Adding the pretty town of Pucon into our itinerary meant backtracking a little and heading south again, was it worth the detour to climb the active Villarrica Volcano and peer into its eerie, smoky crater? Absolutely! Villarrica is one of the world’s most active volcanos and erupted just last year, May 2015, it only opened again for tourists a couple of months ago, luckily for us.
Our experience involved a tough 5-hour upwards trek, climbing over crumbling volcanic rocks and hiking up a steep glacier, not for the faint hearted. Once at the summit we donned our masks to escape the toxic sulphuric gas and dared to take a peek… I have to admit that I was a little disappointed to not see the bubbling red lava from my imagination (we came a month too late apparently) but the smells and angry crackling sounds from the depths of our earth send shivers up my spine just thinking of it.
The journey back down was somewhat different to our struggle to the summit. Less of a path and more of a pre-carved bum sized toboggan, we whizzed our way back down using our pick as the brake! What a stark contradiction to the majesty of the powerful Villarrica, us giggling weeeeeeeeeeeeeee all the way to the bottom on our big plastic spoons. Our day on the mighty Villarrica was truly an experience of many emotions.
The old port town of Valparaiso, or “Valpo” as it’s known to the locals, is like Santiago’s cooler, arty young cousin. Set into the rock, its labyrinth of winding steep cobbled streets, lined with colourful wall art are as charming as they are laborious to meander. The many “Acensors” or funiculars are a welcome surprise when you are about to make that lengthy climb back to your hotel, they literally pull you up the hill, just don’t think too much about how old they are and how they can possibly still be in operation!
Many visitors to Valpo get sucked in immediately by its trendy chilled out vibe and lack of need-to-impress mentality, there is nothing grand to do or see here, you just have to sit back with a good cup of coffee and feel it hug you with its big friendly carefree arms.
La Serena, Chile
This pleasant coastal town on the road north to San Pedro is the gateway to “La Rua del Estralles” (“The Route of the Stars”). With almost guaranteed cloudless skies and relatively no light pollution the “Valle de Elqui” is undeniably one of the best places on the planet to gaze upon our glorious Universe. With only your eyes you can see countless stars, some of them shooting and the spectacular cloudiness of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. We have all been taught about our solar system and the cosmos, but to actually see these in existence with our own eyes was both mesmerising and overwhelming. The sheer size of our Universe (that we know about!) is mindboggling and the realisation of the insignificance our own planet and our existence, is truly humbling.
Many countries have set up their astronomy headquarters in this region of Chile with serious competition in having the biggest telescope. The most advanced technology in this field can be found here, where one telescope can cost $billions and to use it for one night will cost an astronomer $40,000! Unfortunately, we did not get the chance to peer through any of these, I suspect it may have been wasted on us! Our $10 observatory entrance fee did allow us to use their trusty scope and so we were able to see the planet Jupiter in all it’s glory.