I love Santiago, but after a few days hopping between Independence Day Fondas, I was ready to see what else Chile had to offer. The thing with Santiago is that you can always see mountains. They sit strategically on the horizon of the city, towering above any of the tall buildings and creating perfect sunset visions which you can’t help but pause and admire. They were teasing me constantly, drawing me into what else Chile had to offer beyond this big, vibrant city. Although it’s possible to explore the mountainous regions near Santiago, it’s also only an hour’s flight to one of the country’s most inspiring places, the Araucania Region. Also known as the Lake District, this part of Chile is dominated by snowcapped mountains, active volcanos, a buzzing adventure tourism scene and a fascinating indigenous culture.
We took a short flight to Temuco airport, and already the air felt cleaner and cooler. As we drove towards Pucón, the centre of tourism in the Araucania region, the mountains got higher, the snow a little deeper, and the lakes more serene. There are so many reasons to leave behind Santiago, or take a break before heading to Patagonia, to visit Pucón and the Araucania region. Here are just a few.
1. The views are spectacular
Drive through the Araucania region, and you’ll be constantly wowed by the views you will see all around you. Snowcapped mountains tower above evergreen forest. Farmland with traditional wooden houses is broken up by huge expansive lakes, and wake up at sunrise in Pucón and you’ll spot a pink glowing volcano – the Villarrica volcano, the second most active in the world. It was winter when I visited (September) and the ground around the roads was covered in a thick layer of snow. I must admit, I’m not much of a winter person, but this place really charmed me. Something about the energy in the air and the solitude of some of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.
2. It’s a unique place to observe countryside life in Chile
If Santiago is the perfect place in Chile to see city life, youth culture and a vibrant food and drink scene, then Pucón is the perfect place to find a complete contrast. Here people raise animals running wild through endless countryside, they grow a multitude of things, gather fresh water from the river and live a life at one with the nature around them. If you have the opportunity to observe this local life, perhaps by visiting on a home stay, or looking out for locals selling their own home made produce, it’s a wonderful way to experience life in this area.
3. The food is flavorful and delicious
While traditional Chilean food is based around meat and French Fries, here in Pucón, the indigenous cultures have brought a fusion of flavors, all using fresh and local fruits, vegetables and grains. I had some rather incredible vegetarian food in this area, including a wheat barley casserole, some delicious soups, fresh red berry juices and some great, cosy, veggie friendly spots. A few of my favourites were El Castillo and the small Mapuche cafe Newen Zomo.
4. The atmosphere is serene, and time moves a little slower
Sometimes beautiful places come with many crowds, but not Araucania, an area so large and expansive that it’s constantly possible to find your own serene place of calm. We found it on hanging bridges, driving through mountain roads and hiking through almost 2 meters of snow. This quietness means time seems to move much slower here; life is peaceful and the air is fresh and new.
5. The Mapuche culture is a beautiful thing to observe
One of my favourite experiences during my trip to Chile was having the opportunity to meet and observe the life of the Mapuche people. The Mapuche is one of the last remaining indigenous groups in Chile, and while their normal life is quite intwined with the modern world, the tribe like to hold on to their culture by wearing the unique dress on special occasions, creating their own handicrafts and opening their homes for both tourists and locals to enjoy their traditional food. I found them to be very warm and open, wishing to share their cultures and customs with us. Wonderful Nicadela was also very pleased to have her photograph taken – and at the end requested that I add her on Instagram! Perhaps not the indigenous experience I’m used to!
To arrange a visit to see the Mapuche culture and eat at the Newen Zomo restaurant, you can email Nicadela Millahuel on firstname.lastname@example.org or call her on 98880909.
6. Adventure is waiting
Pucón is known as the adventure capital of Chile, and with white water rafting, volcano hiking and much more on offer, it’s not hard to see why. There are adventure agencies up and down the main high street in Pucón, and apparently in summer, business is booming. In winter, many of the activities are still on offer, you just need to be prepared to be a little colder. Hiking up the Villarrica volcano is one of the most popular activities, as is white water rafting down the Trancura river.
7. The hot springs are warm and welcoming
I love a hot spring, especially when the outside air is crisp and cold and you can sink into an outdoor bath which is hot and steamy. In Pucón, the views over the Trancura river and the nearby forest and mountains make this experience even more relaxing. The hot spring water here is natural from the ground, and the mineral content is always very good for your skin. In the warmer months, it’s common for people to switch between swimming in the river and dipping in the hot baths. It’s up to you whether you want to take the plunge in the winter months!
8. The handicrafts are stunning, and ready to come home with you
Handicrafts differ as you travel up and down Chile, and in the Araucania region, woollen designs are most common. You can also find beautiful silver jewellery with Mapuche designs, woodwork, and products made of horse hair. In Pucón town you should head to the Centro Artesanal Pucón where you’ll find authentic goods at very reasonable prices.
9. The hikes take you to some incredible places
There are many hikes you can do in and around Pucón. As I mentioned before, the Villarrica volcano hike is one of the most popular, and also one of the most gruelling. The hike takes you to the top of the second most active volcano in the world, where you can admire the views around and peer into the active lava pit. Another popular hike and the one we opted for is in the Huerquehue National Park, an area of outstanding beauty. We hiked to a hidden lagoon, through meters of snow. In winter the lagoon was frozen over, but in summer it’s a much easier trek and at the end you can even take a swim in the water.
Pucón is the best place to base yourself while visiting the Araucania region. There are a number of hostels, hotels and also camping options in the area. From Santiago, you can take a bus which takes around 12 hours, or fly to Temuco Airport which takes around 1 hour followed by a 1 and a half hour drive.
When in Pucón, you can find out about all the activity options at the various adventure sport operators. I would recommend Go Pucon.
You can find out more information about the region at
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