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Pucon, Chile

 

Located in Chile’s 9th Region, 786km south of Santiago and tucked under a snow capped smoking volcano Pucon borders Villarrica Lake, one of many in this region that is often referred to as the Lake District. It is one of Chile’s foremost outdoor and adventure activity resorts. Don’t be fooled by the sleepy facade and the dreamy pace of life. Pucon has enough to stimulate even the most jaded of travelers.

Pucon is also a crossroads for travellers, people often stop here on their way South to pick up the Navimag boat whilst people going north on their way to Santiago to get some badly needed sun stop for a few days R+R. It’s a great place to meet travelers, swap tall stories and gather information.

10 Reasons for Going to Pucon
1. They sell Guinness in the local supermarket.
2. Almost all the outdoor activities are inexpensive
3. Mountain biking
4. All the tour agencies are professionally run
5. Beautiful scenery
6. Cheap and good accommodation
7. It’s a good place to book ongoing travel such as the Navimag boat
8. Friendly people
9. Climbing the volcano
10. Almost every other building has a cyber café so you can read the latest BootnsAll guides.

Activities
Pucon is a Mecca for outdoor enthusiasts and every activity under the sun is offered by the numerous tourist agencies at reasonable rates.

The volcano
Volcano Climbing
For a mere US$18 (which, considering all the effort involved and the gear you are supplied with seems like awesome value to me) you can climb the snowcapped smoking Villarrica Volcano. Those of a nervous disposition may not feel too happy about having to carry gas masks ‘in case of emergency’ and wandering around the rim of a very active volcano but everyone who did the trip whilst I was there came back with mouths permanently formed into a ‘wow’ type expression.

Although it is quite a tough climb it is well within reach for the person of average fitness and the groups tend to meander up the volcano in a Sunday School picnic pace. Highly recommended for this trip is Trancura (the largest agency in Pucon) their itinerary is something like this:

07:30
Depart from the central office of Trancura Turismo with transport to the Ski Centre base at 1400 metres from where we will begin the initial trail leading to the slopes of the volcano.

09:30
Begin the climb up the Villarrica Volcano. Over the period of 4-5 hours we will stop for a break to recuperate before reaching the top.

14:00
Volcano crater
Arrival at the summit from where you will be greeted with amazing “aerial” type views. Here we will stay for a short while to take everything in and especially, to allow the realization of climbing the volcano, to settle in. From the top you will have “front seats” to the views of several volcanoes: the Quetrupillán, Lánin, Llaima, Lonquimay, Sierra Nevada, Chohuenco, Osorno, Tolhuaca & the three volcanoes of the Caburgua Lake. Amongst these incredible feats of nature, as if to soothe the setting somewhat, you will also see the Caburgua, Calafquén, Huilipilun, Neltume, Panguipulli & Villarrica lakes.

15:00
Leave the summit for our descent to Pucon.

My verdict: From what everyone told me this is something unbelievably cool.

Mountain Biking
When I arrived in Pucon, fresh from the night bus from hell, all I wanted to do was buy a bottle or two of wine and lay in the sun with my book. However, my girlfriend, who is not normally the most active of people and often requires heavy prompting to make the long track from the couch to the fridge, decided that I was looking decidedly fatter than normal and that I badly needed some exercise which didn’t involve lifting glasses of wine to my lips.

Mountain biking
She marched me to the first bike hire place (there must be about a dozen on the main street alone) and rented two cool looking mountain bikes for the afternoon. After parting with about US$5 each the friendly owner gave us a map suggesting a ‘nice gentle ride perfectly suitable for lardasses’ and off we went. 45kms later I understood why he was laughing as we peddled off.

Although I used to bike around London regularly, I had never done any off ride biking. Despite being Dutch, my girlfriend, who nearly became ex-girlfriend and persoa non grata around about the 30km mark, had never ridden a mountain bike so perhaps we are not the best people to write subjectively about this. However, our considered opinion of the biking was “wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, this is cooooooooooooool”.

Ojos del Caburgua
We took a circular route heading south out of town, past the small airfield and then turned left onto a dirt track which had an ominous sign ‘bikes and 4x4s only’. From this point it was a juddering shaking white knuckle ride of about 20kms to the beautiful Ojos del Caburgua.

By the time we arrived there, panting, covered in dust and terribly sunburnt and sweaty we were looking forward to spending a few quiet moments swimming naked in the unbelievably azure waters. However, not only was the water staggeringly cold (I think it was glacial water) but no sooner had I whipped off my shirt than a coach load of tourists turned up (this often happens to me – once in Japan I was sitting in my boxers on top of a mountain after a long and arduous climb when a party of Japanese school girls turned up).

The ride back to town from the falls would have been a simple 5km off-road and then a gentle 20km on tarmac if Saskia hadn’t decided to take us on a mystery adventure tour to some god-forsaken beach another 12 km up the road – the emphasis on ‘up’. However, the beach had two things in its favor – cold water and semi naked Chilean girls.

My verdict: One of the coolest things I have ever done. Although I sweated and swore for the whole day and couldn’t walk the next day it was worth all the pain for the stunning scenery. Chile is simply an incredibly beautiful country and really should be on the top of every traveler’s wish list.

River Rafting
My friends and I have a New Year’s Dangerous Sport Club which started, surprisingly enough, one new year’s day in Africa. Club rules say that no matter where we are in the world each new year’s day we have to partake in something dangerous.

One especially memorably new year we went white water boogie-boarding on Grade 5 rapids. The guide, I distinctly remember, had a sadistic nature and just as we floated off down the mighty Zambezi called out after us, “‘hold on to your board….or die!” Although it wasn’t new year, which for the record I spend on the Straights of Magellan, I was keen to get back in the water and chance my arm again.

There are two main options, a fun filled adrenaline type trip (about US$21 – good value eh?) in which the tourist company promised “Once on the river you will instantly experience the full flowing effects of the class 4 & 5 rapids along with the booming surround sound of the rushing waters with waves crashing against each other. Here you will need to work hard with the rowing to pass over the torrents. After approximately 1½ hours of excitement you will reach the end of the descent where you will be given some refreshment before heading back to Pucon.”

The second option is a bit more mellow and suitable for entertaining your granny (US$8). “Once on the river you will experience the full flowing effects of the raft passing over class 3 rapids along with the surround sound of the rushing waters with waves crashing against each other. After approximately 1½ hours of excitement you will reach the end of the descent where you will be given some refreshment before heading back to Pucon.”

My verdict: At these prices who can resist spending the day messing about on the river and coming home feeling like you have spent a day in a washing machine. Excellent!

Hot Pools
After all this exercise most people head off to one of Pucon’s hotsprings (I would have gone if I had been able to walk after the great mountain biking adventure). Almost everyone who went there said it was good value and came back feeling radiant and ready for the next challenge. The general idea was to take sufficient wine with you to get a small country drunk, lay in the pools and brag about your volcano climbing skills. Almost all the tour companies run this trip for a few dollars.

My verdict: most people spoke very highly of this trip, especially if they had been travelling long and hard for a few months. Recommended.

Other Activities
The above is just a selection of the many affordable possibilities for activities. There are many other cool things to do such as sky diving, horse riding, walking, trekking, skiing etc, etc all organized by the local travel agencies.

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Pucon, Chile



Click for a larger map
Geography
Pucon is just slightly north from Temuco. Click on the map for a larger image that opens in a new browser window.

Weather
Check out the latest weather at: www.pucon.com/weather.htm

The weather in Pucon is notorious changeable and on many days the volcano is shrouded in mist and closed for climbers. During my stay of four days in Pucon I had one fantastically clear day followed by three misty and overcast others. The best advice is that if you want to climb the volcano and the day you arrive the weather is fine then go immediately to a tourist agency – don’t delay as you can guarantee that it will be closed the following day.

How much does it cost?
The good news is that a few days in Pucon is not going to break the bank. A good simple double room in a family run hospadajem will cost about US$7 per person per night and will often include an experimental Chilean breakfast (Old Chilean hands will be nodding their heads now whilst potential tourists should look forward to this rare treat).

Booking accommodation is never required in Chile as no matter what time your bus, train or plane arrives there will be a bunch of locals handing out cards for accommodation. After a few days of this you develop a sixth sense about who to go with. It’s perfectly acceptable to go and check out the accommodation with the person before taking the room.

My own experience in Pucon was that when we arrived I decided to ignore the touts and wander around the town a bit and see what I fancied (almost every other house rents rooms out). I stopped to check my map outside one typically beautiful house and before I knew what was happening I was being dragged in by the owner and shown ‘my bedroom’. I ended up staying there for four glorious days for about US$5 a night. Most places that offer accommodation will look after bags, wash clothes and arrange trips for you.

Eating in Pucon is horribly expensive (both Chile and Argentina are great places to go to lose weight). A simple meal of pasta in a modest restaurant set me back about US$20 – and it wasn’t that good. Most people made use of some of the lunch time special deals or ate out of the supermarket.

Accommodation
There are a number of swanky 5 star hotels in town but most people end up renting a room in a local house. There is never any shortage of rooms and prices range from US$5-10 a night per person. Simply turning up at the bus station and looking like a tourist is sufficient for any number of people to surround you offering a place to stay. After six weeks in Chile I never had a bad experience finding places to stay in this way (unless you include the mad lesbian’s boarding house in Puerto Montt which my girl friend swears wasn’t as bad for her as it was for me).

Travel – Getting There
If you are driving you will find Pucon less than two hours away off the “Panamericana” from Temuco in the 9th Region of Chile. By following all signs to Villarrica you will soon also see signs to Pucon. There is also the option of taking the pretty train route from Santiago to Temuco – but this is sometimes booked heavily.

Pucon is a good hub for transport. There are regular buses going to Santiago and down to Puerto Montt. Chilean buses are reasonably comfortable, reasonably punctual and are generally good value.

For further information you can email: transport@pucon.com

How Long to Stay
In Pucon itself a stay of four days would allow you to climb the volcano, raft the river, sit in the hot springs and still have a lazy day to write postcards, drink wine and book onward travel. If you absolutely, definitely, must climb the volcano you may need to allow a few extra days for bad weather.

Eating out in Pucon
Where to Eat
Eating in Pucon is a bit of a problem and the few restaurants that were open at night were embarrassingly empty and prohibitively expensive. A list of places to eat can be found at: www.pucon.com/restaurants.htm

Links
The following are links to tourist agencies in Pucon. Experience has shown that the tour companies are all pretty much the same and the prices don’t vary much company to company: www.trancura.com/inicio.htm

Hotels: www.hotelstravel.com/chile.html

Casinos: www.casinocity.com/cl/pucon/casinos.html

Travel agencies: www.chile-travel.com/tapcoutd.htm

Some basics on Pucon: http://www.chile-travel.com/puconpg.htm

Good information sites:
www.akubra.cl
www.gochile.cl

The Author
About the Author
The author has traveled to about 50 countries and lived in places as diverse as Brazil and Japan. When not travelling he can be found writing sarcastic letters to Air Portugal or with his head in a map whilst nursing a pint in his local Cambridge pub. Travelling or not, he can be contacted at: nihon_news@yahoo.com

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