Pucón: Southern Chile’s Top Outdoors Destination

Flowers bloom in the foreground while white smoke or steam streams across the sky from a snow-capped volano in the distance.

Volcán Villarrica as seen from Pucón. Photo © Stephen Colebourne, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

Map of Pucón, Chile

Pucón

At the foot of smoldering Volcán Villarrica, Pucón has gained a name as the destination for hikers, climbers, mountain bikers, windsurfers, and white-water rafters and kayakers. Still popular with conventional Chilean holiday-makers, it enjoys a longer season than most lakes district resorts because hordes of youthful international travelers frequent the area from November to April. It has no sights of its own because almost everything worth seeing or doing is outside town, but at day’s end everyone swarms to local hotels, restaurants, and bars to party.

That doesn’t mean Pucón lacks a serious side. Over the past several years, the landmark cooperative Hostería ¡Ecole!, along with the affiliated Fundación Lahuen, has actively promoted regional forest conservation.

Orientation

Where the Río Pucón enters the lake, 25 kilometers east of the town of Villarrica via Ruta 119, Pucón (population about 15,000) occupies a compact grid bounded by the lakeshore to the north and west, Avenida Colo Colo to the east, and Volcán Villarrica’s lower slopes to the south. Its commercial axis is Avenida Bernardo O’Higgins, which continues as Ruta 119 toward Curarrehue and the Argentine border at Paso Mamuil Malal.

Entertainment and Events

There’s little in terms of formal entertainment venues, but somehow Pucón has plenty to do.

The shell of the colossal Casino de Pucón burned nearly to the ground in late 2007, costing the city its main performing-arts venue and a cinema, but the new Enjoy Pucón (Ansorena 121, tel. 045/550000) casino imports performers of the stature of Spain’s Joan Manuel Serrat.

There’s a lot of turnover in bars, but several have managed to last more than a few seasons, most notably Krater (O’Higgins 447, tel. 045/441339) and Mamas & Tapas (O’Higgins 587, tel. 045/449002). Both places serve food as well, but that’s not their forte.

Early February’s Ironman Internacional de Pucón (Pucón International Triathlon) grows in popularity every year. Aniversario de Pucón (Feb. 27) celebrates the city’s founding.

Shopping

The Mercado Artesanal Municipal (Ansorena 445, daily) and Artesanos de Pucón (Alderete 370, daily) both have ample crafts selections. There are also abundant street vendors.

Accommodations

US$25–50

Residencial Lincoyán (Lincoyán 323, tel. 045/441144, US$20 pp with shared bath, add US$5 for breakfast) is a plain but friendly family-style place with good beds but no other amenities.

Just beyond the town’s central grid, Pucón Hostel (Av. O’Higgins 771, tel. 045/441381, US$20 pp, US$50 s or d) is a sparkling new purpose-built facility that has mostly private rooms with just a few dorm bunks. While it may lack the vigorous vibes of places like ¡Ecole!, it compensates with a friendly family approach that, however, does not interfere with its guests.

More than just a comfy bed, Hostería ¡Ecole! (General Urrutia 592, tel. 045/441675, US$14–20 pp in dorms, US$34 s, US$40 d with shared bath, US$60–76 s or d with private bath) has become a destination in itself. Owned and operated by a cooperative of Chilean and international environmental advocates, it provides informally stylish B&B-style accommodations (breakfast is extra). It also has a moderately-priced vegetarian restaurant, a bar, and a book exchange; operates its own excursions; and provides information and advice. It’s so popular, though, that reservations are essential in summer and advisable the rest of the year. The cheapest choice is backpackers’ bunks, for which you need your own sleeping bag.

US$50–100

In a quiet site only about 100 meters north of the Tur-Bus terminal, Swiss-run Casa Satya (Blanco Encalada 190, tel. 045/444093, cpassavant@gmail.com, US$16 pp, US$64 d with breakfast) has doubles and triples with either shared or private bath, plus wireless Internet and access to a full modern kitchen; the higher rates correspond to doubles with private baths. Owner Cristina Passavant also offers massage options ranging from reiki to Thai.

Occupying two adjacent houses on the same property, the misleadingly named Tree House Hostel (General Urrutia 660, tel. 045/444679, US$18–25 pp, US$58 s or d) is an Anglo-Chilean venture with both dorms and private rooms. The beds and other furnishings are both sturdy and stylish, but its actual tree house is just a place to grab a view of Volcán Villarrica.

It’s a little ragged in some aspects—the rooms have irregular shapes, for instance, and the bathroom linoleum undulates across the floor—but the family-run Hostelling International (HI) affiliate Refugio Península (Holzapfel 11, tel. 045/443398, US$30 pp in dorms, US$50 s, US$70 d) compensates with coziness and a quiet lakeshore location. HI members get a small discount.

Alongside ¡Ecole!, the more subdued Hostal La Tetera (General Urrutia 580, tel./fax 045/441462, US$55 s, US$62 d with shared bath; US$71 s, US$78 d with private bath) offers equally stylish, comfortable rooms with good beds and individual reading lights, though the walls are a little thin. Still, it attracts a quiet clientele and has some of Pucón’s best breakfasts. There’s also a good book exchange. Ask for one of the front rooms, whose balconies offer views of Volcán Villarrica; if possible, avoid room 4 (Meli), shaded by ¡Ecole!’s dense fir tree.

Hostal Gerónimo (Gerónimo de Alderete 665, tel. 045/443762, US$72 s, US$76 d, up to US$96 s or d) offers immaculate small-to-midsize rooms, some with terrace views of the volcano. The personnel are gracious and helpful, and there’s also a pastaoriented restaurant.

Set on ample grounds, with a large pool, Hotel La Posada Plaza Pucón (Pedro de Valdivia 191, tel. 045/441088, US$66–101 s, US$82–111 d) has midsize rooms in an older upgraded building. The management is very accommodating.

US$100–200

With its spa and other upgrades, Hotel & Spa Araucarias (Caupolicán 243, tel. 045/441286, US$80 s, US$120 d) is a fine value with IVA (tax) discounts. It also has a small but impressive museum of Mapuche artifacts.

The main shortcoming at Hotel Malalhue (Camino Internacional 1615, tel. 045/443130, US$96–109 s, US$119–130 d) is that it fronts on the eastbound road out of town and, consequently, has traffic day or night. Still, it’s an impressive structure with luminous rooms and contemporary Euro-Andean style.

On Pucón’s eastern outskirts, the 50-room Hotel Oasis Park (Camino Internacional 3000, tel. 045/467960, US$143–237 s or d) is a promising spa hotel on expansive grounds with an ample setback from the international highway. For those who wish to be close to town without worrying about the frenetic summer crowds, this is a good alternative.

Enjoying its own black-sand beach, the mammoth lakefront Gran Hotel Pucón (Holzapfel 190, tel./fax 045/441001, US$150–244 s or d) dates from the 1930s, when the state railroad agency Ferrocarriles del Estado chose Pucón as Chile’s next great tourist destination. Despite its acquisition by the Enjoy group, which also operates the new casino and has money to burn, there’s been no conspicuous investment, and its character is that of an aging grand hotel.

Over US$200

Two kilometers west of town on the Villarrica road, poised among wooded hillside gardens with immaculate flower beds, pools, and cascades, the Bauhaus-style Hotel Antumalal (Km 2 Camino Pucón-Villarrica, tel. 045/441011, from US$239 s or d) prides itself on personal service. When you arrive, staff members place a fresh fruit basket in every room and even wash your car. Each of its 22 rooms boasts lake views and a fireplace; the common areas have panoramic views through giant plate-glass windows, as well as a strong wireless Internet signal. In addition to a heated pool and a private beach, it’s also added a spa with a hot tub, sauna, and massage services. Half-board rates are also available; the restaurant has been gaining clientele from nonguests as well.

Food

Pucón’s food ranges from simple regional cuisine and fast food (no greasy chain outlets, thankfully) to sophisticated international fare. A good example of the former is Coppa Kabana (Urrutia 407, tel. 045/444371, lunch and dinner daily), which serves sandwiches and plain lunches at reasonable prices. Pastelería Suiza (O’Higgins 116, tel. 045/441241, breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily) is the classic breakfast spot for tasty pastries.

Latitude 39 (Gerónimo de Alderete 324, cell tel. 09/7430-0016, breakfast, lunch, and dinner Mon.–Sat.) is a U.S.-run café with a diverse menu that includes sandwiches, Mexican food, and Thai dishes, and serves breakfast all day. Prices are moderate, and the spicy tortilla soup is great for a cool winter’s day. Latitude 39 has also introduced a novelty—shaved ice—for hot summer days.

Even if there’s no room at the inn, don’t miss the renovated menu at Presente (Urrutia 592, tel. 045/441675, lunch and dinner daily, entrées US$6–10), the vegetarian restaurant at Hostería ¡Ecole!, which focuses on seasonal, locally produced organic products, including Mapuche-derived dishes and spices. With its low prices, this remains some of the country’s best-value food.

The menu at Trawen (O’Higgins 311, tel. 045/442024, lunch and dinner daily) does a lot with standards such as ravioli (stuffed with prosciutto, for instance), creative vegetarian dishes, and the freshest local ingredients. There’s also a respectable selection of wines by the glass. Across the street, with a steady crowd even in the off-season, Il Fiore (O’Higgins 291, tel. 045/442743, entrées US$11–15) offers a wide variety of quality pizza and pastas but is relatively expensive.

Puerto Pucón (Fresia 246, tel. 045/441592, lunch and dinner daily, entrées US$15) is the standard seafood option, but prices have risen dramatically. El Fogón (O’Higgins 480, tel. 045/444904, entrées US$9–15) is a traditional parrilla (grill), but the town has sprouted a gaggle of new parrillas over the past couple of years.

Uruguayans eat even more beef than Argentines, so it’s not surprising that the Uruguayan-owned parrilla La Maga (Gerónimo de Alderete 276, tel. 045/444277, lunch and dinner daily, entrées US$21) serves up massive slabs of meat, such as a thick pepper steak that’s easily large enough for two. The ambience is appealing for families, couples, and even individual diners, everything’s cooked precisely to order, and it has made concessions to local custom by producing side dishes such as merkén-spiced potatoes. The elevated prices make it best for a special occasion or for those who couldn’t care less what it costs.

Alongside La Maga, the same owners operate a more moderately-priced snack bar in La Celeste (Gerónimo de Alderete 266, tel. 045/444046), which specializes in the Uruguayan caloric overload known as the chivito. This is not kid goat, as the word would normally suggest, but rather a steak sandwich slathered with fried eggs, bacon, tomatoes, cheese, and mayonnaise, plus a side of fries.

The Argentine-style Pizzería Buonatesta (Fresia 243, tel. 045/441434, lunch and dinner daily, pizzettas US$7–10) is outstanding. Senzo (Fresia 284, tel. 045/449005, lunch and dinner Wed.–Mon., entrées US$15) is also highly regarded for pastas and risottos. The trilogy of pastas is a sampler of their agnolotti, ravioli, and tortellini, with diverse sauces, but the kitchen is perhaps a little too quick to deliver the goods.

Pucón’s main Mexican option is the modest El Arriero de Tijuana’s (Ansorena 303, tel. 045/444144, lunch and dinner daily). The Arabian Café (Fresia 354, tel. 045/443469, lunch and dinner daily) serves Middle Eastern specialties.

Bahía Perú (General Urrutia 211, tel. 045/443820, lunch and dinner daily, entrées US$7–14) falls short of the top echelon of Chile’s Peruvian restaurants, but the prices are fair, the pisco sours suitably tart, and the service exceptional.

Viva Perú (Lincoyán 372, tel. 045/444025, lunch and dinner daily, entrées US$8–13) serves arguably lighter versions of Peruvian dishes such as ají de gallina (chicken in a walnut sauce), plus ceviche and Peruvian-style pisco sours.

Cassis (Fresia 223, tel. 045/449088, breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily) serves sandwiches, coffee, juices, and particularly exquisite desserts, including homemade ice cream and crepes, as well as artisanal chocolates. Friatto (O’Higgins 136-B) also serves decent ice cream.

Information

Pucón’s Oficina Municipal de Turismo (O’Higgins 483, tel. 045/293002, 8:30 a.m.–10 p.m. daily Jan.–Feb., 8:30 a.m.–7 p.m. daily Mar.–Dec.) provides tourist information.

Another source for information is the private Cámara de Turismo (Brasil 115, tel. 045/441671, 9 a.m.–midnight daily Jan.–Feb., 10 a.m.–1:30 p.m. and 4–7 p.m. daily Mar.–Dec.).

For national parks, Conaf (Lincoyán 336, 1st Fl., tel. 045/443781) now has centrally convenient offices.

Services

Turismo Christopher (O’Higgins 335) and Supermercado Eltit (O’Higgins 336) change U.S. and Argentine cash. The supermarket now has an ATM, as does BCI (Fresia 174).

Correos de Chile (Fresia 183) handles the mail. For long-distance telephone and Internet services, there’s a Centro de Llamados (Ansorena 380), but many restaurants and cafés have wireless Internet.

Speaking Spanish, English, and German, Swiss-run Travel Aid (Ansorena 425, Local 4, tel. 045/44040) is a well-informed travel agency, tour broker, and apartment rental agency that also sells books and maps of the area, region, and country. It’s also the local agent for Navimag and Cruce de Lagos.

Lavaseco Elena (General Urrutia 520-B, tel. 045/441019, US$6 per load) washes, dries, and folds laundry. Lavandería Araucarias (General Urrutia 108, Local 4) is equally efficient.

For medical services, contact Hospital San Francisco (Uruguay 325, tel. 045/441177).

Getting There

In the past there have been occasional summer flights into Pucón. Construction of a new airport 30 kilometers south of Temuco would have shortened the distance to Pucón, but it has been postponed. Even then, the Pucón airfield is not really suitable for commercial flights.

Long-distance bus service is an extension of bus service from Villarrica. The three main carriers have their own terminals: Tur-Bus (O’Higgins 910, tel. 045/443328), Buses Jac (Uruguay 505, tel. 045/990880), and Pullman Bus (Palguín 555, tel. 045/443331). Intersur shares the Tur-Bus terminal, while other companies have separate terminals around the east end of town.

Buses Jac, Tur-Bus, Intersur, and Igi Llaima (Palguín 598, tel. 045/441676) go frequently to Santiago, while Tur-Bus also goes to Puerto Montt. Igi Llaima and Buses San Martín (Colo Colo 612, tel. 045/443595) both cross the cordillera to Junín de los Andes and San Martín de los Andes, Argentina.

Minibuses Vipu Ray (Palguín 550, tel. 045/413449) and Buses Jac both go frequently to Villarrica (US$1.50, 45 minutes); Vipu Ray has nine buses daily to Caburgua (US$1), while Jac has three or four daily to Curarrehue (US$2.50). In summer, Buses Caburgua (Uruguay 540) has four daily to Parque Nacional Huerquehue (US$3); the rest of the year, there are at least two per day.

Getting Around

Several adventure travel companies on Avenida O’Higgins also rent mountain bikes. For rental cars, try Pucón Rent A Car (Colo Colo 340, tel./fax 045/443052).


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Chile.

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