While Pucón is an attractive city worth a couple of days of relaxation, the real appeal of the region is the multitude of opportunities to participate in high-adrenaline adventure sports. Mountain climbing? Volcán Villarica is right there. Trekking? Several national parks are within your reach. Rafting? Some of the best rivers in Chile are a short drive away. Horseback riding? You can even go on a ride through Mapuche villages with a local guide.
With all of these options, the one that most appealed to me was biking. Back in Boston, I had become a serious urban biker, going on weekly adventures, but after moving to the Valle de Elqui, I had not managed to get my hands on a functional bike, except when traveling. For Christmas, I decided to take myself on a long bike ride to Lago Caburgua and the Ojos de Caburgua, beautiful waterfalls that cascade into aquamarine pools, the so-called ojos, or eyes.
As I’ve mentioned, Pucón and the surrounding area are very bike friendly. There are protected bike lanes along the main highway, assuring a safe beginning to any long distance bike journey and enabling you to build up confidence for the roads ahead. After renting a gorgeous new mountain bike from Freeride Pucón, I happily set off on my solo adventure in the gorgeous summer sun.
The guys in the bike shop suggested heading to Lago Caburgua first and taking the route along the paved highway, Ruta S-905. Although it involves a climb up a steep hill, the road is paved and that way you don’t spend all of your energy early in the day navigating dirt roads. I knew I wasn’t in top biking shape, so I was prepared to rest and walk as need be – which gave me a chance to take in the views of Volcán Villarica from a distance.
After an hour or so of biking, I reached my first destination: Lago Caburgua. This incredibly blue lake is surrounded by low, rolling hills covered in green trees. Coupled with blue skies, basically everything takes on a tinge of blue. I LOVE BLUE!
Because it was around lunchtime on Christmas Day, the beach was fairly empty, making it a peaceful place to have a picnic lunch and just take in the views. While eating my lunch, I spotted this lizard darting around and couldn’t resist taking a picture.
Playa Negra is the most accessible public beach on the shores of giant Lago Caburgua. At the time of my visit, a sizeable portion of the beachfront was under construction, ostensibly to install a malecón and visitor services (are we sensing a trend?). The small street passing by the beach was congested with vehicles, but it was easy to walk or bike in.
As at Playa Grande in Pucón, there are plenty of opportunities to take a spin out on the calm waters of Lago Caburgua. Paddle boats are pretty much my favorite way to explore lakes – looking at these photos makes me realize that I missed an opportunity!
Near Playa Negra, there is also the more exclusive Playa Blanca with its white sand beaches. The beach is only accessible by car and requires you to pay for parking in order to gain entrance. This makes it popular with Chilean families and a little bit quieter than the larger Playa Negra, but not worth including on my itinerary.
The town of Caburgua is relatively small and the tourist services are mostly located on the main highway as you enter the town and reach the lake. There are several restaurants for tourists located on the road that leads to the lake and a couple basic kiosks just off the beach. All in all, visiting Lago Caburgua enables you to spend a simple, pleasant day relaxing by the water.
Ojos de Caburgua
After a couple of hours enjoying the beachside views of Lago Caburgua, I decided it was time to head to my next destination, Ojos de Caburgua. The entrance to the series of waterfalls called Ojos de Caburgua is located off a dirt road detour between Pucón and Caburgua. To get there from Caburgua, I first had to retrace my steps along Ruta S-905, this time heading downhill. I ended up stopping to capture the lovely green fields along the way – did I mention I had been living in the desert for the past year? So much green was fascinating.
The detour is by “El Cristo” and is easy to spot as it’s the only major road marked by a number of advertisements for lodging options. As you turn off the road, you see the little garden chapel with Christ on the cross. I thought it was quite lovely. As you in the below photo, the detour is marked, but it’s hard to spot amongst all the foliage!
After turning off the main highway, the road continues along a very bumpy dirt road which only allows one car to pass at a time (and that basically means one bike as well!). As I’ve primarily biked in urban areas, I found the dirt road challenging, but not impossible. I definitely understood why the bike rental shop had suggested going by highway first; I might have gotten discouraged otherwise.
The entrance to Ojos de Caburgua is well-signposted from the road, even giving an estimation of how many kilometers remain. To enter, you have to pay a modest entrance fee, and luckily they have bike racks for securing your bike. Since this is a high transit area, it’s better to leave the bike in a highly visible location than take it to the waterfalls, where it could get snatched.
This entrance to Ojos de Caburgua also has a campground, as seen above.
The Ojos de Caburgua are located about 2 kilometers from the main entrance on private property, and the landscape is lovely, even affording views of the majestic Volcán Villarica.
Access to Ojos de Caburgua is by a series of trails and stairs, all leading towards the falls and the gorgeous aquamarine pools. The Ojos de Caburgua are set among Valdivia temperate rainforest, giving a completely different sense of the area than you get from the road. There are several vantage points affording a closer look at the system of waterfalls.
Because there are so many visitors to the Ojos de Caburgua, it isn’t really a place to rest with a book and enjoy the landscape. After a while, I was ready to get back on my bike and keep experiencing the landscape of the hills, forests, and mountains around the area.
More Views of Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile
Of course, I couldn’t leave without taking a selfie!
Biking Back to Pucón from Ojos de Caburgua
Views from Ruta S-919, the road between Pucón and the Ojos de Caburgua
Along Ruta S-919, the gravel road between Pucón and Caburgua, there are lots of beautiful farmlands. While the urban area around Pucón is increasingly more popular with tourists, leading to more development, the region still maintains its laid-back vibe. This is just the ambiance of Araucanía – forests, fields, farming. That’s why it’s so popular among people just wanting to get away from their normal routine. Life moves a little more slowly here.
At this point in the late afternoon, I was getting tired, and the hilly gravel road was more challenging than I expected – though not impossible. At the same time, it was hard for me to gain momentum because I kept stopping to take pictures of the mountains and fields. Haha!
Naturally, these photos show the beautiful landscape, but they do not capture the feeling of biking through the forests and mountains, wind in my hair, just feeling dwarfed by the wonders of nature all around me.
For some reason, in Araucanía, I felt like the mountains enveloped me. As I biked, the views were just always so beautiful, forcing me to be really present, to really take it in, to really appreciate this moment of my life. As I’ve mentioned about my trip to Rapa Nui, and the sense of luck and love that accompanied me on my backpacking trip in 2013, travel can force you into these moments of clarity.
You realize that the decisions you have made in your life have led you here. You realize how lucky you are to be able to experience something so different than your reality – whether talking about my life in Boston or in the Valle de Elqui.
As I biked through the countryside of Araucanía on Christmas Day, these were the thoughts that floated through my mind. I have mentioned that I needed to clear my head, and I certainly did. There is nothing like appreciation and gratitude to remind you what’s important. I was where I needed to be – on a bike, surrounded by incredibly scenery, and feeling thankful.
Despite these feelings of appreciation, the hilly, rocky road was bringing me to my physical limit. I was starting to be concerned that I wouldn’t make it back to Pucón without getting a ride, when suddenly I came out to a flat, even road. And it kept going – I had left the hills behind me! Before long, I made it back on to paved road and headed into the more populated urban landscape.
As I crossed over the bridge between Quelhue and Pucón, I noticed the amazing views – snow-capped mountains in the distance, lush green forests surrounding the river. I hopped off my bike and started snapping pictures of the views.
Mountains near Quelhue, near Pucón, Chile
Again, it’s difficult to convey the sense of awe, of being surrounded by the mountains that towered above me. The Mapuche village of Quelhue is located right by these hills, and I’m sure that’s no accident. The energy of these green mountains is powerful, even passing through.
Green Forests near Río Pucón, near Quelhue and Pucón, Chile
After taking in my last views of the river, mountains, and forests just outside Quelhue and Pucón, I headed back to the city to return my bike and eat a well-deserved (and much-needed!) Christmas dinner.
All in all, it had been a perfect solo Christmas Day: I spent the whole day cleansing my body with intense physical exercise, I got a chance to take in the blues of Lago Caburgua and listen to the powerful cascades at Ojos de Caburgua, and I reconnected with my sense of awe and gratitude while biking through the landscapes of rural Araucanía. Upon my return to Pucón, I treated myself to a generous Christmas dinner at Trawen and headed back to the hostel to call my family. I had been nervous about spending the holiday alone – but it ended up being amazing.
Recommendations for Biking to Lago Caburgua and Ojos de Caburgua:
- The best bike rental shop in Pucón is Freeride Pucón – they have the latest bikes, keep them well-maintained, and provide everything you need for a safe bike ride.
- Make sure to bring snacks and water – the sun is strong in this area and the hills can be challenging. You need fuel!
- While more experienced or aggressive mountain bikers may want to head to Ojos de Caburgua directly via the long, hilly dirt road, I suggest doing what the bike rental shop told me and heading to Lago Caburgua first. After leaving Pucón, you follow Ruta Internacional along the bike path until reaching Ruta S-905, heading towards Caburgua. The road is steep at times, but even with a few stints of walking I made good time.
- In Caburgua, you can eat typical Chilean food like empanadas at tourist restaurants, buy snacks at the lakefront kiosks, or enjoy a picnic lunch as I did. Make sure to buy more water if you need it – there’s nowhere else to get some besides Ojos de Caburgua.
- To get to Ojos de Caburgua, you head downhill towards the turnoff to El Cristo, very clearly signposted. If you’re nervous about missing it, use Google Maps – these roads are all clearly marked and it’s hard to get lost.
- Entry to Ojos de Caburgua costs $1000CLP and is worth it – the falls are beautiful and the trails are well-maintained.
- Don’t forget to pay attention as you get closer to Quelhue – the surrounding landscape is beautiful.
- If you visit in the summer, make sure to save time to visit the Feria Costumbrista Kui Kui, showcasing Mapuche foods in Quelhue. I didn’t go but it looks like it was amazing!
[Caburgua, Araucanía, Chile: December 25, 2015]