The town of Pucon is a long string of tourist agencies, restaurants and bus terminals. The German charm of other towns in the south of Chile is lost amid the bustling tourism industry of Pucon. The walk from the bus station to the edge of the lake where my hostel, and really the only hostel you can stay in in Pucon to be honest, Chili Kiwi, was located, is a never-ending stream of adrenaline rich activities and gringo food.
However, the little oasis that is Chili Kiwi receives a lot of well-earned praise from the backpacking community. The large house and surrounding compound boasts a number of dorm and private beds as well as camping spaces, tree houses and a renovated VW van for your comfort.
An outdoor kitchen proves rather cozy on rainy days with the little wood stove puffing a steady stream of smoke into the air, mirroring the neighboring active Villarica volcano. You will almost never be at lack of cooking facilities with three different kitchens with multiple stove tops in each. Beds are comfortable and warm and even my little room above the stairs with the slanted attic ceilings was cozy and offered plenty of storage space. Lockers are also available outside for luggage storage while you’re off doing some wild activity or another.
The hostel is famous for its relaxed community vibe and sure enough, the chatty travelers that also called the compound home for the weekend were eager to strike up conversation and join in on activities.
A brief overview of available activities is conducted by hostel staff upon arrival and most tend to elect their various tours after that. I however, took it day by day, maximizing my outdoor time in the rare sunshine that was thankfully granted to me for multiple days!
The hike to Salto de Claro, or a towering waterfall outside of town, is tranquil and easy…until the end when the path sort of decomposes into the bush and it’s each man for his own struggling to get down to the waters edge. With a group of American PhD students from Notre Dame, I clambered down and into the freezing water. I, however, was the only lunatic that elected to take a quick paddle around the numbing pool at the base of the waterfall.
On a whim I signed up to go canyoning the next day with some new friends from Australia and the states. Strapped into an overwhelming amount of gear and wet suits we began the hike up the canyon to our first obstacle, a dizzying repel into a waterfall churning crystal blue through the canyon.
We slipped and swam through a series of rapids and water slides before coming across a terrifying zip line that purposefully holds you underneath the powerful stream of water for some heart-stopping seconds before continuing into the calm pool beneath.
The next obstacle was probably the scariest of them all, literally being pushed off a rock into the water below in a seemingly narrow and shallow area that actually turned out to be quite deep. We finished it off with a last zip line before climbing waterlogged out off the canyon back to the car.
Specs: The guide is amazingly competent and speaks impeccable English. He tells you when and where and what to do so there really is no need to be afraid. Definitely worth the value!
Parque Nacional Huerquehue is an hour away by bus and although the only realistic bus leaves at 8:30 am, the day hike is well well worth it. Sprinting up the mountain and around the circuit of 3 lakes at the top, hitting two majorly beautiful waterfalls and some wildlife spotting, my sweet new friend Cat and I powered through the 17 km hike in just over 4 hours, in time for the 2:10 bus! The views are beautiful and the full circuit of secluded mountain lakes are well worth it! Plus, it’s one of the cheapest excursions available in Pucon!
For a last adrenaline rush I elected hydro speeding, a sort of body rafting through class III and IV rapids in a nearby river. After donning wet suits and helmets and grabbing a firm hold on your over-sized boogie board, you begin to swim and hold on tight! There is no boat between you and the rapids, and while the trip is short (about 30-40 min in the water) the experience (which is illegal in the States, sorry mom!) is worth the low price tag if you have an afternoon free before your night bus like I did!
Specs: STAY AT CHILI KIWI. It is not overrated and the experience was anything but anti-climactic.
Good pizza can be found at Pizza Cala, firing up a wide selection of wood-fired eats with a decent price tag and REAL MOZZARELLA (which is impossible to find in Chile).
The American-owned Latitude 39 has all the comfort basics like over-sized spicy burritos and a huge selection of burgers (all available vegetarian). Finish it off with an ice cream sundae with the house-made caramel sauce and you’ll be fattened up enough for the bus trip home!
Be wary of all the offers in Pucon. Like San Pedro de Atacama, the town, while pretty and popular, is mostly tourist infrastructure which means there are excursions for every price range but also of every quality.