Outdoor adventures in Chile – Trekking in Pucón
Sitting at the bottom of the magnificent snow-capped Villarrica volcano in the Arauncanía region of southern Chile is a little village known as Pucón. What was once an indigenous Mapuche stronghold – even the name Pucón means ‘entrance to the cordillera’ in their native tongue – has now become a Mecca for adrenaline junkies or anyone wanting to venture into the rugged outdoors. Its indigenous past has not been forgotten and the Mapuche flag flying high is testament to this. Yet, apart from the abundance of Mapuche Artisan shops, this little village beside lake Villarrica offers so much more than just an insight into South America’s indigenous heritage.
The town itself has a distinct alpine feel to it, beautifully crafted in wooden architecture that seamlessly fits into the mountainous backdrop. However, those looking for a peaceful getaway, beware, as the hordes of tourists from Santiago descend on the town in their hundreds during the summer months. The mix of Chilean tourists, dreadlocked backpackers and adrenaline junkies looking like walking North Face adverts makes ‘people watching’ from one of the many local bars rather interesting. On top of this, the village has a bustling nightlife and with everything within walking distance it is hard not to feel completely relaxed here.
There isn’t an outdoor sport or activity that you can’t get stuck into here, from camping in the huge expanse of the Huerquehue National park to white water rafting to horse riding to trekking the intimidating Vilarrica Volcano standing 2,860m tall. Equipped with crampons, ice picks and an experienced guide, this full day trek to reach the summit is a once in a lifetime experience. Tiptoeing to the edge of the gaping mouth of the Volcano is a daunting prospect, nothing can prepare you for the spectacular sight of the depths below. Thoughts of eruptions and how to escape come thick and fast, which, ironically, happens to be sliding down on your bum – a much faster way than the gruelling eight hour ascent might I add. But in the end, nothing quite beats dipping into one of the thermal hot-springs to soothe your worn out limbs, whilst blissfully watching the sun go down.
There are as many camping and trekking opportunities in this region as January sales down Oxford Street. In fact, Chile boasts a whopping 36 National Parks covering over 9 million hectors with endless trails. So, fill your backpack with a pot and pan, take a good tent and put on your trekking shoes to explore this vast, untamed environment. Nature lovers and wildlife photographers will be inundated with new sightings including over 80 bird species in the Huerquehue National park alone. Don’t be alarmed by the loud drumming sound echoing around the forest, it belongs to the striking Magellanic woodpecker – one of the largest in the world. It’s a wonderful sound not to mention spotting it, its bright red head making it easier to pick out through the dense foliage.
Well, if none of this tickles your fancy than why not wait until winter descends on Pucón and strap on your skis (or snowboards for the cool kids) and take advantage of the very same volcano you just conquered in summer. There is something for everyone in Pucón. Yes, Bariloche, its Argentine cousin just over the Andes may have more of the international limelight, but this little indigenous come adventure village is certainly making itself heard.
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