Experiencing Chile: Best attractions in Pucon. Much more than just Villarrica Volcano.
I have to admit something. Chile ranks high in my list of favorite countries. I’ve visited it a few times and I just can’t get enough of it. And the last time I’ve been there I finally had the pleasure of visiting the amazing town of Pucon, which also is way up there in my list of favorite cities.
But what to do in Pucon, and why is it so amazing? Don’t worry, I’ll tell you all you need to know.
Pucon is a small town in Chilean Lake District, quite an special region: Overlooked by the volcano Villarica and beside the lake of the same name, which are the most famous landmarks in this charming village. But this city has a lot more to offer, from aquatic sports like windsurf to skiing, one of the main tourist activity in Chile, attracting thousands of tourists every year.
How to get to Pucon:
The city has its own airstrip, with straight flights from Santiago, but the schedule for the airport is very irregular, working mainly a few days a week in the summer, and the tickets are extremely expensive. Another option you have is flying to Temuco, and after that, hit the road. You will arrive in Pucon after about one and half hours driving. Although if you are coming from Santiago, the usual route is to take the bus, which was the option I took when I visited Pucon. The trip took about 10 hours, it was a bit long, but I have to say that the bus services in Chile are extremely comfortable and safe, and recommend it to anyone traveling around the country. The two main companies that have direct lines to town are Busses JAC and Pullman. I chose JAC while I was there.
Where to stay:
Pucon main financial activity is tourism, therefore you have a huge amount of accommodations to choose. There are literally dozens of options, spanning from luxury hotels, to simple b&bs and hostels. During my stay in the city, I chose Paradise Pucon Hostel as my home. I say home because that was exactly how it felt. It’s definitely not a luxury hostel(if such thing exists), it’s pretty simple, but with everything you need to make it your base for exploring the city. And if the place isn’t a five star hotel, it certainly makes up for it with its homely atmosphere and comfortable installations. Everyone had dinner at the same table every night, including the hostel owners, who would share his stories and much needed information about the surroundings, adding a lot of knowledge to our trip. And on top of all that, it was one of the cheapest hostels in the city, making it the best choice in my opinion.
An important tip: Always check if the hostel is actually open during the days you wanna spend there. Even if you booked online, it would be best to check through an email, since sometimes, specially during the winter, the hostels close due to lack of customers while ski season hasn’t begun yet.
Climbing Villarica Volcano is Pucon’s main attraction.
This is one of the dreams I haven’t fulfilled yet. Unfortunately when I had my chance, things didn’t go exactly according to plan, as you can read here on this post about my attempt to climb the Vilarrica Volcano. But let’s cut to the chase. What you need to know if you wish to climb the volcano? I’ll try to explain it step by step.
One important peace of advice: as soon as you arrive search for one of the many agencies and book the hike, and don’t choose the last day of your trip to do the ascension. Why is that important? First, cause if its a busy season, you may not find a spot for you in the groups led by professional guides, and second because you gotta have some flexibility in your dates. A lot of times the climb is cancelled due to bad weather conditions, and doesn’t matter if the day is extremely clear, it doesn’t take snow or heavy rain to cancel the hikes. If some sudden extreme winds start, then no one will take you up there, since it becomes extremely dangerous and accidents have been reported,
Just to make it clear, you may be able to climb it without a guide, but is forbidden and not advisable at all. However, there isn’t a lot of watching going on, so you probably wont be stopped by anyone. By the way, there’s an exception to the mandatory guide rule. If you can prove that you have a lot of experience in this kind of activity, you may get a special authorization.
If you intend to try it, I recommend the Aguaventura agency. I used their service while I was there and I was very pleased with it. Equipment was in perfect condition, and it was extremely easy to deal with with them. On top of it all, since we didn’t get to the summit of the volcano, they returned a considerable part of the payment, and offer a special price if we wanted to try again some other day.
As I said before, Pucon has plenty to offer besides Volcano Villarrica.
During summer time or winter, Pucon has a lot to offer, doesn’t matter what kind of activity you like, you will certainly find something to your taste, specially if you are into adventure sports. Before I start listing the attractions, I’ll point out some of my favorite experiences there. The hot springs(Termas), the trip to Huerquehue Park, and of course, skiing and snowboarding down the Villarica Volcano.
Ski and Snowboarding in Pucon. Skiing on a volcano is quite an extraordinary experience.
The main reason people visit the city during winter is skiing of course, and it’s one of the cheapest option to practice the sport in Chile, being a lot cheaper than the more famous(and also better structured) resorts, like Portillo and Valle Nevado. It’s a great option if you are a beginner and don’t wanna spend a fortune staying at those more expensive resorts. And besides, who wouldn’t like to go home being able to say they skied down an active volcano.
The ski station is just 20 minutes away from the city and there are plenty of agencies renting equipment and offering the transfer. After your arrive at the station you buy your ski lift pass and there you go, you can enjoy to whole day snowboarding, skiing or just admiring the magnificent landscape from way up there.
And if you are tired of getting your head shoved in the snow because you suck at skiing, here are some other options for you.
- Termas(hot springs): There are quite a lot of Termas aroud Pucon, maybe more than a dozen, but the one I visited is called Los Pozones. I have to say there’s nothing better than after a day of skiing or trekking in the snow, enjoy the cold night inside one of the many naturaly heated springs(some even too hot for my taste), they relaxy your body and your mind. Besides Los Pozones, a lot of people seem to enjoy another one called Termas Geometricas, apparently they offer better installations and are more organized than any other in the region.
- Herquehue Park: One of the first national parks in Chile, it really is one of a kind when it comes to natural beauty, with waterfalls, forests and many short and medium trails to be hiked, including the famous Three Lakes Hike. Besides that, is one of the things you can do by yourself, no need to have a guide here, since everything is well signalized and full of information. You may just hop on a bus and leave for the park to enjoy this amazing place with waterfalls as spectacular as these.
- Kayaking in Vilarrica Lake: One of the best way to get to know the lake and at the same time enjoy a relaxing afternoon doing a peaceful activity in a pretty amazing scenery. Also a great spot for beginners learn the basics about kayaking, some agencies actually offer this kind of classes.
- Kayak and rafting in Trancura River: In this river you have rafting grades 3 and 4, ideal for beginners and intermediate adventurers respectively. If you enjoy adventure sports, you can’t miss this. And prepare yourself, cause if you fall in the river, the water is ice cold.
All of these activities can be booked from the many agencies in the city, but a few of them you can do on your own if you want to save a few Pesos, especially the treks and hikes around the area.
Truly one of the most pleasant cities in Chile, you can’t skip the chance to visit this charming little town. Specially if you are near the central part of the country or if you are moving from Santiago to Patagonia to enjoy its amazing treks and trails. If this is the case, stop for a few days in Pucon and relax a bit before moving on with your travels. I guarantee you wont regret it.