Luxury in the Lake District: Vira Vira and The Araucanía Region of Chile
In the northern part of Chile’s Lake District is a region called Araucanía. Its name derives from the Araucaria Tree (often referred to as the Monkey Puzzle Tree in English). In the last few years the main airport of Araucanía, Temuco, has gotten a major facelift, with multiple flights per day to and from Santiago. This increased access has opened up the region, making it an excellent area from which to explore the Chilean Lake District.
On a recent visit to the area I was fortunate to stay at the luxury lodge Hotel Vira Vira. There are only four Relais & Châteaux properties in Chile (an international membership of top hotels in the world), and Vira Vira is one of them. The hotel’s slogan, “Elegance of Adventure,” gives you an idea of what to expect from your time there.
After a 60 minute flight from Santiago to Temuco, Vira Vira provides a transfer to the hotel located about 90 minutes away, just outside the town of Pucón. Pucón is a popular vacation spot in the summer months of Chile for those looking to access the nearby Villarica and Huerquehue National Parks. Posed on the shores of Lake Villarica, the town itself is pleasant enough, but the real draw is getting outside of Pucón and into the surrounding natural beauty.
Vira Vira is about 30 minutes outside of Pucón. The owners, Michael and Claudia Paravicini, live on the property and their presence assures a very high level of service and quality. The hotel has its own farm, which hosts a modern cheese and milk production facility, and many of the ingredients served in the gourmet meals come from the farm.
Vira Vira is an all-inclusive property, and upon arrival guests meet with the guides to discuss their options for exploring the region. One of the most popular options is a float trip down the Liucura River that flows past the hotel. This was an easy-going and scenic ride where we saw grazing sheep, beautiful water fowl, and, as we turned a corner in the river, a stunning angle of the snowcapped Villarica Volcano.
Villarica is the volcano that dominates this area of Chile, and is one of Chile’s most active. Its most recent eruption was in March of 2015. It’s possible to summit Villarica in one day with minimal gear, and the chance to stand on top of this smoking peak entices many visitors to the region, including myself! I attempted to climb Villarica both mornings I had free, which required waking up at 5:00 a.m. and driving to the start of the ascent, as the guides are not able to accurately assess the conditions until you make it to this point. Sadly, I was unable to do the hike on both days due to high winds and low visibility. Instead, I was able to hike in the nearby national parks – hardly a poor alternative! One afternoon with my Vira Vira guide we drove about 60 minutes to an area of Villarica National Park that is very close to the border of Argentina. We hiked through a forest with Araucaria trees that are over 1,000 years old. With the moss and lichen hanging off these ancient trees, I was transported to Jurassic times, half expecting a dinosaur to emerge at any moment. This hike also gave us a close-up view of the Lanín Volcano that sits on the border of the two countries and can also be seen from San Martin de los Andes. Viewing it on the Chilean side you can just make out the glacier located on the southern slope, where, as in San Martin, you always see the snowcap. This has to do with the direction of the sun and wind. As many Chileans will playfully tell you, whenever their volcanoes erupt the ash conveniently blows into Argentina!
At Vira Vira guests can also choose to mountain bike, horseback ride, kayak or white water raft in the many rivers and lakes that surround the lodge, and then return from an active day to a gourmet meal and world-class comfort. It’s a privileged way to experience the Lake District of Chile, and its location provides great options for extending your itinerary: You could, for example, enjoy a scenic drive south through the Lake District to Cantarias Lodge on the shores of Lake Puyehue, then continue to Puerto Montt, where you can catch a flight to Punta Arenas and journey on to Torres del Paine, or you could opt to cross into Argentina and continue your journey from there.
There are plenty of great options. Ask us how we can incorporate a stay at Vira Vira into your itinerary!