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Villarica, Chile: Charismatic Chilean City with Amazing Views of Volcán Villarica

Volcán Villarica over Lago Villarica in Villarica, Chile
My Favorite Photo of Volcán Villarica as seen from Villarica, Chile

Lest you’re sick of photos of gorgeous blue lakes and volcanoes, this is my last post on the region of Araucanía in southern Chile – and probably my favorite place in the area. On my last day in Pucón, I thought I’d go horseback riding, but with all available spots booked up due to high season, I opted for a low-budget trip to nearby Villarica instead. Villarica is a small city on the other side of Lago Villarica, which maintains closer ties to its Mapuche heritage and promised to have a little more character than tourist-catering Pucón.

Downtown Villarica

Municipalidad, City of Villarica, Chile

City of Villarica, near Pucón, ChileMunicipality of Villarica, Chile Decked Out for Christmas

I was not disappointed. I hopped a bus in Pucón for the 30 minute ride to its neighboring city, and before I knew it, I was in downtown Villarica. From the moment of arrival, Villarica feels different – like a place where normal people live and work, with lots of businesses lining the main streets, shopping complexes, and actual houses with lawns in front of them. With wide sidewalks and a relatively compact downtown area, it’s a pleasant place to wander around aimlessly, just seeing what you come across.

I started off my tour in front the municipality building, where I was impressed by the attractive wooden buildings, such a difference from the adobe in the north. I appreciated seeing Villarica decked out for the holidays, with strings of lights dangling from its main buildings.

City of Villarica, near Pucón, Chile

Map of Downtown Villarica, Chile

As the map shows, there are only a few tourist attractions in Villarica, making it an easy place to get to know in an afternoon – but well worth the visit!

Museo, Villarica, Chile
Library in Villarica, Chile

As it was a holiday weekend, the library was closed, but I managed to check out the ruka located inside the Mapuche cultural center. The ruka (sometimes written ruca), is the traditional housing structure made of straw and mud, used by the Mapuche people who still live in southern Chile (more info in Spanish here).

Ruka in City of Villarica, Chile
Ruka Museum in the Mapuche Cultural Center in Villarica, Chile

For those who don’t know, the Mapuches are the indigenous group that still have a large, powerful presence in southern Chile (and Santiago, for that matter) and are known for resisting the invasion of both the Incas and the Spanish conquistadores. I appreciated the brief but interesting opportunity to get to know a little more about Mapuche culture both by checking out the ruka and the stands filled with traditional foods and crafts around the cultural center.

Artesanía, Villarica, Chile
Artisan Wares in Villarica, Chile

The other aspect of Villarica that was fascinating to me were the multiple artisan markets located near the Municipality, down several main streets, and near the Mapuche cultural center and library. This region is especially known for its woodwork, evident from the prevalence of wood buildings all the way to wooden kitchenware. You can also find pottery and knitted goods – I was particularly impressed by a stand run by a collective of women artisans boasting high quality knitware, located near the municipality buildings.

City of Villarica, near Pucón, Chile
Streets of Villarica, Chile

Beyond handicrafts, there are several interesting stores all around Villarica. I found myself wandering around, taking my time, and window shopping.

City of Villarica, Chile
Streets of Villarica, Chile

This gave me a chance to fully appreciate the different vibe of Villarica. It seems like a pleasant residential city – and it is actually growing in popularity among expats exactly for this reason. With lots of nearby services (read: giant shopping centers) and a compact downtown area, it’s also appealing to Chilean families.

Funny Sign in City of Villarica, Chile
“Alcohol causes damage, but we forgive it” – Funny sign in Villarica, Chile

And let’s not forget the food and nightlife.  There are tons of spacious restaurants and bars scattered around Villarica. I think this would be a fun place to go out, if that’s what you’re into, and probably a little more affordable than Pucón.

City of Villarica, Chile
Streets of Villarica, Chile

By this point in the afternoon, I was sufficiently charmed by the city of Villarica, so I decided to continue my explorations and headed to the lakefront to enjoy the rest of the sunny day.

Villarica’s Beautiful Costanera

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile
Volcán Villarica from Villarica, Chile

When I mentioned that I was curious about the fairly new costanera (promenade) along the shores of Lago Villarica, a resident of Pucón told me that the views from his city were better. WRONG. Villarica’s costanera provides gorgeous views of the blue, blue lake and the mountains in the distance.

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile
Volcán Villarica over Lago Villarica in Villarica, Chile

Even better, the views of Volcán Villarica are unobstructed by hotels and new luxury buildings in construction – for the most part. I was captivated by the views of the volcano in all its glory!

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile
Lago Villarica, Villarica, Chile

Of course, I couldn’t help but appreciate the deep blues of the lake coupled with the pretty blue sky. Just as at Lago Caburgua, the hills in the distance also take on a blue hue. Good thing blue is my favorite color! 😉

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile

Little Lakeside Park on Lago Villarica, Villarica, Chile

I think the most charming part of the costanera is the fact that there are so many little lakeside parks, or rather, grassy areas with trees, right on the shores of the lake. This is a perfect place for a picnic with friends or family, or a place to sit down with a book and spend a couple of hours in the sunshine.

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile

Volcán Villarica over Lago Villarica, in Villarica, Chile

Because the costanera is so long, it’s pretty easy to find a quiet corner to relax – you don’t have to go all the way to the beach. As far as I’m concerned, the decision to construct the costanera for Chile’s bicentennial celebration in 2010 was an excellent one – and for some reason, Villarica’s gorgeous lakefront views still seem like a well-preserved secret, perhaps because most foreign tourists base themselves out of Pucón.

Playa Pucara

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile

Playa Pucara, Lago Villarica, Villarica, Chile

After wandering the length of Villarica’s costanera from the center of town, you end up at Playa Pucara, a black sand beach popular among vacationing Chilean families.

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile

Playa Pucara, Lago Villarica, Villarica, Chile

Obviously, this beach is not at all a secret, nor does it want to be! There are plenty of services located by the beach, including basic cafés, public restrooms, and several little food stands with Chilean favorites like mote con huesillo. Due to the open spaces, the beach never feels crowded; there’s room for everyone. With the strong sun and hot temperatures of summer, it’s a good place to go for a swim.

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile

Lago Villarica, Villarica, Chile

Besides swimming, entrepreneurial Chileans offer rides in their paddleboats and fishing boats – lots of little stands line the shores near the beach.

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile

Playa Pucara, Lago Villarica, Villarica, Chile

Although it was much too hot to consider lying for long on these concrete beach chairs, they are a nice touch to the beautiful boardwalk park. The urban planners definitely knew their audience and came up with everything.

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile

Playa Pucara, Lago Villarica, Villarica, Chile

Of course, the best part of Playa Pucara is its views of Volcán Villarica. Like many others, I rested for a while on the concrete stairs just to contemplate the views.

Street Art

Street Mural in Villarica, Chile

Cool Street Art in Villarica, Chile

I have to admit – I was off my street art game during my visit to Villarica and only snapped a couple of pictures. While Pucón is fairly sterile, Villarica has more character and there are lots of murals to discover while walking through the streets. I wish I’d taken more pictures, but at least I started paying more attention as I kept traveling!

Street Art in Villarica, Chile

“Life is a parachute that doesn’t open until we rest in the earth” – Mural in Villarica, Chile

As you can see, Villarica is well-worth at least an afternoon during a visit to Araucanía and Pucón. Many guidebooks suggest staying in Villarica as a more relaxed alternative to Pucón, and I agree; Villarica caters towards Chilean tourists and it’s easy to walk around without feeling like someone is trying to sell you a tour or invite you into a pricey restaurant. Villarica definitely captivated my imagination with its laidback character and authentic charm, and hopefully someday I’ll be back!

Recommendations for Villarica, Araucanía, Chile:

  • First of all – GO! Most foreign tourists end up staying in nearby Pucón, whereas Chilean families gravitate towards Villarica. Because Villarica is a larger, more residential city, it does not give off that overwhelming tourist vibe, even though there are plenty of shops for artisan goods as well as museums.
  • Buses from Pucón to Villarica leave from Calle Palguín, across from the JAC bus terminal (if I remember correctly – double-check with a local!). Rides each way cost $1200 and buses leave every 10-15 minutes or so, making stops along the way to Villarica. The trip takes about 30 minutes and drops you off at the terminal in Villarica, located on Pedro de Valdivia between Anfión Muñoz and Gerónimo de Alderete.
  • Downtown Villarica is infinitely walkable, as you see from my photo of the map, above. Make sure to take time to wander around – there are lots of little specialty stores, artisan markets, and plenty of restaurants as well as cool cafés like the larger version of Huerto Azul. I chose not to eat there because I had already splurged on my Christmas meals back in Pucón. 😉
  • Make sure to walk down to the costanera all the way to Playa Pucara, as the views are truly stunning. I had a tough time narrowing down the photos for this post. Bring a beach towel or blanket and a book and be prepared to spend an afternoon enjoying the views. Don’t forget sunscreen – the sun is super strong reflected off the water.
  • Though I did not stay there nor check out the accommodations, Mapu Hostel probably would have been my lodging of choice if I had stayed in Villarica. If I go back, I will definitely stay in Villarica over Pucón!
  • All of the buses that leave Pucón and head north towards Santiago and south towards Patagonia pass through Villarica, so you could spend an afternoon there before taking a night bus.
[Villarica, Araucanía, Chile: December 26, 2015]

Villarica, Chile - Charismatic Chilean City with Amazing Views of Volcán Villarica

Pucón, Chile: Biking to Lago Caburgua and the Ojos de Caburgua (and Feeling Gratitude on My First Solo Christmas Day!)

VePlaya Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, near Pucón, Chile
Blue As Far As the Eye Can See at Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, near Pucón, Chile

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.

Views over Río Trancura, Biking from Pucón to Caburgua, Chile
Views over Río Trancura from Ruta S-905, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile

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.

Views of Volcán Villarica between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile
Views of Volcán Villarica from Ruta S-905, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile

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.

Lago Caburgua

Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, near Pucón, Chile
Lago Caburgua from Playa Negra, Caburgua, Chile

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!

Lizard at Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, near Pucón, Chile
Lizard at Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Chile

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, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, near Pucón, Chile
Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, Chile

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.

Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, near Pucón, Chile
Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, Chile

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!

Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, near Pucón, Chile
Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, Chile

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.

Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, near Pucón, Chile
Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, Chile

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

Fields on Route between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile
Fields on Route Towards Ojos de Caburgua

Cristo between Pucón and Caburgua, ChileAfter 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!

Cristo between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile
Little Chapel by “El Cristo,” between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile

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.

Views from the Route between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua, Chile
Entrance to Campground at Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile

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.

Views of Volcán Villarica between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile
View of Volcán Villarica While Walking to Ojos de Caburgua

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.

Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile
Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile

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.

Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile
Views of Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile

Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, ChileI spent about an hour appreciating the sound of the cascading water, climbing around the different trails to see other views of the waterfalls, and just taking in the cool shade of the tall trees.

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.Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile
More Views of Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile

Posing in Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile
Posing at 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 the Route between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua, Chile

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.

Views from the Route between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua, Chile
Views from Ruta S-919, the road between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua

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!

Views from the Route between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua, Chile
Panoramic View of the Fields Around Ruta S-919, the road between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua

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.

Views from the Route between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua, Chile
Fields Off Ruta S-919, the road between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua

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.

Views from the Route between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua, Chile
Lush Forest on Ruta S-919, the road between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua

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.

Views over Río Trancura, near Hui Hui/Pucón, Chile
Paved Road and Bridge Between Quelhue and Pucón, Chile

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.

Views over Río Trancura, near Hui Hui/Pucón, Chile
Snow-Capped Mountains Seen over Río Pucón, near Quelhue, Pucón, Chile

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.

Views near Hui Hui/Pucón, Chile

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.

Views over Río Trancura, near Hui Hui/Pucón, Chile

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]

Pucón, Chile - Biking to Lago Caburgua and the Ojos de Caburgua (and Feeling Gratitude on My First Solo Christmas Day!)

Pucón, Chile: Termas Geométricas, the Luxury Hot Springs Hidden in the Mountains near Coñaripe

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile
Termas Geométricas, near Pucón and Coñaripe, Chile

I’ve started getting into hot springs, thermal baths, aguas termales, whatever you want to call them. My interest started back in 2013, when I visited the Termas de Cacheuta, near Mendoza, Argentina. Even in the winter temperatures, I tried the outdoor pools, and then headed indoors to ease myself into the progressively hotter baths, gradually making it into the very hottest bath, said to be excellent for your health.

This past year, I realized just how nice it was to feel warmed to your bones during a cold winter by soaking in the medicinal (and muddy) waters of Mamiña, near Iquique, Chile. I followed that up with the high altitude baths of Termas de Puchuldiza.  At the end of the year, I brought the volunteers to a lovely end-of-year retreat at Refugio El Molle in the Valle de Elqui, where we soaked in super hot mineral waters heated by wood-burning fires. I’m hooked.

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile
Entrance to Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

So when I headed to Pucón and started asking about the top activities in the area, Termas Geométricas came highly recommended – and with an equally high price tag. Besides the pricey entrance fee, as you see above, you pay another $10000CLP or so for the tour, or really, transportation. Visiting Termas Geométricas is a financial commitment, and an all day activity.

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile

Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

I was assured that Termas Geométricas were absolutely worth it, due to their unique construction and beautiful setting. Visiting the thermal baths is a popular activity on rainy days in Pucón, when the weather makes it challenging to do the usual adventure tourism around the area. It’s also a good way for tired hikers to relax their muscles by soaking for a few hours.

And it’s not such a bad idea for a very physically and emotionally exhausted field director enjoying a holiday vacation. (That describes me in December!)

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile
Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

Termas Geométricas are located about two hours from Pucón, near Coñaripe, up a dirt road into the foothills of the mountains. Much of the road is paved, but you need an appropriate vehicle to climb up to the hot baths, especially on a day as rainy as the one I visited on. There are several other termas and spas located in this same area due to the mineral water, but Termas Geométricas is the most popular one among foreign tourists – Chileans probably don’t visit as much due to the price tag.

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile
Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

The establishment provides you with what you need – a towel and a lock for the lockers located inside the changing rooms – and you just need to bring your bathing suit. That’s it. After paying your entrance fee, you’re on your own (well, you and a horde of other visitors if you come during peak hours).

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile
Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

The reason these hot springs are so popular is due to their cool design.  They appear to be carved into the mountain walls surrounding the narrow pathway.  The foliage is plentiful, so you have the sense you are in the middle of the jungle (you kind of are – this is bosque valdiviano, or Valdivian temperate rainforest).

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile
Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

The main feature of the hot springs are the red wood pathways and buildings, which are constantly being repainted, so watch out for fresh paint signs. The baths themselves are constructed from stone to match the mountains, and there are some other features, like the wheel pictured above.

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile

Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

There are probably about 15 hot baths to choose from.  The most popular ones are located closer to the entrance, but if you keep following the path away from the entrance, you can find more private or secluded places to soak. There are a few located above the main area, but they were closed on my visit.

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile

Don’t Enter – Really Hot Water at the Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

The baths have varying temperatures, ranging from about 27 degrees Celsius to 34 degrees, although none of them were heated to that temperature on my visit. While the water was hot, there was actually only one really hot bath on my visit, and it was tiny! The temperature is regulated by the staff, but some baths happen to be extra toasty on a given day so are closed to visitors, as you see above.

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile

Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

There’s not much to say about the experience of soaking in thermal baths – it’s quite lovely. I would spend a while in one hot spring, and then step out into the cold air, take in the landscape and design, and then choose another.

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile

Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

There is something quite pleasant about walking around in a bathing suit with cool raindrops splashing down on you and small waterfalls providing a steady soundtrack of relaxation.

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile

Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

If you keep wandering all the way back, you come across a large waterfall, as you see in the photo below. While you can’t actually go under it, there is a smaller, super cold waterfall on the grounds that you can duck under to shock your body between dips in the hot baths. Not for me!

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile
Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

All in all, it’s a pleasant place to while away a few hours. Many people visit with friends and family, and spend the time chatting, but I chose to find a hidden corner with fewer people and just soak and relax. Later in the afternoon, the crowds head to the café and you can get quiet time.

Would I say this is worth the price of admission? Probably not. While the design is lovely, I went for the healing hot water and there weren’t enough truly hot baths for me. The pricing is designed to make the place a bit elitist and keep the volume of visitors down to a manageable level. Especially for budget travelers, I would suggest trying out more affordable termas elsewhere in Pucón or during your travels through Chile.

Lunch at Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile
Lunch at the Café at Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

The surprise of the visit was the delicious food at the café! The little café has a wood-fired oven and makes pizzas, breads, quiches, as well as locally popular sweets like küchen (German-style cake with fruit topping). I loved the vegetarian quiche because of its ingenious addition of pecans, adding a nice crunch. Yum – must recreate this!

View from the Road between Coñaripe and Pucón, Chile
View from the Road between Coñaripe and Pucón

After a few hours at the hot springs, we headed back to Pucón. As evidenced by the sun coming through the clouds a few times during my visit, the heavy rains were over. On the road back, I spotted the blue skies over Lago Villarica, and knew I would finally get to see Volcán Villarica in all its glory. This was also a good omen – summer was officially arriving, and that meant almost my whole trip was illuminated by sunny days!

Recommendations for Termas Geométricas, near Pucón and Coñaripe, Chile:

  • Here is the website for Termas Geométricas, where you can get a sense of the layout and find more precise driving directions. Here are over 1000 rave reviews on Tripadvisor.
  • Visiting the hot springs is one of the most popular activities on any tourist’s agenda, so your hostel or hotel probably has a preferred tour group that they work with. The tour is just transportation to and from the springs, so I suggest going with whichever operator offers you a discount.
  • If you decide to rent a car, be aware that the road off the main highways is rocky and muddy and a flat is incredibly likely. We got a flat on the highway on the way there. There is no cell phone service in this part of the mountains, so the tour operators look out for each other to help with anyone who has a flat tire or mechanical problems.
  • The prices for the entrance fees are indicated in the photo above (either $20000 or $24000 CLP for adults, depending on arrival time). Most of the tours arrive at noon or one and leave at four, so be prepared for crowds in that time frame. It felt a little crowded upon arrival but there are plenty of lockers and you can find a little private corner if you keep walking away from the entrance. I think it would be fun to come at night.
  • As mentioned, make sure you bring your bathing suit, but you don’t need anything else. I walked around without flip flops and my towel to avoid having to carry them. Once you soak in your first hot bath, you don’t feel cold anymore when you step out, and if you do happen to feel cold, just get in another one!
  • The bathrooms are outdoors but well-maintained, and I did not see any showers or plugs to dry your hair. Be prepared to be a bit chilled on the way back so bring warmer clothing and a scarf to keep long hair off your neck.
  • While I enjoyed my visit, I do think these hot springs are quite expensive for what they actually offer, and I would suggest going to other nearby thermal baths.
[Termas Geométricas, near Pucón, Chile: December 23, 2015]

Pucón, Chile - Termas Geométricas, the Luxury Hot Springs Hidden in the Mountains near Coñaripe

Pucón, Chile: Experiencing Lakefront Beaches, Volcano Views, and Amazing Food in Southern Chile

Volcán Villarica, Parque Nacional Villarica, Pucón, Chile
Volcán Villarica, Parque Nacional Villarica, near Pucón, Chile

After spending a year living in the dry, desert mountains in the Valle de Elqui, I was ready for a change of scenery, or as they say in Spanish, un cambio de aire. Literally. My work as the field director for a volunteer English program had been, shall we say, eventful, and I recently gone through some major shifts and emotional endings in my life abroad. I needed to clear my head and connect with nature. I needed to get some space to consider my next steps. I needed to head south.

Until December, my knowledge of Chile was confined to the wide expanses of the north: I loved my time in the beach cities of Arica and Iquique, was fascinated by the crazy landscapes of the region around San Pedro de Atacama, and fell in love with the high Andes scenery of Parque Nacional Lauca and Parque Nacional Isluga. Every time a Chilean asked me about the places I’d visited, they asked, “Have you been to the south? Tienes que ir.” You have to go. I had never been further south than Rancagua, an hour or two outside of Santiago.  My destination in December was obvious.

This past year, I spent my first Christmas outside of the United States and away from my family. When I lived in Buenos Aires and Lima, I had returned to the U.S. for the holidays, and it had always been a bit jarring to step out of the airport dressed in summer clothes into winter temperatures. It made no sense to go back: December and January are prime months for visiting South America, especially Chilean Patagonia. This time around, I knew I was going to travel, the only question was where?

Views of Volcán Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Streets of Pucón, Chile

Naturally, it’s a little unnerving to think about spending Christmas completely alone, so I decided to head to Pucón, one of Chile’s “adventure capitals.” With so many hostels and a traveler’s atmosphere, I knew I would find company for a holiday celebration and also enjoy getting back into the travel groove. Y así fue – that’s how it was.

Pucón itself is rather small, with the majority of its activity concentrated on the busy commercial streets whose buildings are predominately wood in a pseudo-alpine style, just like nearby Bariloche, Argentina. Because Pucón’s main industry is tourism, a number of excellent restaurants call Pucón home, and there is plenty of shopping geared towards non-budget travelers. On a sunny day, it’s a pleasant place to wander around, and with ample public transportation and excellent bike paths, it’s easy to navigate. Realistically, most people head to Pucón in order to get out of the city; you can hike through Parque Nacional Villarica, climb Volcán Villarica, go kayaking on Lago Villarica, go rafting on the rivers, mountain biking, horseback riding, basically any adreneline-inducing sport that you’re into.

But if you feel like relaxing, as I very much did, it’s definitely worth spending a day or two taking it easy on the shores of Lago Villarica or exploring the shops and cafés that line Pucón’s streets.  Here’s what I saw in between my more adventurous trips around the region.

La Poza

La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón

La Poza is the most accessible lakefront beach in Pucón. Located at the end of Av. O’Higgins, the main road in Pucón, it provides great views of Lago Villarica and, on a sunny day, Volcán Villarica. There are several boats waiting to take you out for a scenic tour, but it’s also a nice place to enjoy a sunny day.

La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón

On the pedestrian walkway, there are a few benches, some of them with some shade to get out of the summer sun. I saw families and couples relaxing and chatting together, and solo travelers enjoying a book or some time to journal.

La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón

The lawns are well-taken care of and there are lots of cheerful flowers all along the pathway. Coming from the desert, seeing so much green and blue was a bit of a culture shock!

La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Wooden Woodpecker, La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Volcán Villarica, La Poza, Pucón, Chile

Volcán Villarica as seen from La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón

Of course, the real reason anyone goes to La Poza is to take in the amazing views of Volcán Villarica. On my first few days in Pucón, the skies were cloudy so I didn’t get a chance to see the volcano, but once I finally did on Christmas Eve, I knew had come to the right place.

Volcán Villarica, La Poza, Pucón, Chile

Volcán Villarica as seen from La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón

There’s something about seeing a lovely snow-covered volcano up close and personal that really reminds me to be thankful for everything in my life. Perhaps it’s the earth energy of the powerful natural wonder, as my yoga instructor would say, or perhaps it’s just that awe-inspiring beauty! (The morning that I experienced the sunrise at Volcán Cotopaxi in Ecuador is still one of the most memorable days of my life.)

Little Flowers at La Poza, Pucón, Chile

Flowers at La Poza, Pucón

In any case, I loved the views from La Poza and spent quite a few afternoons here, appreciating how the light reflects off the deep blue water and hills surrounding Lago Villarica.

Sunset at La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Sunset at La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón

Of course, I had to catch at least one sunset over Lago Villarica while visiting Pucón.  I had an early dinner on Christmas Day and hurried to La Poza to see how the light would illuminate the clouds…

Sunset at La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Sunset on Volcán Villarica, from La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón

…but most importantly, how the late afternoon light would enable the volcano to become even more beautiful. Watching the sunset from La Poza is a wonderful way to spend an evening.

Playa Grande

Moody Clouds over Lago Villarica, Playa Grande, Pucón, Chile

Moody Clouds over Lago Villarica, Pucón

While La Poza is a good place to enjoy a relaxing afternoon any time of the year, Playa Grande is the place to be in summer.  This black sand beachfront on Lago Villarica provides wide expanses of water for swimming and plenty of space for sunbathers.  Of course, when I first arrived, the sun was not to be seen, but after one more rainstorm, summer burst in with clear blue skies.

Playa Grande, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Playa Grande, Lago Villarica, Pucón

The difference between a cloudy day in Pucón and a sunny one is striking, and once the sun comes out, so do all the locals and tourists. Beyond sunbathing and swimming, there are several operators renting kayaks and paddleboats, and a handful of restaurants, bars, and kiosks catering towards the summer crowds.

Playa Grande, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

As you can see from this photo, the most exclusive lakefront homes are located in the gorgeous green forests of the nearby peninsulas. While there are exclusive hotels right on the beach and lots of construction around town, Pucón still has yet to be overdeveloped and maintains that small-town, “retreat” vibe, probably one of the reasons it’s so popular among Chilean and foreign tourists alike.

Playa Grande, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Lago Villarica, Pucón

As I keep saying, seeing water this blue after a year in the desert was UNREAL. It’s not for nothing that my site is called blueskylimit – I’m obsessed with blue skies and blue lakes. So much blue!

Playa Grande, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Green Hills Surrounding Lago Villarica, Playa Grande, Pucón

These green hills are completely different from the barren browns of the Valle de Elqui. The fresh air and new scenery was definitely doing me some good.

Playa Grande, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Playa Grande, Lago Villarica, Pucón

You could do much worse than spending a day lounging on the black sand, reading a book. I have to admit that I was too eager to explore the surrounding area, but if I ever make it back here, I’m going to have a beach day.

Wandering Around Pucón

Views of Volcán Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Streets of Pucón, Chile

Beyond exploring the lakefront beaches, Pucón is worth wandering around. I couldn’t get enough of seeing Volcán Villarica towering above Pucón as I took my time checking out the stores and restaurants on every block.

Views of Volcán Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Streets of Pucón, Chile

Pucón has basically everything a traveler could need, with tons of outdoor equipment stores, travel bookstores, and even department stores. I enjoyed window shopping and just transitioning my brain into a less rural vibe. So. Many. Options!

Views of Volcán Villarica, Pucón, Chile
Streets of Pucón, Chile

One let-down from my time in Pucón is that its large, central park was under construction and off-limits to the public, just like the main plazas in Vicuña and Pisco Elqui. I seem to be a magnet for plaza construction. So I had to settle for the wooden buildings and the volcano, not such a bad tradeoff. It’s been 13 years since I visited Bariloche, Argentina, but I have to admit that the wooden buildings gave me a sense of deja vu, as well as the plentiful gourmet chocolate everywhere! 😉

Eating Well in Pucón

Ice Cream at Huerto Azul, Pucón, Chile

Ice Cream from Huerto Azul, Pucón, Chile

Of course, I couldn’t visit Pucón without trying out the delicious food available in almost every store and restaurant. My research on travel blogs and in guide books mentioned Huerto Azul as a required stop for picking up artisanal ice cream, chutneys, chocolate, and herbal teas. While I couldn’t take any of the tempting sauces and seasonings with me, I absolutely could try out the ice cream and chocolate. 🙂

Christmas Eve Lunch at Café de la P, Pucón, Chile

Christmas Eve Lunch at Café de la P, Pucón, Chile

Lunch at Café de la P, Pucón, Chile

After having read this blog post mentioning some of the most delicious cafés in Pucón, I was tempted to have my Christmas Eve lunch at Café de la P. I had a delicious sandwich accompanied by a berry juice (fresh berries grow all over the Lakes Region and Araucanía), and then followed by a slice of pecan torte.  There were so many insanely rich looking cakes, I just couldn’t decide!

Christmas Dinner at Trawen, Pucón, Chile

Starting the Meal Off Right at Trawen, Pucón

After my long bike ride to and from Caburgua (post forthcoming!) on Christmas Day, I returned to Pucón ravenously hungry. As Christmas Day is the more important holiday in the United States, I decided to treat myself to a delicious full dinner at Trawen, a restaurant noted for its healthy food options, fresh juices, and baked goods. I had passed by several times and always found it packed.

Christmas Dinner at Trawen, Pucón, Chile

Christmas Dinner at Trawen, Pucón, Chile

Luckily for me, they are friendly to solo travelers and I found a bright table to enjoy my wine, soup, and the best meal I had eaten in Chile until that date: garbanzo gnocchi with a savory sauce. Amazing. I want to go back and eat there again just looking at these pictures!

Ice Cream at Friatto, Pucón, Chile

Ice Cream at Friatto, Pucón, Chile

Having passed Friatto, yet another artisanal ice cream shop in Pucón, I knew I had to go back with an empty stomach. After not being a huge fan of the fruit ice cream, I went for chocolate and manjar, and the deep chocolate flavor was amazing. Yes, I ate very well in Pucón, and it was well worth it to splurge!

Christmas in Pucón

Christmas in Pucón, Chile

Christmas Tree in Pucón, Chile

As mentioned above, I spent my first Christmas away from the U.S. and my family in Pucón. While Christmas for me usually means cold temperatures and snow, I have always appreciated seeing decorated trees and sparkling lights around town, no matter where I happen to be during Christmas season. Pucón’s little plaza was quite festive.

Christmas Eve in Pucón, Chile

Christmas Eve at Okori Hostel, Pucón

Christmas Eve in Pucón, Chile
Christmas Eve in Pucón, Chile

When researching the many hostels in Pucón, I stumbled across Okori Hostel, a brand new hostel located near the airport on the outskirts of town, surround by the ever-more-rare native forests. While the hostel was not as busy as those downtown, I spent Christmas Eve with the owners, their mother, and a group of Brazilian friends who were also curious about this brand new place.  Karin, one of the owners, loves coloring mandalas and helped me understand how to use them as meditation and read the colors to get insight into what is going on inside me.

There were adorable decorated trees and Christmas lights strung up on actual trees all around the properties, making it a suitably festive place to spend Christmas. Until this night, I didn’t realize that Christmas Eve was actually the main holiday for people in many countries around the world. It helped me understand why the server at Café de la P was worried about whether or not I was going to be alone that night. Luckily, I was well accompanied by friendly, open-minded people!

Christmas Eve Supermoon in Pucón, Chile

Supermoon as Seen from Pucón, Chile

Christmas Eve in Pucón, Chile
Christmas Eve Dinner

As you may recall, this was also the night of the Christmas supermoon, which was beautiful to observe but very hard to capture. I woke up in the middle of the night and saw the giant moon right outside my window, unforgettable.

We spent Christmas Eve together as a big happy international family, with the Brazilians doing the majority of the food preparation and me helping out with the salads as much as I could. Over a few bottles of wine and lots of good conversation, we welcomed the holiday.

All in all, it was a perfect way to spend Christmas Eve. For Christmas Day, I planned to head on a solo bike ride to Caburgua, a gift to myself after so many months without the opportunity to ride a bike.

Pucón was the perfect place to spend the holidays, and the region of Araucanía proved to be the ideal gateway into the Chilean lakes region and northern Patagonia. There is so much to see in Araucanía, the area around Pucón, Parque Nacional Villarica, and beyond.  My adventure was about to begin!

Recommendations for Pucón, Chile:

  • There is a LOT to do in the area surrounding Pucón. I’ll talk about some of the activities I did in future posts, but in the meantime, the Globetrotter Girls list a number of excellent options, weather permitting.
  • Similarly, there are so many tour operators that it can be overwhelming, and each different company has its specialty. You should definitely ask around and check with fellow travelers. Aguaventura comes highly recommended – I ended up not taking a tour with them but found them to be honest and professional.
  • The best, best, best place to rent bikes in Pucón is Freeride Pucón – the staff is friendly, the bikes are well-maintained, and the prices are competitive. There are several protected bike paths around town, making biking in the region a nice option.
  • I stayed at Okori Hostel, which is a brand new, beautifully constructed hostel just outside downtown Pucón, across from the airport.  I also heard wonderful things about Chili Kiwi Hostel, located right at La Poza. I was curious about Hostal French Andes, run by the owner of Aguaventura, as it is has Japanese-style capsule dorm beds.
  • There are so many amazing places to eat in Pucón – definitely check out Trawen and Café de la P, as pictured above.  I also heard that the café at École was amazing.
  • The Wikitravel entry on Pucón is thorough, if you want to see all your options at a glance.
  • If you are traveling by TurBus, be aware that the bus terminal is located just outside town, which means you may need a transfer to get downtown unless you’ve packed relatively light.
  • Do not listen to the guidebooks and ignore Villarica, which is actually a charming city located on the other side of Lago Villarica. I actually enjoyed Villarica more than Pucón! Make sure to take a bus ride over to Villarica – they leave from the center of town. More to come in my post on Villarica.
 [Pucón, Chile: December 22-27, 2015]

Pucón, Chile - Experiencing Lakefront Beaches, Volcano Views, and Amazing Food in Southern Chile