I just returned yesterday from paradise on Earth; or, as it’s actually called, Pucón. Pucón is a town of about 20,000 people in Southern Chile and it’s a bit of a mecca for backpackers in South America. (If it’s not on your list, it should be; any trip to Chile should include at least a weekend trip to Pucón.) I went two days earlier than my group, so I had two free days to do whatever I wanted, including a free day at the end of our trip. Both of our buses, in and out of town, were overnight trips; that’s fairly standard, as the bus ride is a disgusting 12 hours long (luckily for me, I slept through most of that both ways).
The main reason people make their way to Pucón, despite its many offerings, is Volcano Villarrica. This massive volcano is the second most active volcano in South America, stands at 9,341 feet high, and last erupted in 2008. It is a terrifying monument to Pucón and simultaneously breathtaking. When you arrive in the morning, it’s covered in the clouds, but when it breaks through, you won’t be able to look at anything else. For about 41 mil (or US$80), you can spend 5 hours hiking up this volcano. Once you summit, be sure to look for the ice cave that’s on the top; afterwards, the ride down – literally, a sled you carry up with you – is about an hour and a half.
Now, this may have not been what I should have started with, because it’s hard to follow up with anything else; however, this is so much more to do in Pucón. A personal favorite of mine was Parque Nacional Huerquehue; it was simply gorgeous. I felt like I had fallen into a South American jungle and, arguably, I had. It’s virtually untouched, except for a little clearing for a trail in some places. I took a bus at 8:30am to get there, arrived an hour later, and returned at 3 or so in the afternoon. In the process, I got one of the best hikes I’ve been on since I left Arizona, and saw two waterfalls.
Lastly, I would highly recommend kayaking. I know a few guys that came earlier to our group trip and went river kayaking; they said it was great, but as I’ve only done the lake kayak, that’s all I feel I can recommend. (Screw that, actually. River kayak if you can. Do it all.) We went out before the sunset and watched the sun set on the lake, and let me say, that was the best hour of my trip; watching a sunset on a lake, looking back at Villarrica Volcano, was one of the most calming hours of my semester.