The trendiest town in all of Southern Chile, the town of Pucon is easy to get stuck in. An adrenaline junkie’s oasis of every outdoor activity imaginable, it is easy to draw comparisons to places like Boulder, Colorado or Whistler, British Columbia. Winter brings heavy, wet snow and the opening of the Pucon Ski Resort, whereas the summer months bring long Patagonian days and every other activity you can think of, ranging anywhere from mountain biking, rafting, volcano trekking, kayaking, soaking in thermal hot springs, to simply laying on the beach by the lake. The de facto capital of Chile’s lake district, I could move to Pucon tomorrow and be perfectly content for the rest of my life.
Reachable by a comfortable overnight bus from Santiago that takes about 10 hours, getting to Pucon really isn’t all that difficult. Deciding what you’re going to do once you first get there is where the decisions start to get difficult. We checked in to Hostal El Refugio which is conveniently located right next to the Pullman bus terminals, and is one of the homiest places I have stayed in all of South America. A quaint, laidback hostel that has 2 private bedrooms and 2 shared dorm rooms, the entire cabin has the feel of a home away from home that you simply share with 15 other roommates. The friendly and knowledgeable staff create a warm, welcoming environment, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a place to stay while in town.
One of the most popular activities while visiting Pucon is to soak in any one of the numerous hot springs that well up from beneath the volcanic earth, with the most popular one being Los Pozones, a very relaxed spot set in a beautiful rural valley that boasts multiple pools that are situated right along side a rushing Patagonian river. Reachable via a municipal bus or arranged with a group tour in town, Los Pozones is actually open until midnight and is a popular place to come and soak when the crisp spring air turns the ground to frost and the warm pools look more inviting than ever. The upside of taking a local bus to the hot springs is that it doesn’t cost as much, but the downside is that the buses only run at very infrequent intervals and once you are out at Loz Pozones you are basically stuck there until the next bus decides to show up. Still incredibly recommended, however.
The other wildly popular activity while in town is to strap on the crampons and ascend up to the summit of the active, smoking, Volcan Villarica that provides the snowy white backdrop to the trendy downtown district. Starting from the base of the Pucon Ski Resort (open between mid-June and mid-October), climbing the volcano is a very doable yet legitimately strenuous task. Covered in snow and glacial ice all year long, the 10,000 ft. volcano is punctuated by the openly steaming caldera at the summit that consistently spews out highly toxic gases. If the winds are blowing the wrong way it is too dangerous to reach the summit as the fumes will blow right into your face. On a pristine day, however, such as the one I had, it is possible to spend a solid hour on the summit and gaze out at the views of the surrounding countryside where snowcapped volcanoes and azure blue lakes stretch all the way to the border with Argentina. Looking inwards towards the mountain, the caldera literally descends down into a steaming pit that apparently drops straight down into the center of the Earth. Scaling the volcano is a decidedly challenging but wildly rewarding experience should you reach the surreal and snowy summit. Furthermore, if you pack up a snowboard or a set of skis, it is possible to get a 20 minute long run down the slopes of an active volcano literally any day of the year, which is a draw for many during the summer months when the winter ski resort is closed.
A third popular activity in Pucon is trekking to any one of the numerous waterfalls that dominate the region that are a product of all the winter’s snow rapidly rushing down to the sea. While the entire region is littered in with dramatic falls and tranquil creeks and rivers, one of the most stunning (and one of the closest to downtown Pucon) is the nearly 300 ft. tall Salto de Claro waterfall. Somewhat of a tourist secret and well off the usual tourist map, Salto de Claro is reachable via a slippery mud trail on the outskirts of town that switchbacks its way down to frigid mountain pool that is exploding with the force of the massive waterfall. It is one of those waterfalls where you aren’t sure if it is raining or if everything around you is soaking wet simply from all of the mist being created by the ferocity of the falls. Even for a guy from Hawaii who has seen more than his fair share of waterfalls, Salto de Claro is an impressive spot that is representative of the natural beauty that can be found in every nook and cranny of the lake region.
Speaking of lakes, the Pucon area has tons of them, and they all have you usual beach and lakeside amenities such as simply sandy coves (both black and golden sand), as well as water activities such as sailing, canoeing, kayaking, or simply lounging. You know you are in an amazing place when you can scale a snow covered active volcano, stand at the base of a massive waterfall, and watch the sunset with a bottle of wine while spread out on a towel on the beach. Again, I said it is easy to get stuck in Pucon.
Add to this succulent dining, endless shopping, a laidback local populace, an outdoor-loving global community, and all the infrastructure of a rapidly expanding first world nation in Chile, and Pucon is literally one of those places where the rest of the world could fall off of a cliff and you could hardly even care.