’e (Vaihu)Ahu Hanga Te’e (Vaihu)Ahu Hanga Te’e (Vaihu)

The platform with fallen moai has a stunning setting, a rocky shore with waves crashing behind it. A couple of top knots complete the image. This site would also have good light in the morning.

Central Southern Coast

Drive Along the Southwestern Coast

March 17

Southwest Coast

This drive, heading up the coast from Vaihu instead of directly into town, is recommended in the guide for the views from the cliffs. I’m not sure we were on the right road the whole time as we ended up in the modern quarry at one point, but you can take the coastal road all the way to the tank farm and airport.

Southwest CoastSouthwest Coast

We returned to the cliffs one morning for sunrise.

Watching the Wave Action

March 20

Central Southern Coast

The southern coastline is awesome for watching waves crash, one of my favorite pastimes. If I thought the waves were rocking a day or two ago they were doubly rocking today. Huge waves crashing; the coastline a brilliant blue and frothy white.

Central Southern CoastCentral Southern Coast

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Sites on the North Coast of Easter Island, Chile

This post continues a series on a 6 day trip to Easter Island in March of 2018. For this series I’ve divided the posts by area of the island and archaeological site rather than chronologically as we visited the top sites more than once. See the Easter Island page for an outline of all the posts in this series and our complete day by day itinerary. 

To organize our independent tour of the island we used A Companion Guide to Easter Island which is a great resource for both archaeological information and photography tips including best time of day to visit the sites. We did find that they are tightening restrictions on visiting the sites, e.g., enforced visiting hours and strict limitations on where you are allowed to walk within the sites, making some routes suggested in the guidebook inaccessible.

North Coast Sites

March 19

After a sunrise visit to Ahu Tongariki we continued on to the north side of the island as the guidebook suggested that these sites were better visited in the morning light.

Pavo Vaka Petroglyphs

We started with the petroglyphs at Pavo Vaka and since the entrance is not guarded you can visit the site at any time. Petroglyphs are best seen in first or last light to be able to see the designs in the rocks.

Pavo Vaka Petroglyphs

Pavo Vaka Petroglyphs

Large Canoe

When the sun is high the carvings disappear in the harsh light. Although it was difficult to make out many of the forms, the fish and the large canoes were clearly visible.

North Coast (1 of 1)-2

Beach at noon

We then head down the road to Anakena Beach, the only real beach on the island. The sun was just starting to light the beach when we arrived. Although it was still before posted opening hours, the entrance here too was not guarded.

Anakena Beach

Anakena Beach

Monday morning

A nice beach for swimming it was quiet on Monday morning.

Ahu Nau NauAhu Nau Nau

In front of the beach the well-restored  Ahu Nau Nau  was lit from the side but their topknots put their faces somewhat in shadow. I thought the site might be better lit on our return from a short walk to the beach, but this only left more of the moai faces in shadow. With the angle of the sun I’m not sure afternoon light would be better.

Ahu Nau Nau

In any case it’s a photogenic site as these maoi were better preserved after they had fallen.

Ahu Ature Huki,

There is also a single moai, Ahu Ature Huki, a short ways away.

A couple of days later after a hike along the north side of the island we stopped by Ahu Nau Nau around noon for a second look.

North Coast (15 of 15)

North Coast (14 of 15)

The moai faces were in shadow but the back of the platform was lit and you can see the carvings on the backside of the moai as well as the platform.

North Coast (1 of 1)-4.jpg

Also the profile of the moai with palm trees in the background is still lit at this time of day.

Ovahe Beach

The secret beach, Ovahe, is not so much of secret anymore and not much of beach. A family was already there when we arrived and the small beach was completely underwater. Maybe there would be some beach at low tide. On our way back to the car two other groups were on their way to this “secret” beach. We found it where the guidebook said it was. The turn off is across from the 40K sign along the main road about 1k before you reach Anakena Beach.

Te Pito KuraTe Pito Kura

The largest moai, Te Pito Kura, looks more impressive from a distance as he is in pieces and it is difficult to get a sense of scale in order to appreciate just how large his ten meters is.

Te Pito Kura

The assembly of round rocks on the beach to the left, sometimes called, “The Navel of the World”, has interesting stories associated with it but no one know what it was really used for.

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Rano Raraku Quarry, Easter Island, Chile

This post continues a series on a 6 day trip to Easter Island in March of 2018. For this series I’ve divided the posts by area of the island and archaeological site rather than chronologically as we visited the top sites more than once. See the Easter Island page for an outline of all the posts in this series and our complete day by day itinerary. 

To organize our independent tour of the island we used A Companion Guide to Easter Island which is a great resource for both archaeological information and photography tips including best time of day to visit the sites. We did find that they are tightening restrictions on visiting the sites, e.g., enforced visiting hours and strict limitations on where you are allowed to walk within the sites, making some routes suggested in the guidebook inaccessible.

Morning Visit to Rano Raraku Quarry

March 17

Rano Raraku Quarry

Rano Raraku, the quarry where the moai statues were carved from the mountain face, was my favorite site on the island, both for the history it represents and for the photographic opportunities it offers.

Rano Raraku Quarry

Morning

Rano Raraku Quarry

Afternoon

The site is a grassy hill of half-buried moai waiting to be finished and taken to their intended platforms. That day never came as the site was suddenly abandoned. Now the hillside remains as a time capsule demonstrating the fascinating story of how the moai were carved and transported.

Rano Raraku Quarry

The site is also a visual spectacle, as if the layout and angle of the stone statues were intentionally and artistically designed waiting to be photographed.

Rano Raraku Quarry

Notice the large moai in the upper center of the stone face

Rano Raraku Quarry

From the upper pathways you can see how the figures were carved as they lie prone in the stone. The front side was carved in this position, then the backside was carved out releasing it from the stone. It was then tipped upright into a hole where the backside of the figure could be finished.

Rano Raraku Quarry

On the back side of the quarry is a crater. On this morning it was a short 10 minute walk up a muddy path as it had rained the previous night. The lake inside of the crater, one of the few fresh water sources of the island, was pretty low in mid-March.

Rano Raraku Quarry

The grassy hills around the lake were a brilliant green with a few moai standing on one side in the distance. They don’t let you get very close.  Here most photos in the morning light are into the sun.

Rano Raraku Quarry

As the quarry is popular they now restrict visitors to one visit to the site, so you have to decide on a morning or afternoon visit. According to the guidebook, the site is best visited in the early morning or mid to late afternoon.  I decided on an early morning visit thinking we would have better light.

Rano Raraku Quarry

Located a short distance from Ahu Tongariki, the quarry is easy to reach after a sunrise visit to the former. Unfortunately, I had the park’s opening hours wrong. The hours listed in the guidebook are out of date. The correct hours are printed on the front of the National Park map they give you with your park entrance ticket.

Rano Raraku Quarry

Arriving at 9AM I asked if the site was open. The park ranger told me it didn’t open until 9:30 but I could ask at the ticket office if we could go in. The entrance attendant checked us in and let us through a good 20 minutes before 9:30.  Consequently we had the quarry to ourselves for about 30 minutes as the sun was just making its way around the hill.

Rano Raraku Quarry

Around 10:00 we headed back toward the entrance and on to the crater. More and more small groups were entering the quarry. Just before 11:00 when we were leaving three big van loads arrived.

Talking My Way in for a Second Visit

March 20

Rano Raraku Quarry

Eduardo, the owner of the guesthouse where we were staying, mentioned on our arrival that you could possibly talk your way in for a second visit. He said that if you try you should be very polite and not argue. Thinking that afternoon light might be better than morning’s, I decided to try to talk my way in for an afternoon visit.

Rano Raraku Quarry

Ship carved on the belly of the moai

Rano Raraku Quarry

Upper right large moai still attached to the stone face

They really frown upon second visits unless your first visit was hampered by rain or some other natural disaster. My excuse, wanting to photograph the site with different light, turned out not to be an acceptable reason, but I adhered to Eduardo’s advice, accepted what she told me and simply looked sad.  I should also mention that I made my case in Spanish hoping for a more sympathetic response.

Rano Raraku Quarry

The Twins

After lecturing me for a few minutes on why a second visit was not possible  she suddenly gave in and allowed me 20 minutes in the quarry. Thrilled, I stuck to my 20 minute gift and hit the highlights of what I wanted to photograph again – for sure the twins as they are only lit in the afternoon and the view of Ahu Tongariki in the distance as it too is only an afternoon shot.

Rano Raraku Quarry

Morning view towards Tongariki

Rano Raraku Quarry

Afternoon view towards Tongariki

Overall both times of the day have their photo opportunities, though I think there is more to work with as the sun works its way around the hillside in the afternoon. The other advantage of this second visit was a killer blue bird day. Although clouds can add interest in certain settings the blue sky really sets off the gray stone of the moai.

Rano Raraku Quarry

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Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile

This post continues a series on a 6 day trip to Easter Island in March of 2018. For this series I’ve divided the posts by area of the island and archaeological site rather than chronologically as we visited the top sites more than once. See the Easter Island page for an outline of all the posts in this series and our complete day by day itinerary. 

To organize our independent tour of the island we used A Companion Guide to Easter Island which is a great resource for both archaeological information and photography tips including best time of day to visit the sites. We did find that they are tightening restrictions on visiting the sites, e.g., enforced visiting hours and strict limitations on where you are allowed to walk within the sites, making some routes suggested in the guidebook inaccessible.

Ahu Tongariki

Ahu Tongariki

Tongariki, where 15 moai stand facing the rising sun, is the largest platform and most notable site on the island. All sites where the moai are standing have been restored as all the moai were toppled centuries before. Still, it’s an impressive site and worth the early rise to see the sun’s rays between the statues. We visited the site three times for sunrise and once in the afternoon.

March 17

Woke to bursts of rain during the night. The rain was forecasted overnight but was supposed to clear by day break. Early morning I peeked out the door. It was still pitch black but I could see stars. There was hope for a good sunrise.

Sunrise is late here in mid-March – not until around 8:15. The electricity went out just as we were leaving the house at 7:15, making the dark night even darker. There were a few cars on the road, most likely heading to Tongariki, as we were, for the sunrise, one of the must dos on a visit to Easter Island.

Along the coast voluminous dark shadows loomed over the sea as it started to get light. The large blobs on the horizon worried me as they could potentially spoil sunrise.

There were just a few cars on the road but when we arrived at Tongariki the parking lot was filling quickly. The site opens before 8:00. A subdued assembly of tourists was spread out in the large grassy area in front of the 15 moai on the largest platform in Polynesia. From time to time you would see a camera flash but mostly people were just hanging out in the darkness, staring out at the moai and waiting for the show.

Ahu Tongariki

The moments before sunrise can often have some of the deepest colors. This morning was rather drab and I didn’t think it would amount to much, but just before sunrise the clouds nearest to where the sun was coming up started to turn a brilliant orange-red.

Ahu Tongariki

Rounded cumulous clouds started building to south. Hints of color began to appear in every direction. Before long there was a great pink streak across the sky. Not such a blah sunrise after all.

Ahu TongarikiAhu Tongariki

If you want to catch the sun rising between the moai, time of year and where you stand makes a big difference. In mid-March the sun rises behind the left side of the platform and would be moving further left away from the moai heading towards winter solstice in June. To see the rising sun more in the middle of the platform you should time your visit closer to summer solstice in December.

Ahu Tongariki

Ahu Tongariki

Vast size of the platform

Ahu Tongariki

The back of the platform is nicely lit at this hour and has some interesting angles for photography.

Ahu TongarikiAhu Tongariki

Early morning is also a good time to check out the petroglyphs at the back of the site near the wall as the ground level carvings are more easily seen before the sun gets too high.

Ahu Tongariki

The Traveler, located near the entrance, is a moai that did a tour in Japan in 1982 and was successfully returned to the island.

Ahu Tongariki

Most everyone disperses from the site shortly after sunrise. If you don’t make it for sunrise it’s really better to visit this platform in the late afternoon when the sun isn’t directly behind the moai.

March 19

Ahu Tongariki

Ahu Tongariki

Shadows lightened to show the people at the site

On our second sunrise visit to Ahu Tongariki there were more people than there were two days earlier, including a couple of tour groups. This time I tried standing further back from the moai to be able to see the sea at base of the statues and maybe catch the sun’s rays between them.

Ahu Tongariki

Certainly this sunrise was not as dramatic as two days earlier, but it’s a delightful time of day to be out. The only time it is really cool.

Ahu Tongariki

Ahu TongarikiAhu Tongariki

Be sure to check out the backs of the moai before leaving sunrise. They glow orange with the first rays of light.

Ahu Tongariki

March 21

On our third sunrise visit there were even more people than at the first two. It was still not crowded per se but there were too many people standing on rocks, some of which were interfering with the silhouettes of the moai against the lit sky.

Ahu Tongariki

Like the other two mornings there was not much color until the sun was up.

I had higher hopes on the drive out to the site as there were low stratus clouds over the sea which can light up beautifully if other factors are right. While they did light up some it wasn’t as bright as the first morning.

Ahu Tongariki Afternoon Visit

March 20

Ahu Tongariki

Don’t let a sunrise visit be your only visit to Tonganriki. The faces and other details of these impressive moai are much more visible in the afternoon light, preferably as late as possible. The site closes at 6 with 5:30 the last entry.

Ahu Tongariki

When we arrived just at 5:30 the site was nearly empty except for one young couple with a tripod trying to get a photo or video of them lip locked in front of the majestic row.

Ahu TongarikiAhu Tongariki

Ahu Tongariki

Coastline behind the platform

Ahu Tongariki (1 of 1)-2.jpg

The Traveler

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Review of Suizandina, Northern Lake District, Chile

March 9-12, 2018

near Curacautín

This northern area of the Lakes District, northeast of Temuco, has a more refined feel. There are fewer homesteads and larger acreages of pasture land and grain fields. It’s prettier, more open and less populated. However, it also does not have the mass adventure tourism industry that you have around Pucón. This may be a plus or negative depending on what you are looking for.

Suizandina

Suizandina

This tidy lodge on the road to Lonquimay has a variety of sleeping options including camping, cabins and four ensuite rooms in the main house.

Suizandina (1 of 1).jpg

Our ensuite room was spacious with high ceilings and a Swiss flair such as Individual down comforters on the comfortable king size bed. The room and bathroom are in good condition and very clean. Small euro shower. Amenities included a safe and hair dryer although we needed our plug adapter for their hair dryer.

The only real draw back for us was the lack of outlets, only one in the bedroom next to the main light switch and two in the bathroom next to the sink. They do have outlets in the dining room down stairs, but it is three outlets together and not very convenient if very many people need to charge things.

The second week in March business was slow. All four of the rooms in the main building were occupied our first night. The second night we were the only ones and on the third it was us and one other couple. No one was camping.

Suizandina

Suizandina (9 of 12)

The breakfast buffet had a nice selection even on the days where there were few guests. Choices included – cereal, yogurt, milk, cheese, cold cuts, whole fruits, tiny muffins, homemade jams, butter, and nice breads. Scrambled eggs are offered and cooked to order. Brewed coffee and hot milk.

While half board is offered in the pricing when they don’t have enough guests to do a set menu dinner is ordered off of the a la carte menu. The wood paneled dining room has a pleasant mountain chalet atmosphere and a selection of wines are available for purchase.

Suizandina

Behind the lodge llamas graze.

All in all a good location for exploring the area and a pleasant place to relax and dine after a day of hiking.

Note on Pricing and Paying the Bill. Sergio, the owner, states on the reservation confirmation that he sends you that his prices include 19% VAT, but that you will not have to pay the VAT if you pay in cash with foreign currency only, i.e., USD, Euro or Swiss Franc. Chilean laws allows for the VAT exemption if paying by credit card as well, but some owners will only give you the tax discount if you pay cash. Since he quotes prices in Chilean pesos you lose more than half the discount in the exchange rate he offers you. It’s still better than paying the Chilean peso price but don’t expect a 19% discount as he keeps 10% of the discount for himself through the exchange rate. This may anger some guests, but he is quite up front with it as his exchanges rates are clearly posted at the front desk. He gave us the same VAT discount for food which is not included in the law. Overall it is not as good a deal as you might expect but his prices are good and the room and board he offers are worth the price he charges.

First Dinner

Overall a tasty and well prepared meal. There were eight guests in the dining room and dinner, one set menu (carpaccio de res, lasagna de vedura, mousse de chocolate), was served between 8 and 9.

Suizandina

The beef carpaccio was of excellent quality and topped with capers, cranberries and dried parmesan cheese. An interesting mix of flavors, not un-pleasant but rather untraditional. My only real complaint is that they serve it fresh out of the fridge. It would have been nicer served closer to room temperature.

Suizandina

The lasagna, layers of cheese and veggies, would delight any vegetarian or cheese lover. I found it well done and tasty.

A generous portion of chocolate mousse with walnut. Although I loved the large chunk of walnuts it was a little too sweet for my tastes.

Second Dinner

As we were the only two guests dining tonight there was no set menu available and we had to order off the a la carte menu. As such dining hours were more flexible as well. They have a fairly extensive menu of salads, sandwiches, rosti (a Swiss potato dish something like hash browns) and knöpfli (Swiss noodle something like spätzli) paired with various kinds of meat, steak, pork cutlet, chicken and salmon.

Suizandina

The seasonal salad ordered for two was a disappointment, mostly iceberg lettuce and grated carrot with some Kalamata olives with overly vinegary pickled cauliflower and croutons.

Suizandina

The mains, simple and basic, were cooked to order and well prepared. Don’s port cutlet was nicely cooked and my steak was very rare, rarer than I usually eat, but more a communications error than the fault of the kitchen. The meat was tender flavorful. Our starches, one rosti and one knöpfli, were both well done and tasty.

Third Dinner

On our third night at the lodge there was again no set menu as it was only us and one other couple.

Suizandina

We basically had the same thing we ordered the night before except we switched the starches between us  – Don had the knöpfli and I the rosti with the pork cutlet and the chicken. It was fine but if this isn’t your go-to meal it could get boring in a hurry. They do have some pasta and sandwich options as well.

Suizandina

To mix it up a bit we started with soup. The tomato soup was made with roasted tomatoes and was  good but thick and over seasoned for my tastes, tasting more like pasta sauce than soup. The squash soup was also quite thick and much more mildly seasoned.

Pizza at Nativa Malalcahuello

Nativa Malalcahuello

Located on route 181 between Malalcahuello town and Suizandina this pizzeria serves a wide selection of pizzas and  beers as well as other options. The thin crust pizza serves two and was nicely done. We ordered the Nativa with local ingredients including – the nuts from the araucaria tree, venison, arugula and a local cheese. Excellent.

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Hike to Cráter de Navidad, Malalcahuello National Reserve, Lake District, Chile

March 11, 2018

Malalcahuello National Reserve

The forests in the Lake District have been wonderful; beautiful old growth forest with giant beech and araucaria (monkey puzzle ) trees. But after three forest hikes in four days we were keen on doing something different. I stumbled on the Cráter de Navidad hike recommended in Lonely Planet. Although listed as a short two hour, 1.5K hike, we liked the idea of walking beneath the Lonquimay Volcano through a volcanic landscape to the top of the crater.

Malalcahuello National Reserve

Lonquimay Volcano

For this hike to be truly spectacular with views of the volcanoes you do need good weather. It could still be interesting in low clouds but it would considerably change the character of this hike.

Malalcahuello National Reserve

While there is a trail that climbs higher towards the volcano, it isn’t a better route and it is best to stick to the marked trail (blue sticks) along the bottom of the valley.

Malalcahuello National Reserve

This first part of the trail is through volcanic dunes of sorts with vistas of the Tolhuaca Volcano in the distance and views of the Lonquimay Volcano to the west.

Malalcahuello National Reserve

Once you reach the crater the trail continues up the cone. It’s very steep and slow going but it’s only a 190 meter climb.

Malalcahuello National Reserve

Malalcahuello National Reserve

Once at the top you have views looking into the crater with the volcano behind it.

Malalcahuello National Reserve

There is also a lava tube. Try throwing a rock in it and listen for it to hit bottom. It doesn’t.

Malalcahuello National Reserve

The trail continues up and around. We sat at the edge and watched the clouds dance around the peak hoping they would clear, but a watched volcano top never clears. It gets close and then disappoints.

Malalcahuello National Reserve

Heading back to the car in the far distance

Malalcahuello National Reserve

Once we were on our way back down, of course, it cleared and we had fabulous views of cloud free peaks along the road and at the Volcanoes viewpoint further down the road.

Malalcahuello National Reserve

At the viewpoint you can see a number of volcanoes in the area. A handy map names them for you.

Drive to the trailhead

 

The Cráter de Navidad trail is reached from the east entrance of the Malalcahuello Reserve (not the one just outside the town of Malalcahuello). From Malalcahuello town, continue east on 181 for 3 kilometers. Turn north onto route 89 and continue 4K to the turnoff for the Lonquimay volcano (left). The park entrance is another couple of kilometers up this road towards the ski center.

Malalcahuello National ReserveMalalcahuello National Reserve

From the park entrance drive 1K and take the road to the right, then continue on another 5-6 kilometers to the sign that points to the Cráter Navidad. This is actually before you see the crater.

Malalcahuello National Reserve

There is no real parking lot here but you can park just off the road. The trail can be seen by looking over the edge towards the volcano.

Malalcahuello National Reserve

One thing the guide books miss, both Lonely Planet and Rough Guide, is the great scenic drive from the east park entrance to the Volcanoes Viewpoint. If you don’t want to do the hike it is still worthwhile to drive out to the mirador (viewpoint) a few kilometers past the trailhead. The road is cut into the lava sand and has wide open views of the volcano.

Paso de las Raíces

Paso de las Raíces

Taking advantage of our clear day we followed the Rough Guide recommendation and drove to the top of the Los Raíces pass on the way to Lonquimay, not to be confused with the tunnel road, route 181. Route 89 spits off before the tunnel and winds over the mountains (see map above).

Paso de las Raíces

The well maintained dirt road – don’t take it if there is snow – was a fairly easy drive to the top. Although scenic it was not as stunning as the guide book suggested and I preferred the drive to the volcano viewpoint mentioned above.

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Sierra Nevada Trail, Conguillío National Park, Lake District, Chile

March 10, 2018Conguillío National Park

It rained most of the night with heavy downpours at times. We woke to a crystal clear day, the air scrubbed clean and as the clouds hanging in the valleys burned off they revealed a perfect blue sky. Still, some clouds were persistently clinging to the peaks leaving me to wonder if I would see the Llaima Volcano today.

The Sierra Nevada trail is touted in Lonely Planet as “one of Chile’s finest short hikes”. With fresh snow on the peaks but iffy cloud conditions we would see if the hike would live up to the claim.

We arrived at the trailhead at 10:45 and there were only two other cars in the parking lot. It was a cold 8° Celcius when we started and probably colder at the top, but a beautiful day for a hike.

Conguillío National Park

The first half of the 6K hike up 600 meters is through forest. Although a pleasant forest, I found the trees not as large and the fairly dense bamboo forest not as attractive as the more open forest on the two hikes we did in Huerquehue National Park. The bamboo here, however, was still green making a pretty forest walk but not allowing many opportunities for views.

Conguillío National Park

Magellanic Woodpecker

The trail is well graded, with some roots but not so many that they inhibit the climb. I made much better time on this trail than on the Cerro San Sebastian hike. The trail is also well marked. Sign posts numbered 1 through 15 note the distance completed and remaining as well as the elevation.

Conguillío National Park

When you reach about half way the bamboo disappears leaving just the mature trees and a more open forest. A little way further there is a steeper climb but then as you reach the ridge the trail climbs more moderately.

Conguillío National Park

Conguillío National Park

Volcano view

Here the views of the ridge in front of you (unfortunately into the sun) and the volcano to your left open up. For us the ridge was exceptionally scenic with a fresh dusting of snow. The volcano, on the other hand, was cloaked in clouds at the moment but the cloud cover seemed to be thinning.

 

Conguillío National Park

Volcano view

Conguillío National Park

The trail then opens onto a fairly flat section of crushed lava with views of the volcano still hidden.

Conguillío National Park

Some snow remained on the ground and in the trees from the previous night’s event.

Conguillío National Park

Past this flattish section it looks like the trail splits with the more obvious track bending around to the right at the base of the ridge. The main trail really goes to the left under low trees, today dripping wet from the melting snow.

Conguillío National Park

Conguillío National Park

Trail to the mirador

Conguillío National Park

Once past the trees it’s just a short way to the mirador with fabulous views of the volcano towering above the lake and the araucaria (Monkey Puzzle) trees in the foreground. The trail actually continues on another 100 meters up to a non-descript point without better views.

Conguillío National Park

At the end point we met some locals who were gobbling up the native berries found here.

Conguillío National Park

We lucked out and the clouds thinned for an hour or two. We ate lunch at the mirador and then headed down the trail. Amazing views with the fresh snow and blue skies.

Is this trail one of the Chile’s best? It has a lot of pluses, especially if you have great weather. It’s an overall pleasant trail with a well graded climb.

Conguillío National Park

View from the second mirador

While the views along the first half are mostly non-existent except for the two miradors with views of the lake, the second half is quite open with views of both the volcano and the mountain ridge above you. I found the forest in Huerquehue National Park prettier with more impressive moss covered trees. The views from Cerro San Sabastian are more expansive but require tackling a harder, steeper trail to reach them. Certainly this is a very worthwhile trail if you are traveling through the Lake District of Chile.

Drive to the Trailhead

Conguillío National Park

The drive to Conquillío National Park from Suizandina takes just over an hour, 25 minutes back to Curacautín and then 40 minutes on a dirt road to the park. On our way back to Suizandina we took the road recommended by Google Maps that bypasses Caracautín. The bridge was under construction but otherwise the road was in decent enough condition for a regular car.

It looks like they are in the process of paving the road into the park. At the time of writing it had been widened and regraded, making it perfectly passable in the summer season for regular cars. A short distance before the park entrance the road narrows but still we had no difficulties all the way to the Sierra Nevada trailhead.

At the park entrance the road is blocked where you have to pay the entrance fee of 6,000CLP($9USD)/ person for foreigners.

Conguillío National Park

From the entrance it is Conanother 20-30 minutes to the trailhead at the end of Lake Conguillío. The first part of the drive passes through lava fields with views of the Llaima Volcano. The road then traverses a deep, dark forest. The trailhead is well marked and has a new railing around a small parking lot. You can’t miss it.

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Review of Tinquilco Refugio, Huerquehue National Park, Lake District, Chile

March 7-9, 2018

Tinquilco Refugio

Located in a private area of the Huerquehue National Park the Tinquilco Refugio makes a great base for exploring the park’s two great trails. See Cerro San Sebastián and Los Lagos for a full report of the trails.

Tinquilco RefugioTinquilco Refugio

Located on a pretty wooded site, the refugio has a very pleasant outdoor patio, perfect for hanging out on warm summer afternoons. Don’t expect spectacular views, more a charming spot to chill.

Tinquilco Refugio

The lodge sleeps about 16 in 4 double rooms and 2 bunk rooms that sleep 4 each. We had one of the double rooms with a shared bathroom. While called a king room It barely holds a queen bed with not much room to spare. The bed, however, is more comfortable than most in this price category and is topped with a down comforter.

The shared bath is small but adequate with an extra sink in the entry way to the bathroom. The shower is showing its age and is in need of an update. The hot water is extremely difficult to regulate, oscillating from scalding hot to freezing cold. However the hot water, such as it is, is available 24 hours.

Tinquilco RefugioTinquilco Refugio

The refugio is set up nicely for guests with a reading nook upstairs and a lounge area downstairs in the open concept dining room/ kitchen/ lounge area. The kitchen is divided into an area for guests to cook their own meals and one where the host, Patricio, cooks for you.

Tinquilco Refugio

Patricio, the owner and host, is a charming character and an excellent cook and is what really makes this place special. Dining here is like visiting a friend’s house with great conversation, food and wine. One of our most treasured experiences in Chile.

The refugio is not staffed before 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning, so breakfast is laid out the night before. A simple affair of quality products including homemade whole grain bread, butter, and a variety of homemade preserves. French press coffee is available.

Tinquilco Refugio

Dinner the first night was prepared by staff as Patricio had a business meeting and was not available to cook dinner.

Tinquilco Refugio

The vegetarian meal included of two excellent salads followed by porotos granados, a typical Chilean dish, consisting of beans and corn prepared in the summer when the beans and corn are fresh. Everything was beautifully executed. We were eight guests at the dinner table. Six German speakers and us, though most of the Germans spoke excellent English.

On our second evening Patricio cooked. He had been to Pucón earlier that day and found fresh seafood, caught just that morning on the coast. He explained that in Chile you are never very far from the sea.

Tinquilco Refugio

Dinner started with a mariscos soup, his grandmother’s recipe. Excellent seafood, nicely cooked in a flavorful broth.

Tinquilco Refugio

The main dish was a local trout served with a potato and avocado puree with a dash of nutmeg, an ingredient he now has difficulty getting in Chile. It has been used by drug smugglers to confuse the police dogs and is no longer available in the whole form in Chile. Everything was beautifully prepared. At the table were four guests, us, an Australian couple, and two friends of Patricio. A fabulous evening.

Planning your stay a bit off high season is much nicer as I think the facility would feel crowded at full capacity. Also watch the weather. We had great summer weather for hiking. I’m not sure how the refugio would feel in bad weather.

Driving to the Refugio

Whether we could drive to the refugio or not was a concern for us as we had a Peugot 2007 and not a 4-wheel drive with high clearance. The CONAF park ranger recommended that we leave the car at the park entrance parking lot a good 1.7K from the refugio. We had read that other guests had successfully made it to the refugio in regular cars, so with the good weather and dry roads we made the drive. Not once but twice. One tough spot was particularly high and we had to keep up speed to get over it but otherwise the road wasn’t too much of a problem. They regraded the road during our stay, so the drive out on the last day was a breeze.

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Hike to Los Lagos, Huerquehue National Park, Lake District, Chile

March 8, 2018

Los Lagos Hike

This scenic hike around the lakes has a shorter option and a longer option that includes a couple of more lakes. We did the longer circuit but in late summer these two outer lagunas were dryer and not as pretty as the lakes on the short circuit. The forest on both routes is a combination of open forest with huge trees and more closed in forest with considerable underbrush.

Staying at the Refugio Tinquilco (see the following post) just at the start of the Los Lagos hike is a definite advantage for those who want to stay ahead of the crowds. This is a very popular hike, but starting out from the refugio at 9:30 we were ahead of most everyone. We only saw one guy and one couple until later in the day when we were heading back down. A real luxury on such a beautiful late summer day.

The trail is steep. Not as steep as the trail up Cerro San Sebatián, but still the long circuit has a total ascent of over 1000 meters, the short circuit over 700 meters. These are not easy hikes for those who are not used to steep trails.

Los Lagos Hike

It’s a 1.7k hike up the road from the CONAF parking area to the Tinquilco Refugio where we started the hike. From here it’s about 2k up a wide trail to the control point for the Los Lagos trail. The trail gets prettier as you leave civilization behind and enter the old growth forest. The climb for the most part is well graded.

Los Lagos Hike

Past the control point the climb becomes steeper, some of it aided by stairways and a plank path with foot holds.

Los Lagos Hike

Along the ascent there are two detours to visit waterfalls. Both go down, down, down to the falls. We only went to the first falls, Nido de Aguila. Pretty but for me not worth the descent and climb back up. The falls are probably more impressive earlier in the year when there is more water running.

Los Lagos Hike

There are also two viewpoints with views of Lake Tinquilco and the Villarrica Volcano.

Los Lagos Hike

Trail markers note the distance and time to Lago Verde. It took us about 2 hours from the refugio with frequent photo stops, about what the signs said.

Los Lagos Hike

Once up the ridge and down a bit the trail levels off somewhat around the lakes. Lago Chico is the first. A scenic spot to snap a view photos. The trail runs along Lago Chico and then on to Lago Verde, A beautiful deep lake.

Los Lagos Hike

Lago Verde

From here you have a choice to go Lago Toro for the short circuit or up to Lagos Pato and Huerquehue.

Los Lagos Hike

The trail climbs to Lago Pato, a brown dry pond of not much interest but with a great stand of Monkey Puzzle Trees (Araucaria araucana).

Los Lagos Hike

This is near the high point of the trail but not the last of the steep sections. The trail continues through the forest and then a long descent to Lake Huerquehue, another brown dry pond of even less interest.

Los Lagos HikeLos Lagos Hike

From Lago Huerquehue the trail continues mostly down to Lago Toro, a pretty lake with a grassy shore, before climbing again.

Los Lagos Hike

Walking along the ridge with views of the lake between the trees was my favorite section of the trail. The track descends and climbs a couple of more times before you hit the short cutoff trail that connects to the trail leading back down.

Los Lagos Hike

From the refugio it took us 6 hours with a short lunch at Lago Huerquehue. Overall it’s a beautiful walk through an old growth forest with lake views.

 

For more information, the Travel Aid website has detailed trail descriptions and maps for a number of hikes around Pucón.

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