Chile is a country whose shape makes a road trip quite ridiculously simple. Long and thin, the Andes a constant companion to the east and the calming knowledge that the west coast is never far away, it is difficult to lose your bearings. Pretty basic - head south and the mountains are on your left… head north and they are on your right. The sun sets by the sea and takes its time to rise over the height of the mighty Andes in the east. Around 800 kilometers (500 miles) south of Santiago lies the adventure destination of Pucon. Follow Ruta 5 the entire way. I have to admit the long straight road can get a little tedious after a few hours, but at least there is almost zero map reading stress. Just head south and you will eventually find an exit where you will have to make the tough decision - do I head to the mountains or the sea? Either decision you make will doubtlessly bring you somewhere stunningly beautiful. This article will take you from Santiago to Pucon, enlightening you to some of the great activities that Chile has to offer you.
To get to the point, I recently went on a road trip with two friends who were visiting from the UK. I had been looking forward to the chance to show them this beautiful country which I have begun to call home. They needed to see the Pacific ocean and they needed to see the forests, mountains and lakes of the Auracanía region - all in the space of 10 days. We left Santiago slightly of course, to the south-west and in the direction of Pichilemu and Punta de Lobos, two of the country's most impressive surf spots - made world famous by Chilean big wave surfer Ramón Navarro. The black sands and pine forests leading down towards the coast make for a really beautiful spot. The silence in the evening is only broken by the southerly wind and the ocean, and we cooked over an open fire wrapped in our jackets as the temperature dropped. I awoke at 2 in the morning to 3 over excited dogs jumping all over me - them thinking I was the perfect late-night playtoy - me shouting for help from my friend Lauren who could only watch and laugh. From Pichilemu you are also close to the famous Chilean wine region of Colchagua.
A set at Punta de Lobos
After a day of surfing, went embarked on the long drive to Pucon, stopping for delicious roadside empanadas and a day-changing strawberry and mint smoothie - finally arriving to camp on the lakeside at around 1:30am. At the beginning of March the temperatures by the lake are not totally ideal for camping - and neither were our summer sleeping bags and bivvie bags - but we managed to stay warm and then wandered into Pucon for coffee and food before a day of canyoning in one of the beautiful Trancura river. We put on wetsuits and helmets and proceeded to launch ourselves off 12 meter drops and get pushed down slippery rocks into rapids by our guides. Stumbling behind one another downstream and trusting the guide’s assurances that the water on the other side of the blind drop was deep enough to jump into, was a great bonding experience for the 10 people in the group whom had never met before.
What else is there to do?
If you have ever been to New Zealand, then Pucon is more or less a Chilean equivalent of Queenstown or Wanaka, without the binge drinking European tourists meandering the streets late at night. It is also a perfect stop off if you are heading down to Puerto Varas or Puerto Montt for a Lake District Adventure. You can do almost any outdoor adventure you can imagine here: skiing, volcano treks, hiking in the rainforest, rafting, kayaking, canyoning, mountain biking, horseriding and fishing. The beginning of March is slightly out of high season so we were lucky with the crowds and stayed in a beautiful hostel outside of town, set back a little bit into the forest. Only 130km south of Pucon and you may find the amazing Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve. In the midst of this rainforest reserve there is the outstanding Nothofagus Hotel, a tree-house style accomodation which fits seamlessly into the woodland. In this location it is also possible to do all of the adrenaline fuelled activities Chile is famous for! White water rafting, horse riding and hiking through beautiful forests are all possible.
Listen to your guide and hold on!
The Villaricca volcano towers over the town and you can see it from almost anywhere you stand. Light smoke often drifts around its peak and at night its vent glows red - quite a magical experience to witness sitting by the lake. Huerquehue National Park is only a 25 minute drive from Pucon and this is where you are really able to experience the wilderness of this area, in the temperate Valdivian rainforest. The trail we did was Sendero Los Lagos, a 5-6 hour journey through native forests and up to three amazing lakes where you can rest at the halfway point of the trek, before turning round for the much easier downhill return to your car or bus back to Pucon. The silence and intense smell of the forest lifted us to new levels of energy, on the way back we ran down the hills, jumping over roots and rocks, feeling as agile as the other animals that share this place. Whenever there is a break in the trees you can turn around and see the view of Villarrica Volcano… to gain a bit of inspiration for the uphill slog to the refreshing lakes. The final one you come to is Lago Verde, and this is where we were able to bathe in the water and the sun. In Huerquehue, a park of 125 square kilometers, you can hope to see tarantulas, the Pudu (world’s smallest deer!) and if you are really lucky the condor soaring above the dense forest.
The vent of Volcan Villarrica glows red in the night...
To celebrate/mourn our last day in Pucon we went on a white water rafting trip on a level 4 river only a 20 minute drive from the town center. After having worked for Cascada Expediciones for the last 6 months, whose roots are in rafting on the Bio Bio River, I was definitely inspired to try it for myself. Once again, wetsuits, life jackets and helmets are necessary as you paddle as hard as you can downstream - your guide screaming instructions at you to prevent the boat flipping and passengers falling out of the raft. I personally thought he was over-exaggerating to give us a bit more of an adrenaline boost, but the look of relief on his face when we successfully completed a particularly tough part of the river, convinced me that he had been serious. He admitted that this was the first time he had completed this section of the river without either losing a passenger or flipping… so happy days for us! We can assure you that the guides are well qualified and sensible - it is just quite a hardcore river apparently! After these amazing days we embarked on the long road back to Santiago and “real life” again… but the experiences in this pristine and beautiful place left us wondering where we really want to live our “real” lives.
Perhaps out there in the nature and the hills is simply the best place to be all the time, not just for a holiday…
About Cascada Travel Blog Author
I am working for Cascada Expediciones to get an insight into the Adventure Travel industry, and live near to the Andes mountains, where I can go running and hiking every weekend. I am a keen cyclist, runner and skier, so Chile is pretty much the perfet place to be right now.