The Huilo-Huilo Reserve (pronounced wilo-wilo) is a truly unique place that has travellers believing in magic. Stunning cascades, lush greenery, active volcanoes, endangered species, a spa, a brewery and fairy tale inspired hotels can all be found in the Huilo-Huilo Biological Reserve in the Chilean Patagonian Rainforest, South of Chile. The reserve is a privately owned initiative that combines conservation, luxurious architecture and eco-tourism with the backdrop of jaw-dropping natural beauty.
The area around Valdivia, a thriving city since the 19th century, is surrounded by dense forests. As the city grew, so did the demand for wood. The first forestry company opened in 1898 and a timber factory started production in 1942 in the area. The forestry industry was nationalized in the early 1970s by the Allende government and grew to employ 3,600 workers from the neighboring towns. Looking for a profitable forestry investment, Chilean businessman Victor Peterman had bought 100,000 hectares in the Los Rios region.
Nonetheless, after noticing that the small towns around the area were wholly dependent on forestry, Peterman and his partners had later adjusted their plans for the land and decided to turn it into an ecotourism project.
This was the birth of the Huilo-Huilo Foundation and Reserve. Part of the project was transforming the towns of Neltume and Puerto Fuy from being forestry focused to tourism driven. The three main goals of the reserve are conservation, community integration and sustainable tourism. The reserve has been actively trying to reintroduce endangered species of deer, guanacos, pumas and specific species frogs. In 2007, UNESCO declared Huilo-Huilo a part of the Biosphere Reserve.
The stunning and sprawling Huilo-Huilo reserve, which borders glaciers, countless streams, and eternal snows on volcanic peaks, features two main hotels: The Nothofagus Hotel & Spa and the Montaña Mágica Lodge.
The Nothofagus Hotel & Spa is famous for its strange shape and architectural style. There is a restaurant and a bar in the lobby and a 360º lookout on the top floor with stunning views of the Patagonian Rainforest.
Montaña Mágica Lodge is the emblem of the reserve. At first glance the hotel appears to be simply a lush green hill covered with lichens, ferns and moss, which in fact it also is, but a closer inspection reveals little fairy tale inspired windows belonging to the hotel’s 14 rooms. For those with a more modest budget or simply a desire to be more immersed in nature, the reserve also features several lodges, a hostel-style accommodation and camp sites. More information can be found on the official website.
Possible activities on the reserve are almost limitless and include anything from trekking the 250km of paths and trails, white water rafting, animal tracking, fly-fishing, zip lining, sailing, kayaking, volcanic expeditions and horseback riding in summer to a full array of snow activities in winter.
Saltos del Huilo-Huilo is an incredibly popular attraction year round. This waterfall is situated in between jarring volcanic rocks and slender trees that open the way for spectacular mountain views. The fresh turquoise water sparkles in just such a way that it is difficult not to walk away believing that this place is indeed magic and that perhaps the fairy mascots of Huilo-Huilo do indeed live here.
The reserve offers several dining options. Those who are simply passing by without lodging can choose between the Nothofagus Hotel & Spa Restaurant, which presents itself as the more luxurious fine-dining option, or, as more casual option, the Petermann Brewery just across the street, which serves artisan pizzas and brews poured straight from the attached brewery.
For travelers on a budget it is recommended to eat outside the reserve. The town of Neltume has a grocery store that can be used to stock up on necessities. While Puerto Fuy offers several dining options that are much more affordable than any found in the reserve.
When to visit
Because the reserve offers access to stunning nature, visitors to Huilo-Huilo can find activities year round, depending on their preference. Rainfall is common in the temperate rainforest area so it is best to prepare with waterproof clothing or an at least an umbrella. The summers are temperate and can reach a maximum of 30º Celsius/ 86º Fahrenheit) and winters can be very cold and windy with temperatures dropping to single digits (Celsius).
How to get there
The reserve is very easily accessible with a private car and maps can be found on the official website. Cars can be rented in Pucon for a daily cost of approximately 40,000 CLP. Travelling without a car is more complicated. There are several buses available from the city of Panguipulli to Neltume.
From Neltume it is possible to take a shared taxi or bus to Puerto Fuy or directly to your chosen accommodation. Alternatively, bus service is available between Panguipulli and Puerto Fuy where passengers can ask to be let off at the reserve. For more information on bus travel please visit Buses TurBus or Buses Tepual, Panguipulli office +56 44 2870261. Once inside the reserve there are several tours that provide transportation to the main sights.
Born in Ukraine but raised in Canada since a young age, Kateryna Kurdyuk has since acquired a Masters of Media Studies and Communication from University of Melbourne in Australia and worked in the education field in Dubai, UAE. While currently working as an English Professor in Santiago, Chile, Kateryna is using her extensive experience living and travelling abroad to contribute as a writer to the emerging independent English-language media in Chile.