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For the Mapuche indigenous, this valley surrounded by mountains was Cura Cahuin, "the Meeting Stone" where they rested in the long journeys from one side of the Andes to the other. The zone, rich in araucaria trees, was a major place for collecting piñones (pine nuts) a staple in the Mapuche diet. In 1882, after Chile signed a peace treaty with the Mapuche, General Gregorio Urrutia Venegas was sent to control the indigenous of the region. He established Fuerte Curacautín on a high mesa with visibility in the four directions. Today this village is simply called Curacautín.


It is easy to get to Curacautín, located just northeast of Temuco, on the international road to Paso Pino Hinchado on the Argentine border. A shady plaza is the heart of the village. Around this are the government buildings, a simple church and various services. In the ex-Gobernación building is the small Museo Histórico. From the village you can see Tolhuaca, Lonquimay and Llaima volcanoes. In March Curacautinenses celebrate their Raid Turístico, with jaunts to the nearby natural attractions of the village.


But what attracts most visitors to Curacautín is the plethora of activities in the countryside. There are two stunning waterfalls: Salto del Indio, 20-meter (12 ft) high, cascading through the forest (14 km/8.5 mi east, camino a Manzanar, entry fee) and Salto de Princesa, which is a bit taller, at 25 meters/15 feet height (22 km/ 13.5 mi east; entry free).

Four national parks grace the forests and snowy volcanoes around Curacautín: Parque Nacional Tolhuca and Reserva Nacional Malleco to the north, Reserva Nacional Malalcahuello-Nalcas to the east, and Parque Nacional Conguillío to the southeast. All the parks provide hiking opportunities for everyone from beginners to the most experienced mountain climbers.


In winter, it snows a lot in the region, making it a perfect place to get away for skiing, snowboarding and other sports. On the southeast slopes of Volcán Lonquimay, 45 kilometers / 27 miles east of Curacautín, is Centro de Esquí y Montaña Corralco, an exclusive lodge with hotel, restaurant and skiing facilities (Santiago: Apoquindo 6275, oficina 4, Las Condes, Tel.: 02-202-9325; lodge, from 7p.m.-midnight: 02-196-3547, 02-196-3549, E-mail:, URL:


After days hiking or skiing, take a soak in one of the regional hot springs (termas). To the north is Termas de Tolhuaca, at the entrance of Parque Nacional Tolhuaca, with two pools. A unique feature of this termal is the natural cave with a fumarole where you can inhale sulfur vapors (33 km/20 mi north, next to PN Tolhuaca; reservations / information in Curacautín: Calama 240, Tel.: 88-1211). On the international road to the Argentine border are two other hot springs. Termas Malalcahuello, with restaurant and hotel, has pools with 47 °C (116.6ºF) waters (30 km/18 mi from Curacautín, Tel.: 171-2-196-3541, URL: Termas Manzanar’s two pools and 10 private baths reach 48ºC (118.4 ºF). It also has a hotel and restaurant (18 km/11 mi east, Camino Internacional, Tel.: 88-1200, URL:


If cool water is what you need after hiking on a summer’s day, then head to Balneario Trahuilco on the banks of Río Blanco. Here you can swim, camp and enjoy sports (open December-February, 26 km/16 mi southeast, towards Parque Nacional Conguillío, entry fee charged).



(Altitude: 1778 meters / feet, Population: 2306, Phone Code: 045)




Curacautín has basic services. Across from the plaza is the Oficina de Turismo (M. Rodríguez s/n, Tel.: 46-4858, E-mail: Other information can be obtained at these websites:,, and Conaf has an administrative office in town where you can pick up information on the national parks and reserves in the area (Yungay 240, Tel.: 88-1184, E-mail: Banco Estado has a MasterCard / Cirrus ATM, and exchanges U.S. dollars and euros (O'Higgins 562). The village, as well, has a hospital (Serrano s/n, Tel.: 88-1225).



Expediciones Pelehue (Arturo Prat 790, Tel.: 09-376-5354)



On one side of the plaza is a feria artesanal, where you can buy sculpture, weavings, wooden utensils and other items made by the Mapuche and other residents of Curacautín.



There is a wide selection of lodging options in town and along the Camino Internacional to the Argentine border, towards Lonquimay.

Hotel Turismo (Tarapacá 140, Tel.: 88-1116, E-mail:; $10-14 per person)

Hospedaje Aliwen (Manuel Rodríguez 540, Tel.: 88-1437; single $20-24, double $40)

Hotel del Campo del Bosque Nativo (Km 6.8 Camino Curacautín-Tolhuaca, Tel.: 197-6148, E-mail:, URL:; single $70, double $86).



Provisions can be picked up at the small supermarkets scattered throughout town.

Restaurant La Quintrala (Arica 155, Tel.: 88-1125)

Restaurant El Gato Negro (M. Rodríguez 610, Tel.: 88-1326)



Other places nearby Curacautín: Pucón, Parque Nacional Conguillio, Parque Nacional Villarrica, Coñaripe, Puerto Montt, Lago Panguipulli, Puerto Varas, Temuco, Parque Nacional Tolhuaca and Lonquimay.

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

17 Jun 2009

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