The adventure tourism hub of Pucon in Chile is a magnet for those sybarites and pleasure mongers seeking heart-stopping moments, whether it's winter, summer or any month in between. Pucón is the town that adrenalin junkies in Chile talk about all the time; during the winter months, you won't see the white snow on the slopes of Villarrica volcano for the wild colours of snowboarders hurtling down its incline.
Image © Rodrigo Leane Mundo (omundotrip)
Like living in a snow globe, the town is your quintessential pseudo-Alpine village with log cabins spewing smoke out of precarious brick chimneys. You can hitch-hike to the hot spots while lugging your snowboard or skis, lick your fingers after eating a slab of meat doused in merkén (a Mapuche spicy rub) or down a few boutique beers in the company of other daredevils. From white-water rafting to kayaking almost frozen lakes, this is an adult's playground for risk-seeking souls looking for a wild ride.
Villarrica Volcano is at the heart of most conversations. This massive volcano stands guard over the town decked out in ice and snow during the winter. The challenge is to get to the top so you can have the thrill of rushing down it. One of Chile's most active volcanoes, you can quite often see puffs of smoke billowing out from its crater into the hovering clouds.
Originally named by the Mapuche as "Rucapillán", meaning "Devil's House", it's the only known volcano in the world that has a lava lake in its crater. You need to remember your ice pick and crampons if you want to ascend this monster, preferably with a guide. The hike up usually takes between three to five hours, depending on your fitness level, but then you get the pleasure of tobogganing down the slippery slope in about 15 minutes with a big grin on your face. When the chair lift is operating, it's the alternative for those who like to cheat.
During my stay in Pucon in August 2019, I was regaled with stories about the last time the volcano blew in 2015, and the fact that the lava didn't reach the town. Climbers I spoke to told tales of getting to the top, only to be confronted with a gaping hole of stinking sulfur and the fact that you can't see in front of you. One fellow nervously laughed about how he nearly stepped into the crater.
For tourists here, this is the ultimate, to climb the volcano. Climbing Villaricca is not for the faint-hearted, with many having to give up and turn around, despite being equipped to get to the top of its 2,847 meters. It was only a few weeks after I left Pucon that the volcano actually did blow its stack in a glory of molten lava, ash and spewing rock.
Other adventures that don't involve the chance of being hit with the cataclysmic force of an eruption can be found below:
Caburgua Lake and Ojos de Caburgua
You can take the local bus to get to the Caburgua Lake that sits in a glacial valley and enjoy the somewhat social and bumpy ride with the locals or hire a pushbike from Pucon if you need a good bit of exercise. Once you have done the mandatory meander along the beautiful black sand beach of Playa Negra, you should head to Playa Blanca, yes, the white beach. The scenery is dazzling, the water is crystal clear, and the locals come out to play in the summer months.
Then head to the stunning waterfalls of Ojos del Caburgua about 4kms away, where the rush of the water mingles with the sounds of the bush. These two waterfalls from above appear to be different shades of color; one blue and the other green, hence the name that means "Eyes of the Caburgua".
The Hiking and Trekking Hub
Parque Nacional Huerquehue has numerous trails that can take a day or more to hike along. If you intend to go on a long hike over several days, you have to register with the park ranger's office. The landscapes will give you goosebumps, and the incredible views will leave you standing with your mouth open. This national park is cloaked in gleaming glacial lakes and ancient Araucaria trees.
If you don't suffer from claustrophobia; whizzing through the underground caves and tunnels will give you a different view of this astounding landscape as you negotiate tight crevasses and unexpected openings.
Jump onto what is basically a bodyboard and hurtle your way down the white water rapids. It's white water rafting, but without the raft, more like a popping cork from a champagne bottle. Tour companies will outfit you with the necessary body preserving measures such as a wetsuit and helmet for the occasion.
From Grade 3 rapids to smooth, silky patches of freezing water, white water rafting is one of the top adventures in the area.
Skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing
It's a winter wonderland where you can get up to anything, even building a snowman. Volcan Villarrica is one of Chile's top ski spots, with 20 runs of varying degrees of difficulty.
If you want to play on the back of a horse like a gaucho, there are plenty of options to explore the wilds of the national parks for a few hours, a day or pack up all your gear for an epic adventure of weeks.
Ziplining and skydiving
Whatever gets the adrenalin rushing, you will find it in Pucon.