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

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