Villarrica Traverse

Key information: Villarrica Traverse

    • An exposed traverse around and across the myriad, uneven lava fields of Villarrica NP, dipping in and out of Chile's protected temperate rainforests.
      • Skirt the foot of imposing Volcan Villarrica before heading southeast on the high level volcanic range linking Villarrica to Volcan Lanin. Pass the extraordinary exploded crater of Volcan Quetrupillan and skip briefly over the border into Argentina before finishing the trek at the southern end of the national park.
        • This is a high level route with unpredictable mountain weather. Come prepared.

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating85
  • Beauty35
  • Natural interest17
  • Human interest0
  • Charisma33
  • Negative points0
  • Total rating85

Vital Statistics

  • Length: 84km
  • 6-8 days
  • Maximum Altitude: 1,550m
  • Level of Difficulty: Strenuous


This exposed traverse of Villarrica NP skirts the foot of imposing Volcan Villarrica before heading southeast, on the high level volcanic range linking Villarrica to Volcan Lanin. The bare, rocky ridge is fringed by Chile?s verdant temperate rainforests, whose thriving flora form a stark contrast to the dark, barren rock of the myriad, uneven lava fields spilling down from the craters of both active and long-extinct volcanoes. 

Everywhere here, the flora of Villarrica fights to survive in a harsh volcanic environment. Thick forests of beech have escaped the inexorable flow of lava in some areas, whilst Araucania (or monkey puzzle) trees have colonized the slopes of extinct volcanoes. In a sea of dark, barren rock, the native yellow daisy and the hardy michai shrub grow seemingly against the odds, standing out as splashes of bright yellow in an otherwise grey landscape. 

Even the native fauna here is withdrawn: although the park protects diverse species including puma, South American foxes, coypu, pudus and hog-nosed skunks, they are rarely seen. More in evidence are the soaring birds; if you are lucky you may hear the harsh calls of Harris?s Hawks, or witness the grand Andean condor circling on a thermal. 

The traverse begins with a trek looping around Volcan Villarrica at an altitude of around 1,500m, providing stunning views of its snow-covered upper slopes over several days. Clamber across uneven lava fields, descending occasionally for welcome shade below the majestic Araucania trees. A descent from the southeast side leads to a camping area beside the Rio Pichillaneahue. 

Further into the park, views unfold to the southeast, across an unrelentingly barren landscape to distant Volcan Lanin, on the border with Argentina. Closer at hand, the volcanoes of Choshuenco and Mocho provide an atmospheric backdrop, with the conspicuously shaped monkey puzzle trees silhouetted in the foreground. 

Their foliage provides the only colour in the greyscale landscape of Volcan Quetrupillan, whose slopes lead down to the startlingly clear waters of Laguna Azul ? formed when a deep gulch was blocked off by an ancient lava flow. The exploded crater of Quetrupillan is an astonishing sight, an illustration of the pure energy generated beneath these seemingly immovable mountains. 

Several kilometres to the east, further around the base of Quetrupillan, lies milky Laguna Blanca, set in a windy gully. The white waters, lapping against the brown and black volcanic rocks of the shoreline, provide a further stunning contrast in the weird landscape of Villarrica. 

The final stage of the trek traipses through bare basins and clambers over spurs and slopes, with some excellent views. With a brief foray in Argentina, gaze out over the glorious valley of the Rio Blanco before crossing back into Chile. Catch a last clear view of Volcan Lanin before the descent to the trail end begins. Heading steadily downwards, pass waterfalls and sheltered Laguna Abutardas; the trail becomes gradually wetter and vegetation grows more thickly. Follow a rough, zig-zagging track through the forest to Puesco. 

This is an exposed, high level route with unpredictable mountain weather. Come prepared. It can also be difficult to find water on the traverse, as melt-water tends to rapidly vanish into the porous volcanic rock. Therefore, take supplies, stock up whenever you do get the opportunity, and make sure you boil or filter water before use.

Once you reach the end point at Puesco, it is best to visit the customs office ? although do let them know that you haven?t come from Argentina. There are reasonably regular buses back to Pucon from Puesco; crossing the border from here is more difficult without advance planning. 

For more information and photos, including detailed practical information and some warnings, see our Villarrica NP walk page.

Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.


Name: Jeremiah
Posted on: 06/11/2014
This hike was incredible. There was almost no other people there, it was more or less well marked, and man was it gorgeous.

Walko says Thanks, Jeremiah!

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.


Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.


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