The national parks in Chile are simply amazing. Both Nahuelbuta and Conguillío national parks had so much to see we could have stayed there for a weeks!
There are so many neat places to explore off the beaten path – waterfalls, hot springs, native American Mapuche dancing rituals, and hiking trails to rival the John Muir trail in California. They are peaceful and serene, and certainly aren’t overcrowded or trashy.
We were very fortunate to meet up with some friends who were headed to see Parque Nahuelbuta and Parque Conguillío (in Spanish), so we were grateful to tag along. The parks are fairly close to each other, but not exactly neighbors.
The only good way to see these parks is to rent a car or take your bike with camping gear. We didn’t see any buses, but I doubt if there would be any even in the tourist high season. We were too early for the buses to Siete Tazas earlier on our trip.
There are so few travelers in these national parks that hitchhiking isn’t consistent enough to get very far in the right direction. If you’re prepared and have the time, hiking or biking the roads/trails is an excellent way to see the countryside – make sure you have enough food for a few days!
Nahuelbuta National Park
Nahuelbuta National Park is near the coast, just south of Concepción and Lota. We entered on the west side from a small city called Cañete. There is a good selection of hostels, grocery stores, and some camping supplies if you need anything.
Don’t forget to bring a map along!
There is a maze of dusty dirt roads that go in every direction. Good advice is to follow the widest road! They are in really good shape because they’re maintained for logging trucks that work the land nearby. Once and awhile we came across a sign that confirmed we were still headed in the right direction
Piedra del Águila (Eagle Rock)
The main attraction in Nahuelbuta National Park is Piedra del Águila (Eagle Rock) because of the great view of the Park. It’s a short walk from the parking lot and at the end there are stairs leading up to the top of the rock.
We were rewarded with an eagle’s eye view of the Pacific Ocean in the west and volcanos in the east. It really is a nice tranquil place – wish we would have brought a picnic along!
This is also a great place to get up close and check out the huge Monkey Puzzle Trees that Nahuelbuta Park is famous for! They are very interesting tree because they have puzzle-piece bark and have spikes for leaves! They say these trees can be a thousand years old!
Most of them were covered in a type of fuzzy yellow moss that really made them look spidery. I suppose that is why they are called Monkey Puzzle Trees – even a monkey would have a hard time climbing them with the moss and spikes!
There are a few places to camp here and many people take a few days to hike around and see everything. The view at sunset would be amazing! We did not have time to camp here but we would have loved to spend more time in Parque Nahuelbuta!
This was our favorite park of the two because of the variety and amount of sights to see. There is a volcano, lava flows, lakes, snowy mountains, monkey puzzle trees, and many miles of trails. Every few miles along the road there are places to park with something to check out. The entrance fee is $7 per person, or much less if you are Chilean.
It was on our route from Parque Nahuelbuta with our friends so it was a perfect stopping point for us!
Conguillío is sometimes confused with a park that is closer to Santiago but this is actually located about 120 km east of Temuco.
There is a nice visitors’ centers with neat displays showing the volcano and the different animals and plants that you can find in the park. We found a few geocaches in this park, so be sure to check them out too!
On the way to the northern entrance we stopped to see the Princess Waterfall, or Salto de la Princesa. It is a beautiful little spot and was a good rest stop on our way to Conguillío. Take your time and stop at a hot spring if you see a sign along the road!
This park has incredible up close views of the volcano Llaima. It erupted last in 2008 and we could see where the lava flowed near the road. Some signs on the side of the road warned us that certain areas were in the “danger zone” if the volcano erupted, but we didn’t see any glowing lava to worry about. There are many places where the lava flowed across a river and dammed it up to make a lake!
Be sure to stop at one of the many lakes in this park if you can. They are so beautiful with snow covered mountains in the background and make for some awesome pictures! It was bit windy and a little cold when we were visiting, but the sun was always shining! Some people were swimming in the lakes, but we just had a picnic and enjoyed the view.
It is a nice place to go even for a day trip, but there is so much to explore in the car and on foot that one could easily spend a week here!
We stopped to see a small lake that had the most pristine and clear water we have ever seen. They say the recent volcano lava closed off the entrance to the river so it formed a lake. There is a forest of tree trunks visible under the water that were surprised by the volcano eruption. (Neat geocache here)
Mapuche Indigenous Ceremony
As we were leaving the park, we passed an interesting group of people in a field with little huts. Our friends were Chilean, so they knew it was a Mapuche indigenous ceremony for the new year. The Mapuche people gather from miles around to dance for days and offer gifts and sacrifices to their gods for a prosperous new year.
Our Chilean friends were really curious, so they parked and asked the guy at the entrance if we could take a look. He asked “Are you invited?” We certainly weren’t, but our friends did some convincing and they let us in with the threat to not take any pictures.
That was the worst! We were here at a Mapuche celebration with everyone dancing in their traditional clothes and we couldn’t take pictures! Well, take my word that it was amazing. I did take one long distance picture from the road. It’s terrible, but just gives you an idea of how primitive everything they had was.
Wrap up – Although it can be difficult to get to these parks unless you have a car, we highly recommend taking at least a few days or a few weeks to explore these parks. After all, this is what Chile is known for – Its pristine lakes, snow-topped Andes Mountains, and volcanos! Nahuelbuta and Conguillío National Parks are some of central Chile’s most amazing features!