Since leaving San Pedro de Atacama our heavy duty hiking gear has been sitting idle in the bags. So, after spending what felt like a week straight drinking wine, we were ready for a bit more of the great outdoors.
Patagonia was somewhere that we really wanted to see, and initially we had put Bariloche, Argentina on our itinerary. However like a lot of places in Argentina it ain’t cheap or easy to get there. We weren’t yet ready to rule it out but open to other options. Trawling through lonely planet and all sorts of blogs we came across Pucon, Chile. Speaking to some people in San Pedro, they’d been raving about it, and we decided to give it a go.
The main event here is Volcan Villarrica, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It recently popped and did some damage and during our time there it was often puffing out smoke.
We booked return flights south from Santiago and were on our way. Pucon is about 90 mins drive from the airport in Temuco. With the help of a pair of American teachers, the four of us got a collevtivo from the airport. We’ve found Americans traveling in South America a rare commodity. On a side note, we’ve crossed paths with heaps of Canadians, especially in Cuba. We got the same response each time, they go there as Americans can’t!
We were staying in a hostel, French Andes 2, not to be confused with French Andes 1. They’ve a nice back garden with a quality view of the volcano. At 5 nights, this was our longest stretch in one location, so once we’d dropped the bags, we started to put together an itinerary.
The Americans we got the car with were also debating getting to Bariloche. We each said we’d look into it and see if it was realistic. They did some digging but it proved to be a lost cause. Rental companies weren’t open to letting us take the car out of Chile.
We took a stroll through the town and dropped in on a few tourist agencies to get some ideas on day trips. Hiking the volcano is possible, but it’s steep ascent was too much for us. We’re still carrying the remnants of the damage done in Machu Pichu. On top of that, typically there’s a chair lift to get you 1/3 of the way up, but for the time being it’s out of commission. This was enough to convince us to sway away from an attempt at its summit. Instead of that we settled on some hikes and the other big attraction in the area, the hot springs.
The next morning we set off with the other hikers on a rickety old bus to Parque Heurquehue (we never came close to pronouncing that right). The national park is known for it’s many lakes, there’s also some great lookout points to give you a better appreciation of the whole area. Note, with these views comes steep ascents.
There’s 2 popular trail, the 3 lake trail or the 5 lake trail, with a typical hike times of 5 and 7 hours. Given that we started around 9:45, we thought we could comfortably do the 5 lakes and get back in time for the last bus at 17:10.
The first 90 mins was tough enough, but we plowed on, thinking that was the hard graft over. Along the way we saw some waterfalls, and reached one of the best ‘miradors’, offering a brilliant view over Lake Tinquilco. At this point we thought it’d be a leisurely stroll, but it was far from it. A lot of ups and downs, bringing back memories of Salkantay, along the trail as we navigated our way to the different lakes. Despite all that, they are very impressive looking and we were pleased with our day out.
As we were descending it got a bit muddier than advertised. At one point, Laura had a slight slip, this was fine until I tried to save the day and only ended up sending both of us flying! Luckily it was a quiet day for the trail, the sight of the two of us plonked on top of each other may have raised eyebrows.
Before setting off, we were fully loaded with a packed lunch. I’d even thrown in two local pastries as a reward post hike, a donut for myself and a cupcake for Laura. I’d built this up in my mind so much, it was keeping me going at times. However disaster struck as I bit into a piece of dry bread topped with some icing sugar. Thankfully, Laura was feeling generous and I got a taste of her superior cupcake.
Knowing the trek would be pretty demanding we’d intended on keeping the following day free. This proved to be a blessing for two reasons. First, the rain came, and second, we were shattered. We found a decent bar/restaurant where I tucked into a burrito and a local cream stout, Kross. The best stout I’ve had to date. We also happened across some very apt and topical signs here.
Nicely rested, the next morning we again put together our packed lunch and set out hiking. We’d put together a plan to visit 2 landmarks in the area. First, Ojos De Caburgua, a waterfall about 30 mins outside Pucon, then Lake Caburgua the lake which feeds the waterfall.
There are buses which get you most of the way, but it’s always a bit of a lottery trying to get out at the correct spot. There’s no defined bus stops, you just give the driver a shout when it’s time to disembark. We saw a sign for the Ojos and gave the driver a nod. The sign proved to be a load of nonsense. We followed the directions only to be met by a locked gate and no owner in site. We could hear the waterfalls and after hooting and hollering a while, some disheveled looking lad told us to feck off back to the main road. I think we’d woken him up.
Back on the road, we traipsed along for a while until more signs emerged. Once bitten, twice shy. Along we went down the road, with views of the volcano for company. It really was impressive and the wood houses gave it a feel of the Von Trapp family.
We arrived at the entrance, but no sign of an owner. We chatted to an Argentinian couple who’d made the same mistake as us and just before we were about to bail an auld one appeared to take our money and provide directions.
The falls, known as the eyes of Carbugua were really nice. They’ve built platforms all around them and the blue colors on show were impressive.
Truth be told, the nerves at times like this can get out control. The pressure to satisfactorily photograph my wife would drive a lesser being over the edge. Keeping your composure in the face of such scrutiny is a character building exercise in itself.
We had our picnic with the falls over our shoulder. There was a Scottish pair, who we got the bus with to our next destination, who had been let in at the other gate. It turns out there’s two families who own land either side of the river feeding the falls. The first family, who gave us our marching orders, own the side with the lesser vantage points. Had we been let in then, we’d of had to follow the Scots on a walk across the river. This was a balancing act on some very unsteady looking stones. Pretty pleased with waking up that mug now!
Next up we were back on the main road and caught a bus to Playa Blanca on Lake Carburgua. There’s two beaches on the lake, Blanca and Negra, the sand color making them easily identifiable, and it’s a great stroll along them to the town of Carburgua. It is the off season here, and there’d be slim pickings testing the water, but I’d say the place would be heaving in the summer. Apparently the Chilean president has a second home in the hills overlooking the lake, they’ve got good taste.
Before reaching the town we crossed paths with a camera happy couple. After giving a polite ‘hola’ we continued on. This polite greeting was misread as the signor chased us down to take a bunch of photos of themselves. Bit random and his camera was a good 15 years old. He didn’t look any way keen to return the favor so we jogged on.
We got back to Pucon about an hour before sunset so to top off the day, we picked up some beers and took up vantage on the shores of Lake Villarrica, a great setting to the end of an eventful day.
Pucon is stocked with good supermarkets and we’d been pretty good cooking ourselves but after a long day walking we were in no mood to cook. We took a stroll on the main street in search of dinner. We settled on El Fogon for a set of steaks. Laura went for the reliable fillet while I took a walk on the wild side, ordering the bife de chorizo. Note, no chorizo present in this steak. I’d describe it as a mix between a fatty rib eye and a fillet. For a better description of the typical cuts, and to work up an appetite, I’d recommend this lads blog.
For our last full day in Pucon, we were set on a trip to Termas Geometrics, the most highly rated of the local hot springs. The tricky part is that they’re a bit off the beaten track, a 90 min drive with half an hour spent on dirt roads. There are tours who drive there, but we decided to rent a car to give ourselves some flexibility. Fingers crosssed the Chileans didn’t expect any parallel parking.
Before dinner we called into a car rental office and got the necessary info. We didn’t commit to anything, instead we said we’d return in the morning. The woman working there told us they opened at 9 am and we returned at 9:01 the next morning, only to find the place completely locked up. We waited outside like muppets for 20 mins, and made a reminder to vent about them in this very blog. This blow to our day wasn’t going to stop us though, we found another rental agency up the road and by 10:30 we were in the road in a Suzuki hatchback that had little to no suspension.
The drive on the main road between the towns was bumpy enough and the off road experience was a bit of an ordeal, but nonetheless we arrived at our destination in one piece. At this point there were roughly 12 jeeps in the car park, not another hatchback in sight!
The springs were very relaxing. They’re made up of about 20 different hot pools, with a few waterfalls to cool off under. They’ve gone full Japanese on the grounds and all that was missing was a few bonzi trees. Temperatures outside were cold enough, so it was a bit of a dash between the springs, but it was a much needed relief after hiking up and down the Chilean countryside. There was some variation in the heat of each springs, and we made the mistake of starting in the warmest pool. At 42 degrees this was a bit of a shock to our cool hands and feet! We found quite a few selfie stick merchants on display, including Laura, but she kept it together and managed to not drop her phone.