Pucón has to be the adventure capital of Chile, with perhaps more bat-shit crazy adventurous things to do here than you can poke a stick at. The snow-capped Volcán Villarrica towers over everything with a constant wisp of grey curling smoke pluming out of the top. It’s quite threatening really when you understand it is the most active volcano in Chile, and one so close to a bustling town such as Pucón – I mean if this thing blew its top there’s not a lot anyone here could do about it as the sole road access in and out is busy at the best of times, particularly in the high summer season, but perhaps made even more complicated in winter when it often snows here.
There are the occasional evacuation route signs in town, but I doubt that would make any difference – a lot like the evacuation signs we’ve seen all over Chile for tsunamis – if it’s happening and you’re there, well…
The volcano regularly rumbles, with earthquakes quite common, erupting in various degrees of seriousness every few months. But right now, I’m pleased to say, it’s all quiet on the home front.
There’s a bewildering number of outlets along the main street, Avenida O’Higgins in Pucón, complete with young spruikers extolling the thrills of white-water rafting, volcano climbing, crater peering (6 hour trip each way plus time on the crater rim itself), horse riding, paragliding, glacier-trekking, skiing, diving and any number of treks and trails across this magnificent volcano-strewn landscape, from our preferred option of a trek that takes in 1km up to say 5ks, to 2-3 day treks up into the high Andean wilderness that straddles the Argentine border.
It’s a busy place here in high summer, with the main drag busy with travellers, mostly it seems Chilean but plenty of European voices can be heard. Perhaps not surprisingly, it reminds me a lot of Byron Bay, possibly due to the large number of youngsters in town, but also the proliferation of adventure outlets – if it’s remotely dangerous, there’s a bunch of kids clambering to sign up. There’s a huge number of stylish restaurants, cafés, fashion and active-gear stores, food markets and most surprising, excellent European-style supermarkets – the best we’ve come across in South America!
The countryside around us is stunning. Soaring mountains, cascading waterfalls and thermal hot springs everywhere with dense forest and fast-flowing glacial rivers. We have a fast-flowing shallow wide river on our property, just steps away from the cabin that’s the colour of green jade and crystal clear, so clear it’s transparent so the pebbles on the river floor appear tantalising close, so tantalising that you want to leap in, but trust me, it’s freezing glacial cold! The rest of the week is in the low 30’s so perhaps a dip in the river might be on the cards.
We’re remote here in the cabin. We’re off the Caburgua road around 20ks out of Pucón, across a rickety wooden bridge and down an unpaved windy potholed road for several kilometres. The heavy locked gate to the property is easily missed, marked by an upended purple canoe top. Once through the gate it’s another few kilometres along a rough rocky road that winds through dense forest and finally arrives at the log cabin we’re calling home for the next 7 days. We’re surrounded by tall trees but through the canopy you can just make out the looming presence of Volcán Villarrica and its snow-capped flanks. It’s a peaceful if sound-filled spot, not from any human contact mind you, but from the constant white noise of the glacial river beneath, the wind in the trees, the eagles and vultures soaring and screeching overhead, the noisy squadrons of parrots and any number of native birds in the forest canopy that make all sorts of odd noises. At night it’s deathly quiet and still with the milky way swirling in the inky blackness. We’re cooking at home, reading by candle light and enjoying early nights, so we’re up at dawn and ready for another day in paradise.