Trekking at Cordón Caulle

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Editors Note: This is the first article in Patagon Journal’s special series "Travel in Los Lagos" sponsored by Sernatur Los Lagos
By Nicole Jones
Photos by Nicole Jones, Carlos Gutierrez, Patagonia Expeditions
With snow-capped volcanoes, natural hot springs and lush temperate forests, Puyehue National Park in the Los Lagos region of Chile is a prime spot for adventure travel.
The park and its 2236-meter high Puyehue volcano are also part of a chain of formations known as the Cordón Caulle rift zone, a volatile landscape stirring with volcano activity. On June 4, 2011, a new crater erupted here, sending a plume cloud of ash 10 kilometers into the sky. For a lengthy period afterward, especially on the Argentine side of the Andes, which received most of the ash, tourism and the normal daily routine here was severely affected.
Now, two and a half years later, life in the region is back on track. Vegetation sprouts again and wildlife is returning, making an incredible recovery. So much so that Puyehue volcano and Cordon Caulle is a thriving tourist destination in itself, catered by an enterprising local tour operator, Patagonia Expeditions.
This is a company that has definitely taken to a new level the old adage of turning crisis into opportunity. Once the red alert was lifted, instead of giving up on their business, Patagonia Expeditions moved to take people on horseback and foot up to the smoldering volcano to witness the geologic transformation up close.
Recently, I joined them for a trip. A rainy day, our guide, Cristian Baumeister, a Chilean in his early 30’s and co-owner of Patagonia Expeditions, gathered our group around him in a circle at the Anticura Lodge to prepare us. “This is going to be an intense one, but its going to be fun,” he said.
Before the journey, you can purchase food and supplies for the trek at the lodge, and get a geology lesson at the museum next door. Once on the trail, it’s a half-day hike or horseback ride to access the slopes of the volcano. In the dry summer months, this is a medium-intensity excursion. But on rainy days like today, it’s a larger challenge. “We’re going to take our time going up,” Baumeister reassures our group.
After we finish touring the museum documenting the dramatic before and after scenes of the eruption, we put on our rain gear and head out to the trailhead where our horses await us.



We ride through the countryside, passing herds of sheep and other livestock. Ahead of us is a small opening in a thick forest. There, we enter the passageway filled with coihue, ulmo and tepa trees. Other than the sound of rain tapping the leaves and our horses pulling their legs out of the mud to squish into their next step, it is a quiet morning. Sometimes, when the forest opens, we pause to take in a tremendous, panoramic view to the south of the Casablanca, Tronador, Puntiagudo and Osorno volcanoes.
After climbing steadily higher for several hours, the rain is coming down hard now, and after we pass a couple more steep switchbacks we enter a clearing of long, yellow grass with foggy visibility. Through the mist, we see our refugio, a tiny wooden cabin with 16 bunks where we will sleep for the night.
After lunch at the cabin, we gear up to trek to an area in the shadow of the snowy summit of Puyehue volcano that has retained impressive traces from a 1960 eruption as well as the most recent one – a new 2.3-kilometer long crater, a moon-like landscape surrounded by solidified lava rivers and ash-covered glaciers.
Snowboarders and skiiers are notorious for making this trek during winter for other reasons, eager to propel themselves down the crater of Puyehue volcano only to climb up again for another ride. In the summer months, a smaller crater at the base of the volcano collects rainwater from the wet months and serves as a refreshing place to cool off with a swim after a hike.
The sun begins to subside and it’s time to head back to the refugio for the night. We feel the soreness of our muscles set in as we huddle around the wood-burning stove, drinking hot wine and telling stories. With the last piece of firewood starting to fade, we climb into our wooden bunks and nod off to sleep with the pitter-pattering of rain on the aluminum roof.
For me, it’s hard to get out of the comfortable bunk the next morning. Later, back at Anticura Lodge, relaxing in front of a crackling fire with a cold beer in hand, I reflect on the journey with my new friends and suddenly the rain and mud really didn’t seem so bad after all. Rather, I resolved to come back another day to witness this exciting patch of earth, now erupting with new life.


The trek and horseback ride can be done year-round, but the best time to go (and usually the busiest) is spring and summer. Bring a backpack, sleeping bag and clothing suitable for the windy, chilly often rainy conditions of the high mountains in southern Chile.  Its possible to arrive to Anticura Lodge via a local bus (US$ 12) from either Puerto Montt or Osorno. The Puyehue-Cordon Caulle expedition is US$ 180 and includes bilingual guides, food for two days, snow shoes and insurance (
in Osorno, the 5-star Sonesta Osorno, double room, US$125 with breakfast ( In Anticura, Cabañas Anticura, independent cabins, US$70, dorms US$20, camping US$ 7 (; and Termas Aguas Calientes, with heated cabins, breakfast and Internet, US$ 48 (
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