Jimmy and I are pretty good at stumbling upon amazing places. Maybe we have developed a knack for finding cool locations on a map after several years of travel: “This place is located between a crazy volcano wilderness area and a national park — let’s stay here!” Or, we could just be lucky. Whichever it is, it lead us to tiny yet amazing Malalcahuello, Chile for five nights, where we wondered “Why are there so few summer hikers in such a beautiful place?”
Taking in the spectacular views in Malalcahuello, Chile
Malalcahuello National Reserve
We spent two days hiking around the Malalcahuello National Reserve, which is a wilderness reserve just north of the town of Malalcahuello. On our first full day in the area, we hiked Sendero Piedra Santa because we could walk to the trail from town. As we hiked up, up, and away into the reserve, we enjoyed beautiful views overlooking the town and the volcanoes and mountains of the reserve. It was also lush with trees and vegetation, so we were shaded and left sunburn-free.
On another day in Malalcahuello, we took our rental car — a cute little Prius that is going to take us down to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego — further into Malalcahuello National Reserve and to the Crater Navidad trailhead. It’s called Crater Navidad because it erupted on Christmas Day of 1988.
That eruption completely changed its surroundings into a desolate, desert-like, gray abyss. It’s incredible to see hill after hill of ashy sandscape as you drive up to the crater trailhead. Once you hike up to the crater, you will see uninterrupted forest just past the lava line — a picture of what used to be before that fateful Christmas day.
Lonquimay Volcano is a beauty, but don’t be fooled. The crater from this eruption is just outside the volcano, not inside it. You are also surrounded by other volcanoes and mountains in the distance.
PRO TIP: The hike to Crater Navidad is simple enough to do without a guide or any mountaineering gear. (Yay!)
You walk through rough volcanic rock and sand though, so wear tough shoes. There is absolutely no coverage from the high-elevation sunshine and roaring wind. Protect your skin and eyes with sunscreen, a hat, long sleeves, pants, sunglasses, and maybe even a jacket like we did.
Conguillio National Park
If we could go back and do anything differently during our time in Conguillio National Park, we would have camped in the park and stayed a full weekend. It was also a long, slow day trip from Malalcahuello, although Malalcahuello was actually much closer than many popular accommodation options.
To enter the park, we came in from the Northwestern/Curacautin entrance. If it had rained, this drive would have been a little dicey with our Prius, but since we had a stretch of uninterrupted sunshine during our stay, the roads were gravely and dusty. Although traffic flowed both directions, many sections of road could only fit one car at a time, which made the drive interesting, to say the least!
There were also sections where the road was dug into several feet of earth, so you felt like you were driving through a dirt tunnel. As you drive through the park, you also pass old lava fields. Plant regrowth has begun where you drive by, so it feels a bit less desolate than the destruction from Crater Navidad.
Sendero Sierra Nevada
Our hike in Conguillio — Sendero Sierra Nevada — wound up being one of our favorite treks in Chile. The landscape changed as we walked and the and views were beautiful, which are key characteristics of a great hike in our book! There were outstanding miradors (viewpoints) overlooking bright blue Laguna Conguillio, incredible araucaria forests, and Sierra Nevada volcano. Plus it was a warm, blue-sky day when we hiked, so we soaked up that mountain sunshine!
Malalcahuello, Chile, a small town nestled between Malalcahuello Wilderness Reserve and Conguillio National Park, is better-known to Chileans as a skiing destination in the winter. It’s less known as a getaway for incredible hiking in the summer, so we took advantage of its solitude.
We stayed in a cute little A-frame house turned hostel that had just opened its doors on AirBnb, and we had a wonderful and relaxing time. Nestled on a hill overlooking the tiny town and surrounding mountains, we cooked (well, Jimmy cooked), hung out in the hot tub, snoozed in the hammock, and we caught up on our reading. Inspired by the natural beauty right outside our window, Jimmy wrote songs and I helped him craft their melodies.
We were a bit sad to leave, although any feelings of sadness soon lifted … we were heading to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego!
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