Conguillio National Park

29, 30 November 2016 

How to get to Conguillio National Park? Why go there? Conguillio National Park is located in central Chile in the region of La Araucania, not far from the city of Temuco, which is about an hour flight south of Santiago. Conguillio is a very interesting national park, for the unique landscapes dominated by Llaima volcano which makes an amazing backdrop to a forest of Nothofagus and Araucaria (monkey puzzle) trees.

Conguillio National Park near Melipeuco entrance
Getting to Conguillio National Park:
Essential travel guide

It is possible to get to Conguillio National Park through different gates: the simplest and the one I've chosen, having a track that can be used usually year-round, is located a few kilometers from the village of Melipeuco, a couple of hours drive from Temuco airport, in central Chile. Although the track is constantly undergoing maintenance, it is still unpaved with occasional steep climbs and descends, suggesting to hire preferably 4x4 vehicle for increased safety. Exploring the various trails of Conguillio on foot, where you will get to the starting point by car, requires a minimum of two days (but more if you would like to have longer treks to the most remote areas). For the night, you may either return each evening to Melipeuco, or take advantage of cabins and shelters (there is also a good lodge) available within the park itself. The trails are generally well signposted and fairly detailed maps with information are available at the park entrance.

Reaching Conguillio national park from the nearby town of Melipeuco, shows a landscape initially dominated by a barren expanse of lava, in front of the volcano Llaima with its peak almost permanently snow covered.

Conguillio national park Lagoon in Conguillio
Dead trees
After having crossed for some kilometers of lava from the past eruptions of volcano Llaima, which is actually still active, there are several lagoons with trunks of dead trees.
Araucaria forest
The track finally enters a forest dominated by large trees of Araucaria araucana (sometimes called also Araucaria imbricata or "monkey puzzle tree") which are characterized by a rather unusual shape for who is usual to see these trees in the gardens of own country. The typical umbrella shape, as we see in these pictures, is reached only at quite remarkable ages, also as a consequence of the competition with other trees needing to capture as much light as possible.
Monkey puzzle tree forest
The main track in Conguillio National Park, among huge Araucaria trees.
Conguillio National Park has an extensive network of trails of different length, to better appreciate more closely the interesting ecosystem among trees of Nothofagus and Araucaria. At the visitor center, maps and updated information are always available.
Forest of Nothofagus
Southern beeches Secular Araucaria
Secular trees of Nothofagus (southern beeches) and Araucaria fighting each other to get as much light as possible.
Forest of Araucaria araucana Araucaria araucana
Among the trees there is a strong competition either between different species (Araucaria and southern beech) as well as within the same species, in order to get as much sunlight as possible. This condition produces very long trunks having leaves only on the upper part as, in terms of balance of energy of the tree, it would not make sense to have leaves in the lower part of the stem, not reached by the sun.
Sierra Nevada trail
How to grant the passage if a large trunk lies along the path? Simple... by digging a tunnel!
Trail in Conguillio
Huge trunks of Nothofagus dombeyi (southern beech). Locally known as "coigue", this species of Nothofagus grows rather rapidly, often exceeding the height of 45 meters with a trunk 2 meters wide. The conservation status of this tree isn't of particular concern, as it is quite widespread in central and southern Chile and Argentina, where it creates dense forests along with other trees (in case of central Chile, with the monkey puzzle trees).
Forest of southern beeches and money puzzle trees
An example of mixed forest, with trees of Nothofagus dombeyi (southern beeches) and Araucaria araucana (monkey puzzle trees).
Nothofagus dombeyi
Adult Araucaria
Araucaria tree Trunk of Araucaria
Ultra-secular specimens of Araucaria araucana in Conguillio National Park, Chile. The trunks of the Araucaria are often densely covered with pale yellow lichens that transform them into a mini-ecosystem capable of hosting numerous forms of life.
One of the most spectacular trails in Conguillio national park, is the "Sierra Nevada", which can be easily reached by car from Melipeuco entrance. Some kilometers long and well marked, it does not present difficulties and can be hiked by anyone: only the last part, which climbs over a mountain, suggests the presence of an expert guide. This magnificent panorama with the Llaima volcano making a backdrop to the Araucaria trees, is located less than 3 kilometers from the beginning of the path, near a lookout point called Los Condores.
Los Condores lookout view Araucaria araucana tree
Trees of Araucaria Conguillio lake
Araucaria imbricata Llaima volcano
Views of Conguillio lake, Llaima volcano and the Araucarias, seen from Los Condores lookout point along Sierra Nevada trail.
A dense forest of monkey puzzle trees (Araucaria) seen from far away.
Tree of monkey puzzle Monkey puzzle trees
Araucaria in Chile Araucarias of Chile
More pictures of Araucaria found along the Sierra Nevada trail, in Conguillio National Park, Chile. The Araucaria was discovered around the end of the 18th century and later imported into Europe and other countries, where it is now easy to see them in gardens along temperate regions, especially near lakes and in piedmont areas. Accordingly to the IUCN, an international authority that classifies the living species depending on their conservation status, the Araucaria is formally Endangered (EN) due to its limited distribution area which covers only a small portion of central Chile, threatened by frequent fires, volcanic eruptions and abusive grazing.
Araucaria in its natual habitat Mature Araucaria tree

The tops of Araucaria araucana in adult trees (top photo) and young specimens (pictured below).
Bark of Araucaria Lichens
Trunk of Araucaria araucana
Sometimes the lichen that grows on the trunk of Araucaria, also invades the green parts of the trees, including young leaves, but this looks not to be a problem for the plant.
Millennial Araucaria tree
Where to see a thousand-year-old Araucaria? Friendly called "Araucaria madre", this tree of Araucaria is 50 meters tall and has a trunk of 2.2 meters in diameter, for an estimated age of about 1800 years. This real star of Conguillio national park, is located along Los Carpinteros trail, a well marked and flat path for which you can find maps at the visitor center.
Araucaria madre
The bark of a millenary Araucaria.
Embothrium coccineum Flowers of Embothrium coccineum
The Embothrium coccineum is a tree that can reach quite considerable arboreal dimensions and is recognized for the abundant red flowers produced in spring. The species, native to the temperate forests of Chile and Argentina, was imported into Europe in the late nineteenth century and is not uncommon to find them in the gardens of temperate regions.
Violet Flowers in Conguillio
Violets and other flowers are not lacking in the undergrowth.
Campephilus magellanicus Magellanic woodpecker
Hiking through the forests of Conguillio national park, it is not uncommon to hear a sudden noise of hammering in the wood. This is almost certainly produced by the Magellanus woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus), a large bird with a marked sexual dimorphism: the female is in fact completely black (first picture), while the male has a bright red head (second picture).
Birds in Conguillio
Beautiful Araucaria araucana
Conguillio park Track in Conguillio
Another glimpse at the Araucaria araucana trees, along the sides of the main track that crosses Conguillio National Park.
Young monkey puzzle tree
A young Araucaria araucana (monkey puzzle tree).

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