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


  1. Tanisha says:

    Love your article! It captures the vibe of this charming town quite beautifully. I was fortunate enough to visit Villarrica with some friends this past Christmas and it won me over instantly. Of all the places I’ve visited in Chile thus far, Villarrica has become my favorite one of all. The highlight of my trip was when my baby girl took her very first steps (the day before her birthday, no less!) in the gorgeous grassy park you mentioned above. It was a breathtaking, magical moment that will forever be etched in my heart. I felt right at home.

    • Kim says:

      Hi Tanisha! Thanks for sharing your experience in Villarica. What a lovely experience to share with your daughter, and such a great memory of Chile! I love how some places stay with us forever.

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