Chile’s slender profile supports a range of outdoor outings, from lakes to volcanoes
JAKE CIGAINERO | Contributing Writer
When Chile’s fit and fabulous really want to get away and play without trekking to rugged Patagonia, they head south for Pucón in the Lakes District. Sitting under the watchful eye of active Villarrica Volcano (last eruption 1971), Pucón exists for outdoors enthusiasts and nature lovers and offers everything from boating on glistening Villarrica Lake to ascending the magma mountain and soaking in soothing thermal hot springs.
All skill levels of climbers, even those with no experience, can attempt the moderately challenging Villarrica ascent. Summit Chile is a new guide outfit (read: they have brand new gear) opened by Suzie Wortman and Claudio Retamal, Pucon’s only mountaineers certified by the American Mountain Guides Association. The value of the agency’s slightly higher fee for the small group approach is apparent arriving at Villarrica’s base to see other companies herding under-equipped 25-person groups up the volcano’s quickly changing terrain of porous volcanic rock, ashy sand, ice and snow.
Approaching the summit, the crater continually waves to climbers, beckoning with its cellophane stream of sulfuric fumes swaying back and forth in the wind. Once at the top of the “house of spirits,” as the indigenous folks of the Mapuche culture call it, the crater’s sulfur-stained walls spiral down into a largely unseen lava lake bubbling from the center of the earth. Occasional leaps of magma offer glimpses of the hot stuff. Standing 1.8 miles above sea level, the real view is not down into a fuming hole, though, but out and across to the magnificent expanse of distant snowcapped peaks rising high above the lakes and green alpine forests below.
After such a climb, Hotel Antumalal, right outside of Pucón’s center, is a welcoming sanctuary. The 62-year-old Bauhaus gem is carved out of a cliff overlooking the tranquil Villarrica Lake. The crimson-trimmed hotel naturally extends from the landscape with architectural features that integrate rock and native Araucanía wood and has attracted guests such as the Queen of England and Emma Thompson.
The magic of the outdoors is rarely dispelled with floor-to-ceiling windows in the hotel’s main rooms and the cavernous Spa Antumaco, which houses the indoor/outdoor pool. However, the hotel’s Restaurant Parque Antumalal terrace is prime seating to have a glass of wine while watching the ochre evening light streak across the face of the lake as the sun sinks behind the gauzy wall of mountains. The real skyscape comes alive, though, once the sun goes down and the twinkling subequatorial stars appear. With no city lights to dull the shine of the night sky, frequent meteoroid sightings and the occasional traversing glint of orbiting satellites might have you rethinking exactly how many pisco sours you’ve enjoyed.
Cozy lake-view rooms with tasteful alpine accents get cozier on chilly nights thanks to en suite wood burning fireplaces. For those seeking even more privacy at the already secluded Antumalal, the three-bedroom Royal Chalet sits independent from the main hotel and features a large living area and interior waterfall.
The enchanting 12-acre property is itself worthy of exploration: It touts five waterfalls, a private pebble beach, walking paths through dahlias and Indian tobacco and a resident company of wild lime green parrots. The hotel maintains a vegetable garden and greenhouse that provide most of the produce for the Restaurant Parque Antumalal and also uses an onsite hydroelectric plant to generate its own power. Owner Rony Pollak, daughter of the Czech newlyweds who moved to Chile in 1938 and devoted their lives to creating Antumalal, proudly notes the property had electricity before the town of Pucón in its early years. Going off the grid has never looked like this.
Nature’s own spa lies in the Termas Geomtricas in nearby Villarrica National Park. A red wooden footbridge runs through a forest of towering monkey puzzle trees layered with overgrown Jurassic Park fauna and ends at a waterfall pouring into a glacially cold plunge pool. Along the pathway, seventeen angular, sun-dappled stone pools of natural hot springs revive the weary with waters that reach up to 105 degrees. At sunset, bathers not quite revived soak in thermal waters by candlelight.
As such a slender slice of South America, where does Chile put it all?
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 25, 2013.