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Pucón and Volcán Villarrica


The lakeside town of Pucón sits at the centre of a mini world of adventure, where snowshoeing, volcano climbing, cycling and swimming are all on the menu.

The friendly and welcoming town is made up of a couple of streets packed with restaurants, hotels and activity shops. Lying on the edge of the large and very picturesque forest-fringed Lake Villarrica, which unfolds in the shadow of the perfectly conical (and currently active) Volcán Villarrica, Pucón makes the perfect base to relax and enjoy the activities that surround it.

One of the easiest trips to make is the cycle ride out to Los Ojos del Caburga, a beautiful set of waterfalls that tumbles into a circular pool. Bikes can be picked up, with a map, from one of the hire companies in town and the ride heads out through villages and over a suspension bridge into the mountains, where the terrain becomes tougher and bikes occasionally have to be carried over the bumpy bits before arriving at the picturesque plunge pool area. A stop-off for an apple strudel on the way back is well earned.

Slightly further out of town is the national park of Huerquehue, but the local tour companies can easily arrange transport out to the entrance with a pick-up later in the day. The walk, which for much of the year is snow-covered, heads up a steep switchback path past a refuge cabin and, after around two hours, arrives at a lake surrounded puzzle trees (Araucaria araucana, a type of pine tree native to Chile and Argentina). The trail then splits and heads towards two different lakes, both easily accessed and both offering picture-perfect postcard views, before an about turn takes you back to the drop-off point.

Another nice trek can be had in Reserva Forestal Cañi, the private park of Hostel Ecole, which incidentally houses perhaps one of the most comfortable lounge areas in Chile and operates as an informal tour company. A very steep climb takes you high up with fantastic views over the Villarrica area. In winter, snow shoes are the order of the day, and with them strapped on, it is easy going across a wide expanse of snow to a couple of lakes and past a 2,000-year-old monkey puzzle tree before a climb up to a spectacular viewpoint that offers views right out to the Argentine border.

Last but not least is the climb of Villarrica itself, a grueling and often snow-bound ascent but one only open if the volcano is not on alert. At the foot of the mountain lies a ski field, so it is possible to get a bus up to the station, then save a few paces by taking one of the chair lifts higher up the mountain. From there it is a tough but not technical climb to reach the summit, where you are offered spectacular views across the area and down into bubbling lava in the cone.

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