One of my favourite places in Chile was the adventure capital of Pucón. Not least because of my excursion up the side of an active volcano. But more on that later.
If exciting activities grab your attention, then Pucón is the place for you. There is a whole heap of activities to try out, from hiking and hot springs to white-water rafting and skydiving. It takes roughly 8.5 hours to travel south to Pucón from the capital Santiago, some 800km away. Alternatively, if you’re travelling north through Patagonia as I was, then it’s a good stopping point after the likes of Puerto Montt, Valdivia, Puerto Varas or even Bariloche to the East.
As usual I’d heard about Pucón from a fellow traveller and it became one place I was keen to see as I journeyed through South America. The town itself is a decent size with plenty of options for both food and accommodation. The best of which was the very cool Chili Kiwi Lakefront backpackers. (They even have a treehouse option!) Surrounded by incredible scenery, the Chili Kiwi hostel has picturesque views over the lake, while from anywhere in town it’s possible to see the domineering Volcano – Mount Villarrica. Once darkness falls you can see a red glow atop the peak as the lava bubbles away.
Most of the shops in town are geared towards the wide range of adventure sports on offer. With so many options available I spent most of my first day deciding which activities to do. There was almost too much choice.
The main one for me was obviously climbing the volcano. However, we were warned the night before that the climb may not happen due to bad weather and when we woke ready for our morning briefing at the highly unsociable hour of 5am the cancellation was confirmed. With a few more hours of sleep behind me and not wanting to waste the day, I looked at my other options and one stood out among the others. Hydrospeeding!
Most of the other activities I had either done elsewhere or could do later. Hydrospeeding however I’d never seen before. It involved hurtling down the same rapids they used for white-water rafting with nothing but a polystyrene board. I put my name down at the hostel and was picked up in a minibus in the afternoon before being driven to the site along with three other guys. We were kitted out with helmets, wetsuits and flippers before a safety briefing, which fortunately for me involved some English as I was the only non-native Spanish speaker in the group. After being handed our boards we were encouraged to dive into the river and paddle about in the flat water to get a feel for it. Then it was time to get amongst the rapids.
As it was autumn the water wasn’t very high, so the conditions were better suited for this than rafting. It also meant the rocks were more of an issue and I smashed into several on my uncontrolled journey down the river. There were a few respites where the river calmed before we entered the rapids once more, to be thrown along down several drops, some over two metres.
As fun as that was, I was still eager to try the volcano hike again the next day. So once again I woke early along with the others and we were pleased to get the go ahead. After another briefing we were kitted out with boots, coats, backpacks, sledge (yep!) and ice axe before being crammed into a minibus and driven to the base of Mount Villarrica, all before the sun had even begun to appear.
We began the hike along with several other groups, all eager to get ahead. The initial climb was a relatively straightforward uphill section, which ended just as the sun came up. I turned around and witnessed a spectacular view over Pucón and the lake. All highlighted by the early morning glow.
The higher we climbed the more difficult it became. The less experienced hikers in our group began to struggle as the altitude and incline increased. We stopped for breakfast before tackling the steepest section. Zig-zagging up the mountain to make better progress. This is where the ice axes came into use as the handle doubled as a support. Gripping the curved edge, we jabbed the pointed end into the snow with each step. The route was narrow and we were held up by slower hikers in both our group and others’. The mix in levels proving frustrating for more active hikers like myself.
Eventually we arrived at the top and after another food break we left our bags and made the short climb to the summit. High among the mountains with Argentina visible across to the east. The large crater at the top of Villarrica was blowing plumes of smoke. The lava was unfortunately low and no amount of leaning over was going to give me a glimpse of the molten substance.
After the euphoria of completing the tough 6 hour climb and a couple of selfies (I’m at the top of a volcano. If that’s not the time for one then when is?), we began our descent. However, this would be much faster and way more fun than the climb up.
Using the small plastic sledges we’d had strapped to our packs, we took our position just below the summit before sliding down one after another as we made a rapid descent down the volcano. Climbing one of the most active volcanoes in Chile is one thing, but how many times do you get to slide down?
After the tough hike I planned to recover on my last day in Pucón by visiting the hot springs. A couple of Danish girls from the excursion up Villarrica had the same idea and we were driven there the following day for a couple of hours of relaxation and to wallow in the fresh, natural water of Thermas Geometricas. The temperatures ranged from 35° to 45° with each pool designated by its temperature, allowing me to dip in and out of each pool as my body required.
It was a great place to finish my few days in Pucón. There is so much to do and see and a few days just wasn’t enough to do it all. If you’re in Patagonia then chances are you love the outdoors and Pucón is well worth a visit.