We had a couple days to kill between our Puerto Natales booking and our Santiago booking, so we decided to take the overnight bus plunge and go to Pucon.
Pucon is in the Chilean lakes district of Patagonia and is a big tourist draw for foreigners and local holiday makers alike. The pretty little town is nestled against a blue lake with a black sand beach, and surrounded by volcanoes. The most famous of which is the smoking Volcan Villarrica.
Pucon is both a sand and sun destination, and an adventure activity hub. You can easily spend you days at the beach, sipping cocktails and eating ice cream. Or you can take part in mountain biking, hiking, volcano climbing and rafting.
Most visitors though, come here to conquer the active Villarrica volcano. You need to take part in a guided tour to hike this volcano as you will require an ice pick and crampons, and tours run on average from 75,000 pesos to 120,000 pesos depending on what company you go with (December 2017 prices). Simon did the hike, but since this post is going to focus on the family friendly activities in the region, and this volcano is definitely not kid friendly, you will have to wait for a future post to learn more about his experience.
If you are traveling with kids, a lot of the typical adventure activites for which Pucon is famous for will not be accessible to you (depending on the ages of the kids.) Since our kids were 4 years old and 4 months old at the time of our visit, none of the typical activities were options. Despite that, we still were able to easily fill our days.
Family Friendly Activities around Pucon
There are several beaches around Pucon, with the most accessible being Playa Grande. This black sand beach is very popular and features bars, restaurants, and ice cream parlors, as well as wandering vendors selling fruit juices. You can rent kayaks and paddle boats to explore the lake, or simply just relax.
Another popular beach is the white sand beach Playa Blanca which is located about 35 minutes away by car near the small town of Caburgua.
Active volcanoes and geothermal activity go hand in hand, so it is no surprise that Pucon is home to more than a dozen hot springs. They are all located near to each other, about a 15 – 20 minute drive outside of Pucon. Prices for entry depend on which hot spring you visit, but average around 15,000 – 20,000 pesos per person. For this reason we decided to spend more of our swimming time at the beach than at the pricey hot springs. However, if you are doing a lot of hiking or climbing, then an afternoon at the hot springs may be just what the doctor ordered.
A popular waterfall and viewpoint about half way between Pucon and Caburgua is Los Ojos del Caburgua. The waterfall is located on private property, so there is a small fee to enter, but its worth it as boardwalks take you to viewpoints of the waterfall and the blue lagoon. Unfortunately you are not allowed to swim due to subterranean currents.
Hiking Huerquehue National Park
If you love the great outdoors then you can not miss spending a day (or several) in Parque Nacional Huerquehue. There are several walks available in the park, but only one is recommended for families. This walk is part of the Los Lagos walk, as the full Los Lagos circuit is probably too long for families. The entire circuit is 12 km’s, but considering you still need to walk about 4 km’s just to get to the start of the track, well…
Now this walk was a little misrepresented to us. We were told it would take about 1.5 hours to get to the two miradors (where we where advised to end our walk by the girl at the park information), and that it would take about an hour to get back. Hah. We are not slow hikers, and even with kids in tow we hike to the average time specifications. But not this time.
The first park of the walk from the car park to the start of the trail is quite pleasant. From the car park you follow the Nirrico path which goes along the lake and is fairly flat. From there you exit and follow a road past some campgrounds, over a small stream, and then uphill through a shady forest. We didn’t find the grade of the ascent too tiring, although it is definitely an ascent.
Once you reach the official park entrance where there is a map and some toilets, you start a much steeper ascent. From here it is not too far to a waterfall lookout and mirador number 1, and the path is mostly stairs. We were having an enjoyable time up until about this point. On the park map it looks like mirador number 1 and mirador number 2 are quite close together, so although we were tired, we decided to press on. So we hiked up… and up… and up… and up. The first mirador was ok. The view over the lake and the volcano were alright, but not spectacular. So we were hoping that mirador number 2 would be better. Perhaps it would even be of the three lakes for which the walk gets its name. So we hiked up… and up… and up.
There was profanity. But we continued.
After about another kilometer of straight ascent we finally reached mirador bloody number 2. AND…..
It was exactly the same as mirador number 1.
Mirador Number 1
Mirador Number 2
By this time, we had spent three hours pretty much just ascending. It was time to go home. The descent took us about an hour and we were shocked when we realized just how much uphill we had climbed.
Top tip: Either do the whole hike, or stop at mirador number 1.
Kayaking and Fishing
Another great family friendly option is kayaking and fishing. There are several places along the lake as you drive up to the national park entrance that will rent you kayaks and fishing gear, and then will cook up the trout that you catch. They will also cook you up a trout if you don’t anything as well. Because our hike took so much longer than anticipated, we didn’t have time to attempt to catch our own trout, but we can confirm that the one they had caught was definitely delicious.