Our reasons for staying in Pucon were two-fold. Firstly we wanted to spend some time learning Spanish before we got too far into our trip. And secondly, the leadup to getting away had been so hectic we decided we needed to stop somewhere and relax for a while to recharge our batteries.
Pucon is a lake-side holiday resort 11 hours south of Santiago by road. It’s like a combination of Queenstown NZ, Byron Bay, and a Canadian mountain resort. The town is dominated by Villarica Volcano, which can be seen from almost everywhere. It’s extremely touristy, especially in January/February, but sometimes as in this case it’s for a good reason – the scenery is magic and there is plenty to do!
The tourist mix is mostly domestic, something that surprised me. It’s here that you can see most what Chileans aspire to. Unfortunately it’s much the same as what the people in most developed countries aspire to – shiny 4WD’s, designer clothes and expensive restaurants. I can’t blame them for wanting the same things, but it’s always disappointing to see everywhere becoming the same.
However the town is still quite charming and we were pleased to arrive at Donde German hostal. This was our first hostel with a private bathroom and an amazing view of the volcano from our room! The owner is named German (pronounced Herr-man), and is definitely not German but perhaps has some ancestors from there! The garden here was nice and shady, and we spent many a hot afternoon in it drinking Cervezas and studying. The hostel was a 15 minute walk from the middle of town (and our Spanish classes) which gave us a a nice walk each day. We had 8 days here, and 8 at German’s new hostel in town which was even nicer, with a gorgeous room with an even better view of the volcano; but we did miss the garden from the old hostel.
Pucon was a perfect base for our Spanish lessons, despite Chile being the most difficult spanish-speaking country to learn Spanish in. They speak very quickly and don’t finish half of their words – it would be like trying to learn English in the Scottish Highlands! We arrived on day 1 and met our teacher Patricia. She is a great teacher and speaks excellent English, with a better knowledge of English grammar than our poor middle aged brains can remember. The course was an intensive beginners, with lessons over 10 days of 3 hours each. This might not sound like a lot, but we were constantly being introduced to new things, so we needed to practice and revise in the afternoon. After 2 weeks of lessons we still have a lot to learn – Spanish is a very complex language – but we now have a very basic grasp on the grammar and pronounciation and can conduct basic transactions and get around. Hopefully we’ll learn more with practice!
We met lots of great people in Pucon. Brita and Liane who were a week ahead of us at the language school were staying at the same hostel. It was good to have some fellow students to lament the difficulties of learning Spanish – however they were German and learning their third (or fourth?) language which somehow made us feel worse! We had lunch with them several times and shared quite a few Pisco Sour’s one night, and hangovers the next morning.
We also met a lot of people at the hostel to practice our Spanish on – mostly from Chile and Argentina. We found several Brazillian families to be particularly friendly, and although they speak Portuguese we were able to communicate in Spanglish and got lots of recommendations for when we get to Brazil.
We spent a lot of our spare time in Pucon just relaxing, especially in the first week. But we did get ourselves organised enough to visit a few sights around town. One afternoon we caught the bus out to the “Ojos del Caburgua” – a sermies of waterfalls on a river that comes straight out of the side of a mountain. The falls themselves were not hugely spectactular, but it was a pretty nice way to spend the day and avoid the heatwave in town. After that we went into the town of Carbugua, which is also on a lake. We walked along the beach and enjoyed the scenery and dinner before heading back into Pucon.
Being a volcanic area, there are many hot springs (termas) in the area. We decided to wait for a cold night and head out to one of them in the evening as it was way too hot during the day to lay around in hot pools. The pools are supposedly natural – well the water is naturally heated, but clearly the pools themselves are constructed. There are about 6 of them, all varying in temperature so being a cold night we spent most of our time in the warmest one. We met some nice people there and had a good night before heading back into town.
The final activity was climbing the Villarica volcano. This is the #1 activity in Pucon by far, and since the town is so dominated by the view of the volcano it was hard to resist. After twisting Michelle’s arm just a bit she agreed to do it. She’s going to write a seperate article about it soon, but in short it was a very demanding constant 5 hour climb up rock, snow and ice to the 2847 metre high summit. It was not a technical climb in the sense of using ropes or other equipment, but was best described as “relentlessly up”. The view from the top, and all the way up really, was just amazing.
After 2 weeks in Pucon it seemed like home. Our room was beautiful, probably better than we could expect again for quite some time. We finally knew all the best places to eat after lots of practice (including our favourite little Empanada place, Mama Celia’s), were able to get around town effortlessly, and knew most of the stray dogs. When you know the product range of all 3 supermarkets, it’s probably to move on! So it was with fond memories but excitement for our next stop that we bought our bus ticket to Puerto Varas to continue our journey.
– Climbing Villarica Volcano
– The Isle of Chiloe
– Horse riding in the Cochamo valley