Pucón is frequently described as being Chile’s adventure capital, much like New Zealand’s Queenstown. It sits lake front, its surroundings are incredibly scenic and the town feels quite touristy, but the similarities probably stop there. Queenstown is far bigger (area and population), comparatively a lot more expensive and doesn’t have a rather prominent volcano as a backdrop.
We possibly outstayed our time in Pucón, but for the most part we weren’t really given much choice. I was pretty anti going back to Santiago if possible, so we were stoked to find a very cheap flight from Concepción up to San Pedro de Atacama. This was ideal as it would save on two overnight buses connecting via Santiago, but it meant we had a whole week to spend in Pucón.
[We actually asked around for suggestions on nearby getaways and didn’t get much of a response. In hindsight we could have gone to Argentina which is actually pretty close by. However, of our six days in Pucón, it poured with rain for a solid three – so it didn’t end up being a problem as it was probably going to be wet everywhere.]
We stayed at the Chili Kiwi Hostel, which we’d both heard of as a mutual friend used to work there. The accommodation set up was great: we spent our first six nights in a Kombi van (cramped but cosy, especially in the rain!) and then on our last night we upgraded to one of their beautiful tree huts, which gave us stunning views out over the lake and the sunset.
Our three rainy days were spent exploring Pucón and its cafes, the rest of our time was spent exploring its surroundings. Our first day we climbed the Villarrica volcano (separate post, appropriately titled ‘the hardest day of my life’), on day 2 we visited Termas Geometricas and our last day we went to the Huerquehue National Park.
The Termas Geometricas are hot springs, some of the coolest I’ve ever been to. It was about a two hour drive from the hostel (I was definitely skeptical that it would be worth it) but it ended up being the perfect medicine for those aching muscles of mine. There are about 20 pools ranging between 35-45 degrees, staggered along a boardwalk extending up into the hills. It was rustic, magical and totally not what I’d expected.
We then had a few days of rain where we spent a lot of time reading, practising our Spanish and eating our way around some of the cafes in town. Breakfast at 297 Bistro was probably the highlight, hot choccies at Trawen Cafe hit the spot and our vegetarian feast at Ecole was definitely overpriced but a good excuse for an excursion.
We spent our last day at Huerquehue National Park. We caught a 50 min bus across to the park where we begun hiking the ‘Lake Circuit’. It was supposed to be 4.5 hours long, and the return bus left at both 2.10pm and 5.10pm. We were keen to make that first departure as it was way too cold to hang around.
The gradient was surprising: the trail just kept going up until we suddenly found ourselves tramping through snow. We hadn’t quite bargained for this – we had presumed a ‘Lakes Circuit’ would be flat. As it turns out, the lakes were on top of the mountains! We lacked the appropriate equipment and very quickly our feet and shins were drenched with icy water. The scenery at the top was beautiful. A partially frozen lake, rocks covered in snow and trees dripping with icicles, which created a raining effect.
Unbeknownst to us, the loop path was actually closed following the prior days’ weather, but luckily we found out before the turnaround point. I suspect that others on the trail weren’t aware of this (or chose to push on) as we didn’t see many other hikers on their way back. We were keeping a close eye on the time and realised because we were no longer doing the loop we’d have to really increase our pace on the way back to cover the same distance in time to catch the bus.
Our pace ended up being nothing short of impressive, that’s for sure! We ploughed back down through the snow, well past the point of trying to keep our feet dry. We actually jogged the last fifteen minutes or so and made it back to the bus with just moments to spare. I did not want to miss the bus by five minutes to then have to wait another three hours. Of course, Chilean time kicked in (I also think our driver was surprised that only about seven people had made it back from a full bus that morning) and our driver said we’d wait for fifteen minutes more. This suited us, as we could finally eat our lunch!
Although I really liked Pucón, I was definitely ready to move on. The following morning we got on an early bus to Concepción, where we’d booked a hotel right by the airport. Concepción had been involved in the protests and we wanted to stay clear of any ongoing action, just in case. We thought we’d spend a leisurely afternoon at the mall across the road soaking up some commercialism, so we were gutted to find the mall closing early for a holiday. This also threw out our dinner plans: instead we had to rush to the supermarket (before that closed too) and create makeshift dinners with no cooking facilities, utensils or plates. Gotta love travelling on a budget!
Next stop: San Pedro de Atacama. Way up in Chile’s north, this desert town is our last stop before we start making our way overland into Bolivia.