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Hiking in Chile | Exploring the El Cañi Sanctuary Near Pucón

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Wide view of a snowy volcano and monkey puzzle trees in Chile.

LEARN EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VISITING ONE OF PUCON, CHILES TOP OUTDOOR SPOTS: SANCTUARIO EL CAÑI, IN THIS IN-DEPTH GUIDE ON THE TOP HIKES AND PLACES TO EXPLORE.

 



Santuario El Cañi or El Cañi Sanctuary was the first privately protected area in the whole country of Chile - a country known for its stunning beauty and focus on environmental protections (it is now home to 41 national parks).


The sanctuary was put aside in 1990 in hopes of protecting the area's Andean forests from further logging and destruction. In the beginning, the 500 hectares (1,250 acres) that make up the park were bought by the privately owned Lahuen Foundation which ran it until 2004 when they entrusted the administration of the park to the residents of the local town of Pichares (a historic Mapuche town).


Today, the sanctuary is one of the top adventure spots in Pucón, Chile - a town located in the heart of the Chilean Lake District and known for its many outdoor pursuits (including hiking, rafting and canyoneering). Due to its proximity to Pucón, and how relatively easy it is to get there, we highly recommend adding a visit to El Cañi to your travel itinerary.


Below you will find everything you need to know about exploring El Cani; including the top hikes to do (the trails are some of the best in Pucón), what to expect along the way and what to bring with you so you have a highly enjoyable time.



➳ You will need to make a reservation before you head to the sanctuary. You must do this online - find the link here.





EXPLORING EL CAÑI | THE NITTY-GRITTY


COST: 4,000 CLP (~ $4.50 USD) per person to enter

HOW TO GET THERE: by public bus from the town of Pucón or via a private car (rent one here)

LOCATION: the sanctuary is located 30 minutes away from downtown Pucón, exact location

TOP ADVENTURE: hiking to the lakes (lagos) and up to the top of the viewpoint (mirador) to see the amazing views of the nearby snow-capped volcanoes; including, Villarrica Volcano









\\ Why Visit El Cañi Sanctuary


If you are looking for a beautiful adventurous day trip from Pucón, Chile then make sure to add El Cañi Sanctuary to your list. This privately owned forest reserve is definitely one of the top hiking destinations in the whole Pucón area as well as one of the best places to head to if you are looking to check out the famous araucaria trees (also known as monkey puzzle trees).


We visited the sanctuary on a beautiful summer day and found the whole place blooming with flowers and full of wildlife (mainly lizards and birds). Plus, once we made it to the top of the mirador - one of the highest points in the area - we were rewarded with amazing views of snow-capped volcanoes and miles and miles of monkey puzzle tree covered hills.


Besides the opportunity to check out the famous trees and get a nice view of the volcanoes, we also think El Cañi is worth visiting because it is so focused on preservation and environmental sustainability. Similarly, it is one of the most well-run natural areas we have visited in all of South America (they even give you a map of the trail with points of interest marked in both Spanish and English).


Seriously, if you are looking for a beautiful day hike near Pucón, we cannot recommend checking out El Cañi enough.




THE MONKEY PUZZLE TREES

We first heard of these famous (and slightly odd looking) trees in a Netflix documentary about national parks. From that documentary and also from doing a bit of research ourselves, we found that the monkey puzzle or araucaria (or Pewen) trees are some of the oldest living organisms in the world.


In fact, due to the prevalence of similar species in ancient prehistory, the tree is sometimes called a living fossil (and once you see a forest of them you will understand how they once lived with dinosaurs). The trees grow quite slowly but have a very (very) long lifespan - many of the larger trees you will see are well over a 1,000 years old.


Some other interesting facts about the araucarias are that they are the national tree of Chile, that the males and females do not live in the same exact forest, and that the long-haired grass mouse (a tiny rodent) is the most important animal responsible for dispersing the seeds.


Unfortunately, due to logging, forest fires and overgrazing of cattle, the number of monkey puzzle trees has dropped significantly. In 2013, its conservation status was even changed to Endangered by the IUCN due to the dwindling population. Thankfully, places like El Cañi exist and are helping the species bounce back.




View of monkey puzzle trees along a dry lake.
A grove of monkey puzzle trees in the sanctuary.





\\ How to Get to El Cañi Sanctuary


The easiest and most affordable way to get to El Cañi is to take the public bus. It costs $1.55 USD per person each way (so just over $3 round-trip). You will need to pick the bus up at the Pullman bus station in Pucón (exact location). The first bus leaves the station at 8:15 AM Monday-Saturday and then at 10 AM on Sunday. It takes around 30 minutes to reach the sanctuary from downtown Pucón.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the bus does not solely go to El Cañi, but instead its final destination is the hot springs (termales) in the Huife sector (the bus will have a sign about Huife on the front). Luckily, the reserve is a super common stop, so if you just tell the driver you are going to El Cañi you should have no problems.


The last bus that passes by the sanctuary is at around 6:45 PM Monday-Saturday and then at 5:45 PM on Sunday. Unless you want to hitchhike back to Pucón, this is the bus you need to be on. You can pick it up right outside of the sanctuary at the small wooden bus stop across the paved road.






\\ The Top Hikes in El Cañi Sanctuary


There is really only one trail within the sanctuary: the hike up to Laguna Negra. From there you do have the opportunity to keep hiking up to the mirador (viewpoint), which adds on an extra mile (round-trip) and also a decent amount of elevation gain. Or, you can do a loop around a few other mountain lakes before meeting back up with the main trail at Laguna Negra.


We hiked all the way up the mirador and definitely recommend that option as it gives you some truly incredible views of the surrounding hills - most of which are covered in the famous monkey puzzle trees - as well as the chance to spot up to 4 snow-capped volcanoes, including Villarrica and Llaima.


Below is a brief outline of the trail to Laguna Negra and then what to expect if you choose to keep heading all the way up to the top of the mirador.



➳ Check out the Alltrails hiking map for more information.





Wooden sign in the El Cani Sanctuary in Chile.




LAGUNA NEGRA

DISTANCE: 14.5 kilometers // 9 miles round-trip from the reserve entrance

ELEVATION: ~968 meters // 3,176 feet


The start of the hike is along a nice, relatively flat dirt road. You will pass a few homes before reaching a small parking lot and another gate/entrance station (it was unmanned when we did the hike). From the gate, the uphill truly begins in earnest.


From that point until the refugio it is 4.4 kilometers of non-stop climbing - luckily, it is along a nice, clear dirt track that circles back and forth along the mountain face. There are a few major points of interest between the two points, including the La Loma campground (where there is drinking water available), and a nice viewpoint of the nearby community of Pichares (an old Mapuche reservation).


Once you get to the refugio you will have another chance to fill up your water bottles, use the bathroom and take a rest in some (likely) much needed shade. Or if you are doing the hike on a day where the weather is kind of nasty - either rainy or snowy - you can take refuge in the large wooden building that sits on the site of an old sawmill (a symbol of the logging operations that were decimating this forest 50 years ago before it became protected).


From the refugio, it is another 1.5 kilometers to the first lake along the trail: Laguna Las Totoras (also known as "Dry Lake"), this time though on a clearly marked singletrack trail instead of a doubletrack. At this smaller lake you have a good chance of spotting some local wildlife, including spectacled ducks and canquenes (a type of goose).


Between Laguna Las Totoras and Laguna Negro, you will finally enter the famous araucaria (monkey puzzle tree) forest. Take your time here and really stop and look at these incredibly unique and special trees.




Close up of the araucaria tree branches in Chile.

Araucaria forest in central Chile





❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the indigenous group that calls this area of Chile home - the Mapuche-Pewenche - view the araucaria trees to be highly sacred. In fact, the Pewenche people will always ask permission from the trees before entering the forest.


Once out of the araucaia forest, you will get your first glimpse of Laguna Negra. We definitely recommend stopping at the lake for lunch or a snack and taking in the views of the surrounding forest.


If you don't want to hike up to the top of the mirador but you want to continue exploring the area, then you have the opportunity to hike the Circuito de Las Lagunas, a loop that passes by numerous other mountain lakes before meeting back up with the main trail. The loop is 2.5 kilometers in distance and should take between one and 1.5 hours to complete.




UP TO THE MIRADOR MELIDEKIN

DISTANCE: 16 kilometers // 10 miles round-trip (1 extra mile)

ELEVATION: 1,192 meters // 3,914 feet


If you want to continue on to Mirador Melidekin (also known as the El Cañi Mirador) then you will need to start from the bank of Laguna Negra and head to the left to continue up a singletrack trail. Right from the start the trail gets very steep, to a point where you almost feel like you need both feet and hands on the ground to keep from sliding backward.


The trail snakes its way up through the forest for a while before eventually reaching a small ridgeline. From there you have only a few more minutes of climbing uphill before you come to a small, flat point and a pile of rocks. This is the top and the place where you will have the best views of the surrounding volcanoes; including, Villarrica, Llaima and Sollipulli (and if you are really lucky, a view of Lanin).


💬 INSIDER TIP: about halfway up the trail to the top of the mirador you will get your first view of Villarrica behind you. Make sure to keep an eye out for its perfectly snow-capped cone shape through the trees.





Wide open view of snowy Villarrica Volcano in Chile.
The view of Villarrica Volcano from the mirador.




Once done hiking either to Laguna Negra or up to the mirador, you simply need to retrace your steps and make the much quicker descent back down to the entrance station. While it took us 4 hours to get up to the top of the mirador (after taking about a bajillion photos of the monkey puzzle trees), it only took us 2 hours to get back down - and we definitely weren't rushing it. That being said, the reserve's rangers do recommend that in order to catch the 6:45 bus back to Pucón you should leave the lake no later than 4 PM.


💬 INSIDER TIP: if you have the time, consider stopping by the local bakery and heladeria (ice cream shop) located right next to the main road. We popped in for some homemade multi-grain bread and a small cup of vegan ice cream before catching the bus. It was the perfect treat after a long day out in the sun.





\\ What to Pack for Hiking in El Cañi Sanctuary



WATER BOTTLE

We have been absolutely loving our LARQ water bottles. Thanks to their super handy UV filter we feel comfortable drinking water from all kinds of sources; including, from rivers and lakes, touristy restaurants and even bus stations.


Along the trail up to Laguna Negra and the mirador, there are a number of water refill stations so you can definitely get away with doing this hike with only one water bottle. Just look out for the well-marked blue water droplet signs along the trail.




SUNSCREEN + BUG SPRAY

While we noticed the bugs aren't nearly as bad in Chile as they were in countries like Colombia and Peru (at least in the Lake District) we did notice that the mosquitos were pretty nasty along the lake shores. If you are someone who attracts mosquitos (like Madalyne does), then make sure to either pack some bug spray with you in your hiking bag or use it before you start your hike.


Likewise, do your skin some favors and use sunscreen, and reapply once you start sweating.




A HAT + SUNGLASSES

The sun can be brutal - especially up at the mirador where there isn't very much shade. Even on the hike up to the refugio along the wider trail, the sun can beat down on you pretty hard. Definitely come prepared with either a hat to shield your face and/or a pair of sunglasses.


This wide-brimmed hat should definitely do the trick.




HIKING BOOTS

For either hike in the reserve (up to the mirador or around the lakes) you will want nice comfortable hiking boots - preferably one with good traction. The hike up is steep and, if it has recently rained, it can be quite muddy. Be prepared for some slipping and sliding, both on the out hike and then once you turn around and make your way back to the entrance station.


We recommend these hiking boots from Salomon thanks to their SensiFit construction, which helps stop feet from sliding on those tricky downhills.









\\ Extra Adventure Tips for Exploring El Cañi Sanctuary



CAMPING

Besides hiking in the sanctuary, there is also the opportunity to camp in El Cañi - though we didn't inquire too much about pricing (we have read that it may be 4,000 CLP per person/per night). From the looks of it, you can camp at La Loma (which is located right after the first gate on the road), at the refugio and then up at Laguna Negra.


When we did the hike, we saw a lot of campers at all three sites, but especially at La Loma and the refugio.




RULES AND REGULATIONS IN EL CAÑI

Due to the sanctuary's focus on preservation and sustainability, there are a few major rules and regulations all visitors need to follow. These include:


| Reserving your place ahead of time and registering once you arrive and exit the sanctuary (do it here); El Cañi only allows 100 people a day to enter, so make sure you secure your spot!


| Packing out all of your trash (and picking up any trash you see along the trail)


| Only staying on designated trails within the sanctuary


| Keeping all gates closed (there are 2-3 along the way)


| Not having any fires, including when camping




Girl hiking on a forested trail in Chile.





USEFUL SPANISH TERMS TO KNOW FOR HIKING IN CHILE


| Lago - lake

| Mirador - viewpoint

| El sendero - the trail

| Refugio - refuge

| Santuario - sanctuary




 



Santuario El Cañi or El Cañi Sanctuary is definitely one of the top places to explore in Pucón, Chile. This is especially true if you are a traveler who wants to get out into nature, learn about the area's natural landscape, and have one beautiful adventure.


If you have any further questions about visiting El Cañi, then please leave a question or comment below or reach out to us directly.



► Consider following us on Instagram (@backroad_packers) for real-time adventure inspiration and information!




 

WANT TO SAVE THIS CHILE HIKING GUIDE FOR LATER? CONSIDER PINNING IT!


Pinterest pin on hiking in El Can Sanctuary in Chile.



 

EXPLORE MORE OUTDOOR ADVENTURE GUIDES





 

PACKING ESSENTIALS FOR HIKING IN CHILE


| Reusable water bottle: we love LARQ water bottles since they are the world's first self-cleaning water bottle and water purification system. Plus, they are rechargeable!


| Eco-friendly sunscreen: we love MadHippie sunscreen because it’s cruelty-free, vegan, broad spectrum, and reef safe. And even better, they donate $1 for every purchase to conservation efforts.


| Allbirds shoes: comfortable shoes can make or break an adventure or travel day, these eco-conscious and cozy shoes from Allbirds have been our faves for years.



► Find our full sustainable travel packing list here.



 


STAYING SAFE & PLANNING AHEAD


| SafetyWing: make sure you are staying safe with this easy-to-sign-up health insurance that is specifically meant for digital nomads. You can even sign up once you are already abroad.


| WayAway: this flight aggregator helps travelers find the best rates on airline tickets.


| BusBud: explore millions of bus routes and destinations in one easy-to-use search; plus, you can compare prices and book your tickets online.


| Rentalcars.com: check out the world’s biggest online car rental service that is available in over 150 countries worldwide.


| iVisa: this site helps make sure you have all the necessary documents and entry requirements while traveling.


| Wise: an app that makes it super easy to transfer money between currencies while abroad.

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