A couple of weekends ago Tom and I decided to take a last minute trip out of town. We weren’t sure where to go so we asked our Chilean friend, Alex, who didn’t hesitate for a second to recommend Pucón. We grabbed another couple, rented a car, made some tentative plans and sleeping arrangements, and took off into the wild with pretty much no idea what we were up against. I cannot possibly thank Alex enough for the recommendation. Pucón was absolutely one of the most incredible and beautiful places I have ever had the privilege of visiting. We are already planning to go back before we leave Chile. So, buckle up and come along on our awesome road trip into the wild!
Pucón is about 8-10 hours south of Santiago and is the gateway to Patagonia. Sort of like a Patagonia teaser. Since the drive is so long we decided to split it into two days and stay over a night on the way there. I did a little research online and found a suggestion from a fellow traveler to stay overnight at a national park about 6 hours South of Santiago. We rented a cabin in Parque Nacional Laguna del Laja, crossed our fingers, and hoped for the best. Parque Nacional Laguna del Laja is about an hour to an hour and a half off the highway. It’s quite the detour, but we all agreed that it was worth it. The park’s volcano can be seen long before you reach the park and our first glimpse of it was breathtaking. I think it was at this point that we realized we were in for quite a treat.
Our cabin was picturesquely perched among pine trees and snow capped mountains. We took a quick tour of the park that evening.
The park was really beautiful. It reminded me a lot of Mammoth in California, where I spent most of my summers growing up. There were incredibly old pine trees, delightful little roadside waterfalls, majestic mountains, and a roaring river winding gracefully through the valley.
That evening we decided to BBQ some meat that we had picked up in the grocery store in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is on the 5 freeway and you have to drive through it in order to get to Laguna Del Laja. It is pretty much the last place to get food before you head off the highway to the park. There are no restaurants in the park, so getting food in Los Angeles is a must.
The next morning we decided to head to the lake which is one of the park’s main attractions. The park’s other main attraction is the huge Antuco volcano, which last erupted in 1869. Over a course of 6,000 years and countless eruptions, the volcano slowly transformed the surrounding area into what can only be described as a “lunar landscape”.
This coupled with the giant lake makes for a truly unique landscape that aught not to me missed.
Tom and our friend Francesca were the gutsy ones, they braved the frigid water for the opportunity to swim in this beautiful lake.
After our fun at the lake we decided to get on the road to Pucón which was about another 3 hours South. On our way out of the park we ran into these guys
and a few minutes later, these guys
This park was totally off the beaten path, don’t expect to find much here beyond peace, quiet, beauty, and a few stray farm animals here and there.
And then there was Pucón…
As soon as we got close enough to see the massive lake that stretches from Villarica to Pucón we knew that this place was special.
We arrived late in the afternoon and our first order of business was to get down to the lake. Swimming in the lake with the snow capped volcano spewing smoke in the not too distant distance, was a really special experience. It felt remote and unique with a black sand beach that is both uncrowded and unspoiled; it was heavenly.
That night we wandered through the quaint, alpine-esque, village looking for a place to eat.
We stumbled upon a place called Trawen where we enjoyed these delicious plates
(Olive risotto with grilled octopus)
(Bacon wrapped lamb with polenta)
The average food in Chile is not usually quite this gourmet, so this was really the last thing we were expecting to find in a town as small and remote as Pucón. And yet, there it was. Trawen has wonderful, and more importantly, innovative food with a charming atmosphere; highly recommended!
On our way back to our hostel we caught this glimpse of the Villarica Volcano just peaking over the tops of some trees.
Yes it is smoking, we are told that it does this often. Fortunately our hostel was very near the town’s volcano alarm, which changes from green to yellow, and finally to red as the volcano’s activity increases. It was green while we were there despite the very obvious smoke, but I think if it ever turned yellow I’d high tail it out of there. I mean if it’s smoking at green, what must red be like?!?!
The next day we headed out for a morning excursion to some nearby waterfalls that had been suggested to us by a local. When in doubt, do what the locals do!
The Los Ojos waterfalls were really beautiful and best of all we were able to go on a little hike through the surrounding forest area, which afforded us access to this amazing lagoon called “Laguna Azul” or the “Blue Lagoon”.
(It really is this blue, this is straight out of the camera. In fact, it’s even bluer in person)
After our morning of hiking through a lush Chilean forest and exploring its breathtakingly blue waterfalls, we decided to do a little river rafting in the nearby Trancura River. No big deal, it’s just Pucón.
Three of us were river rafting virgins, but this trip was perfect for the inexperienced rafter.
The rapids were exciting without feeling overwhelming or out of control. The rapids were all about class 3 rapids, but I never felt like I was in danger of falling out of the raft. We went with the Andesmar River Rafting Company which was really great. We got about an hour and a half to two hours in the water, all of our gear including wetsuit, wind breaker, helmet, life vest, and shorts, and even a soda at the end of the trip for $30 US per person. The crew was helpful, knowledgeable, and fun. Our guide even let us jump out of the raft at one point and float down the river a ways. It was a really great trip, a really good value, and a perfect mix of adventure and fun for us first timers.
Later that night after a very full day we decided to unwind at the Termas los Pozones.
(These pictures are courtesy of google)
The termas are very popular in Pucón and basically consist of large pools of water that are heated by the earth’s thermal activity, in this case volcanic activity. It was neat to go at night when you can enjoy the hot springs while looking at the stars. I would definitely recommend this as a nighttime activity. Cost is around $10US per person and the termas stay open until 2am.
On the final day of our trip we decided to go for a morning horseback ride before getting on the road to drive home. This was sort of a last minute, meet the guy on the side of the road, get on the horses and go sort of thing. Literally.
We pulled over to the side of a dirt road, the horses were saddled and ready to go. Our guide was very relaxed and he pretty much let us do whatever we wanted, which included Tom and I racing our horses along the path at a full gallop (our horses were suspiciously competitive).
We rode through endless green fields while the fog rolled slowly over the surrounding mountains.
The ride was indescribably beautiful and full of surprises…like this one
After dismounting and tying our horses to some nearby trees, we hiked down the side of a mountain several hundred feet to this magnificent waterfall. We had been told that we would be seeing a waterfall on the ride, but none of us were prepared for THIS waterfall.
Our guides (a father and son) were really kind and helpful. They run a small family business called Cabalgatas de Salta and our guide’s name was Raúl. Please give them your business, they will show you a good time! The cost of the ride was $24US dollars. They can be reached at 90119359.
Our ride, like everything else on this trip seriously exceeded our expectations. It was the first time that Tom and I had seen a part of the country that is so lush and green and wild. Living in Santiago, an incredibly modern city, makes it easy to forget that Chile is an amazingly unique country with a drastically varied ecosystem. From the world’s driest dessert in the North of Chile, to the California-esque coastal region in the middle, to the glaciers in the South, Chile has a little something for everyone.