Pucón, a tiny town in the center of Chile, honestly blew me away. I wasn’t even bothered by the large amount of tourists strolling around or the numerous travel agencies lining the streets competing for business. The warm feeling resonating inside of you, while spending your vacation here, will overpower anything else.
Imagine a destination nestled beside a large, crystal lake with mostly log cabin buildings, cozy restaurants & coffee shops, zero traffic lights, green mountains towering at every turn, and a massive snow capped volcano illuminating from the shining sun above. I was so blessed to randomly change my plans at the last minute and take the 11 hour bus ride south to explore this magical town. Pucón was honestly one of my favorites in all of South America!
Besides the picturesque, mountain town vibes, Pucón also has so many outdoor activities for you to fill up your adventure tank during your stay. The following are my favorite adventures during my incredible week!
1. Hiking to the Summit of Villarrica Volcano
This is definitely the most popular tour in Pucón, and it should be! I’ve never in my life seen a volcano so beautiful, and I was so blessed that there was a recent snow storm for weeks just before I had arrived. There aren't many landscapes that I’ve seen in my entire life that look as stunning as this!
As I walked around town getting all of the various prices for a full day of climbing, all of them ranged from $110 to $130 (Chile is super expensive)! I chose the cheapest option, but honestly, I would not have chosen this if I were to go again. I would recommend staying at the number one ranked backpacker hostel in all of South America: Chili Kiwi Lakefront Hostel. It has the perfect combination of beautiful views, beautifully renovated accommodations, and awesome staff working there. Also, the owner is an absolute legend from New Zealand. Book your volcano summit tour through this hostel and you´ll have the time of your life, I promise!
After driving for about thirty minutes from the center town, we reached the base of Villarrica Volcano, and strapped on all of our gear. They provide everything from ice picks to boots to snow pads to a mini-sled - I’ll explain the sled later! :)
I’ve never in my life hiked for 100% of a trail in dense, thick snow up to my knees (most of my hiking experience has been in warmer climates). Even after completing several multi-day hikes throughout South America, I still found this experience extremely difficult. Also, the steepness of this climb was incomparable to anything that I’ve climbed in my life. Every step I took had to be placed perfectly in the foot indention in front of me, just to have proper support.
Once our group reached the halfway mark, everything started to get gnarly. The winds began to pick up so intense that we were literally fighting with all of our might for every step up the mountain. Many of the other hikers were getting blown over and repeatedly falling in the snow. We finally reached a storm shelter and waited for thirty minutes to see if the wind would die down, but it never did. Our guides brought the group in a huddle letting everyone know that it would be nearly impossible to reach the top, but one of the guides offered to try if there was anyone interested in persevering. Another hiker and I were the only ones willing to keep going, so we strapped on our gear and continued up the volcano.
It was as if a hurricane was on top of the mountain. Ice pellets were nailing us in the face and chest stinging us with each stop. Once we reached the ¨false summit¨ (about 3/4 up the mountain), our guide told us that with this 80mph wind, we would not be able to make it. I was shattered.
You know those epic mountaineering movies when the group doesn’t reach the top and your heart aches for each climber in the film? On a much lesser scale, I was now one of those people. We were told that it was a freak storm that randomly surrounded the mountain and no weather forecast predicted that this would happen. Our guide also felt terrible for turning around, but had to make the difficult decision to turn back.
What truly saved my entire volcano climbing experience was how we went down the mountain - on our sleds! We strapped on our mini plastic sleds securing them to our pants and BLAZED down the mountain! This was by far the steepest terrain that I had ever been on and I couldn’t believe that I was actually sledding down a massive volcano. It was absolutely insane! With the intense winds now at my back and the snow all around me, I was yelling with pure joy and excitement.
When I had finally reached the bottom, I was completely satisfied with my experience at the volcano and didn’t allow the fact that we turned back ruin my day. The thought of not making it to the summit wasn’t even on my mind. Without a doubt, I will return to this beautiful town with Corinne and attempt to conquer this volcano once again!
2. Hiking in El Cañi Santuary
This was the PERFECT day hike that shouldn't be missed while visiting Pucon. It’s a straight shot to the top with a steep increase of elevation for three to four hours, but it’s a dream once you finally reach the top!
I took the small local bus across from the JAC bus station at 7am and told the driver that I was going to El Cañi (Forest Sanctuary). After about thirty minutes, the bus dropped me off on the side of the road in front of the trailhead. Normally, it costs around $6 to enter the reserve, but the little ticket booth wasn’t open for an hour, so I just continued walking up the trail. I would suggest taking the early (7am) bus because you won't find another soul on the trail the entire way up and you'll beat the afternoon heat.
The first fifteen minutes of the hike takes you along the road through beautiful, green farmland passing peaceful streams flowing along the side of the road. The trail is well marked with signs pointing you in the right direction all the way up the mountain. For the next two hours, I hiked up a very steep dirt road until it turned into a proper forest trail about halfway up.
Soon after hiking the small forest trail, I stumbled upon a stunning lagoon surrounding by chirping birds, swaying trees, and the golden morning sun shining on the still water beside me. From this point on, I had to hike in about a foot of snow the entire way up, but that didn’t stop me - even in my sneakers! You don´t need proper hiking boots, but I would really recommend it for this hike.
After about an hour of snow hiking, I finally reached the summit and had the entire peak to myself for more than an hour. The sun was shining bright, there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky and all four massive snow capped volcanoes were beaming in the distance all around me. After setting up my tripod and take a few shots, I then passed out beside a boulder until I woke up with other hikers taking photos around me.
Hiking back down the mountain only takes half the time because it’s all down hill. I decided to take it real slow and truly soak up the incredible landscapes in front of me. Once I reached the main road, I waited for about thirty minutes until the next public bus scooped me up. One of my favorite solo hikes ever!
3. Biking to Crystal Blue Waterfalls
In the center of town, I rented a bike for $10 and took it all around the outskirts of Pucón for the day. On the busy highway section immediately outside of town, there is a bike lane beside the road where you can safely peddle and not worry about other cars. I was fortunate to arrive in Pucón during this season (November) because all of the trees surrounding me were bright golden. It was absolutely stunning! I took a rest break beside the river to truly soak it all up.
After about fifteen minutes of enjoying the sunshine, I continued peddling along the side of the road without any plan of where I was going. There was a German guy hitchhiking along the side of the road, so I asked him if there was anything in the area that I should check out. He then told me about these beautiful waterfalls down the dirt road near where we were standing. I took that road and paid the $3 entrance fee to the property owners and followed the small trail to the falls.
I’m not going to lie, the area was super touristy with wooden walkways, guardrails, and proper steps to get close photos of the waterfalls, but it didn’t take away from their beauty. Truly, I’ve never seen such bright blue water surrounded by vibrant greenery. I'm guessing that the water is melted from the surrounding peaks.
[Side Note]: Technically not allowed, but you can easily cross the river at the shallow part, and you'll be able to see the waterfalls from a completely different viewpoint (I asked one of the property employees, and he said that it was okay). I was able to discover some secluded areas beside the river, and really take in the falls without other people crowding around me.
The bike ride back to Pucón took about an hour, but it felt like a completely different experience. The mountains that were previously at my back were now in front of me. If I were to rent a bike again, I would have left early in the morning and explored from sunrise to sunset. I HIGHLY suggest visiting this stunning town for a few days if you're in central Chile!