Park at the Pucón ski area car park. When you mention to people that you intend to climb Villarrica, they will say that you will need a guide to do it. You may, or may not need a guide, but if you can manage the other volcanoes detailed here, you will almost certainly not need the services of a guide. We did villarrica on a Saturday, which was a national holiday, and beautiful weather. It was mobbed. If you are in any doubt, you could just follow one of the many guided groups! Much of the “you need a guide” response is due to the guide organisations creating a perceived need for a guide for commercial gain. Sure, if you don’t have the experience, then fine, but if you are reading this with a view to organising your own trip, you probably don’t need a guide. Many of the guides we saw were cheery and seemed quite happy that we weren’t guided, and there were several groups who weren’t guided.
The one guided ski touring group I can recall seeing were cutting their own track instead of following ours (walkers had obliterated the existing uptrack). Whereas other unguided groups used our track, this group didn't. I guess the guide figured he had to earn his money...
We set off up the easy angled piste below the chairlift that starts to the right of the base station. At one of the bends, we left the piste and followed the line of a short drag lift, crossed a small gully to then follow the line of the highest chairlift. From the top of the lift, we headed left and up, towards the remains of a concrete shell which was once a lift top station. You can ascend anywhere from here. The summit is not visible until over a lip. We went up the right hand side of the lip – many of the guided groups went up the left hand side – it doesn’t matter.
The yellow route is the alternative to our ascent routes (red route). "1" is the top of the chairlift. "2" is the concrete top station from an old lift.
The way ahead to the crater rim is obvious. The top section is reasonably steep, and we found it easier to carry the skis for the last section. One ski mountaineer had slipped twice down the slope. He gave up and carried his skis after that!
Most of the guided groups stop at the lowest point of the crater rim. We continued on foot to the 2847m summit, which only takes a few minutes. Be warned, the fumes are very strong here. While standing on the very top, I got a blast of sulphurous gas – not very pleasant, and it went right for the back of my throat.
The descent is the same way. Be wary of the bumsliding guided groups. They all carry small sledges with them, and hurtle down the slope at speed. Looked great fun!
We stayed at the Hosteria Hue-Quimey in Villarrica. It was chosen sort of at random - I went for 3rd in the list in the Lonely Planet Guide. It was a lucky choice. The hotel had just reopened after having been taken over by Christel and Nicolas Mazet. They couldn't have been more welcoming. The prices are a bit out of date on the website (I guess they inherited the website with the business, so you can forgive them for the music!), but it was still good value. We got a room upstairs, with a view of the lake and Volcan Villarrica for CLP 30000 (about £43 at the time) including breakfast.
The real attraction was the meals. We hadn't planned to eat there, but Christel and Nicolas ran a restaurant in Cameroon for 14 years, and the food was fantastic, in terms of quality and value. A 3 course meal for CLP 8000 (just over £10). I cannot recommend them enough. We were there for 3 nights, and when we left, we felt like we were leaving friends behind, they were that nice.
Sure, Pucón is closer, but it's busier and more expensive. It only takes half an hour to get to the ski area from here, which is nothing really, as Villarrica isn't a big day out.