Pucon, Chile sits on the shores of Lake Villarrica and under a snow-tipped volcano by the same name, Villarrica. This volcano happens to be one of the most active volcanoes in South America.
As I wandered around town for the first time breathing in the fresh air, I felt a few pangs of home. With all the mountain views and outdoor sports vibes, I couldn’t help but think I’d arrived at Banff, Alberta.
The Best Place to Stay in Pucon, Chile
Luckily, I got the last bed in my preferred place to stay, Chili Kiwi Hostel. I’d heard whispers of this place 8 hours away up in Santiago de Chile. It was for good reason as this hostel was one of the best I’d ever stayed at. Apparently, Hostelworld agrees with me. Chili Kiwi won have won the best hostel in Latin America ‘Hoscar’ for 2017 and 2018.
Located right on the edge of the lake and facing west, there was a gorgeous sunset every single night. You could sit in a treehouse connected to their bar and drink craft beer while watching the sun blister the lake red and purple as it went down.
In addition, they had private treehouse rooms, private barrel rooms that looked like they were straight out of Hobbiton and even a ‘combi’ (VW Westfalia) to sleep in. Throw in two great fully stocked kitchens and you have an awesome hostel. It’s no wonder the volunteers told me 50 people a day apply on Workaway to volunteer there.
The Top Things to do in Pucon, Chile
The first day I arrived at Chili Kiwi the volunteers sat me down to explain the activities ‘menu.’ This was basically a booklet with about 20 different things you could do in and around Pucón. It was a blend of hiking, thermal baths, horseback riding, sky-diving, canyoning, rafting, mountain biking, hydrospeed (more on this later) and general lake activities. In the winter you could also snowboard and ski.
Pucon is also a great place to party at night time. They have a ton of bars around town that stay open pretty late so you can till 5-6 am if you want. I may have done this once or twice.
1) Hike to the Summit of the Villarrica Volcano at 2860m
This is a very controlled climb. Due to the active nature of the Volcano, each climbing group of around 15-20 people had to have about 4 guides. Each guide apparently has to have something like 40 summits over 6000m under their belts to get certified.
Chili Kiwi has their own tour company that sets up the hike for the reasonable price (apparently) of 75 000 CLP or 113 USD. This included all the guides and rental equipment. We each were given boots, gaiters, crampons, a helmet, a snow jacket, gloves, ice axe, a large plastic saucer and a gas mask for the fumes near the crater, which was mildly alarming.
The day started off before the sunrise. We all drove halfway up the volcano to the remnants of a ski hill. Apparently a few years back the volcano blew its top and took out the ski resort. The only thing left was the one chairlift at the bottom where we were dropped out.
The chairlift still ran, but it cost another 10 000 CLP to shave an hour off the hike. Most of the group opted for extra exercise instead.
It felt a little surreal as we kept going up passing more burnt out remnants of chairlifts like drifters wandering through some post-apocalyptic land.
This continued for an hour or two until we hit snow. Everybody slapped on their crampons and we were given instructions on how to use the ice axe to stop ourselves from sliding several hundred meters down the volcano.
After another hour and a bit, we finally reached the summit and the crater of the volcano. The crater glowed bright orange and periodically puffed out plumes of smoke as if it were breathing. All the guides nervously kept us to stay far away as everybody scrambled to take photos and videos. I have to say, it was pretty cool.
I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to see a juicy spurt of lava, but I may not be writing this right now if that happened. I guess there weren’t many fumes that day so in the end none of us were required to dawn the gas masks.
It turns out the fun wasn’t over yet. The large plastic saucers we all carried up were for sliding down the snow part of the mount. Where have you ever done a hike where you did this? Everybody gleefully slid down channels of snow till we hit the dry ground again.
Back at the bottom by the only working chairlift, we were greeted by people selling wonderfully cold beers. Exhausted and covered in volcanic dirt it was a welcome respite. I couldn’t wait to lounge like a potato in the treehouse at the hostel and watch the sunset over the lake.
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2) Try The Hydrospeed on the Trancura River
When I learned what a hydrospeed (or riverboarding) was, I had to try it. I jumped on a tour and we were off to a nearby river with level 2 rapids.
So, what the hell is a hydrospeed? A hydrospeed is pretty much a thick oversized flutterboard with a handle on the inside that you fold both your hands over while you hold on for dear life. It’s your best friend while you get washed down the rapids.
The tour started at the launch for the whitewater rafts at a nearby river. We were going down the same rapids as the rafts, but with hydrospeeds. For protection, we were also given padded wetsuits, helmets, and flippers.
We followed a guide and went bumping down the rapids right with the whitewater rafts. Everybody smashed into a lot of rocks and got dunked a lot of times, but we all had a blast.
Watching the rafts float by us everybody agreed how boring being on a raft would be compared to the hydrospeed. I thought the same thing till we went under some particularly tough rapids under a bridge and slammed my thigh so hard on a rock I thought I may have fractured my femur. Turns out the wetsuits weren’t quite padded enough.
In the end, I was fine. I was only left with a bruise on my thigh. The hydrospeed experience was so much fun though, I hardly was able to recognize the pain.
3) Hike Through Huerquehue National Park
This beautiful national park is accessible via bus from the city center of Pucón. There is a minimal entrance fee, but it is well worth it.
Once inside there are a few mountain trails to choose from. These bring you to the shores of a few small crystal clear lakes. If you brought camping gear, there are a few places you can camp overnight if you’re keen. I spent a good 8 hour day hiking around here.
4) Spend An Afternoon on Playa Grande
This is the largest beach on Villarrica Lake and it’s awesome. The water is super clean and there’s ample space to lay out and chill. Not to mention a great view of some small tree covered mountains.
There are also a few restaurants and places to grab a drink. If you’re feeling sporty, you can rent watersports equipment or pay to go out on a jetski etc.
I spent most of my time at Playa Grande relaxing after some intense days of activity. It’s hard to beat the laid back atmosphere there.
5) Take a Kayak or SUP and Paddle to Some New Beaches
A great way to spend an afternoon is to take a kayak or SUP out on Lake Villarrica. The lake is diverse and there are some cool places to explore. You also are treated with amazing views of the Volcano Villarrica.
I took a kayak out with a friend and spent the whole afternoon checking out little coves and small beaches. As we came back in we were able to take in another beauty sunset over the lake.
6) Check Out the Nightlife
I was pretty surprised to find a lot of bars and nightclubs in Pucon. They catered to a wide range of music too from rock to hip-hop to late night techno clubs. To be honest the nightlife again reminded me a little bit of Banff.
It was summer time, so every night of the week there was something happening. I had some incredibly fun nights out with people from the hostel.
7) The Salto el Claro Waterfall
At the hostel, they had a map of how to hike to the Salto el Claro waterfall just outside of Pucón. Personally, I never went there but everybody who went said it was stunning. If I had more time I would have gone for sure. That’s the problem with Pucón, you have too many options.
8) The Thermal Baths
There were a few options for thermal baths near Pucón. They can be quite a popular option for many people. One of the most well known is Termas Geometricas.
I considered going, but the prices also were a bit on the expensive side, and from talking to other people who’d gone recently they said it wasn’t worth it. This was because the pools were apparently jam-packed with people and tons of little kids running around. I guess it’s the number one family activity to do near Pucón. Still, If it were colder out I probably would have gone.
If you want to get dropped out of a plane and fall straight down towards the Villarrica Volcano, you’ll be frothing to do this. Just don’t forget to bring a lot of money. It’s the most expensive thing you can do in Pucón. It seemed sweet though.
I never ended up doing sky-diving because of the cost and well, I didn’t want to pay extra to do it in Pucón. I have never gone sky-diving, but if I were to do it, I’d prefer to be jumping out of a plane over a Caribbean island.
What Are You Waiting For? Go To Pucón.
The week I spent in Pucon, Chile went by so fast I couldn’t believe it was time for me to go. I had so much fun doing activities there and going out at night, and meeting so many great people. It was one of the few places I genuinely felt sad to be leaving.