Pucon is the touristic heart of Chile’s lake and volcano district. All the visitors converge here to climb the majestic Villarrica volcano, go white water rafting and zip lining, or simply hike in the many National Parks. Especially in summer, Pucón basically bursts with tourists. Sounds like a nightmare for introverts? Don’t worry, there’s an easy solution: simply visit Pucón in winter!
I was in Pucón last August, which is the absolute low season. It quickly became one of my favourite destinations in Chile! So much so, that I ended up staying quite a bit longer than intended. In the end, I spent a full two weeks in Pucón, and I was still feeling sad when I left.
Compare that to the many experiences I heard from travellers who had visited in high season and didn’t enjoy Pucón at all, because it was simply too crowded, it really should be a no-brainer. However, if you need some more convincing as to why Pucón in winter is actually awesome: here are the facts!
No tourist crowds
The town isn’t exactly empty in winter, but it is certainly not overcrowded either. Therefore, you actually get to enjoy its adorable mountain village charm and the majestic Villarrica volcano always sitting in the background. I sometimes felt like I was transported to some tiny mountain place in Switzerland. Or rather, what I imagine a typical Swiss mountain village to look like – I’ve never actually been to one.
Stroll down the main street, sit on the small beach and watch the sunset over Lake Villarrica or frequent the many cafés and restaurants, all without having to fight for your space or desperately search for a quiet corner.
All the alone-time you need
Not all activities are available in winter due to the cold weather. But unless you insist on rafting or kayaking, there’s still enough left to keep you occupied. I mostly opted for hiking in the National Park and the El Cañi Reserve.
In the latter, I was pretty much the only person hiking it that day. Most of it was spent walking through untouched snow. In the National Park, there were some more people around, but still few enough to find enough peace and quiet on the way. The nature around me was a winter wonderland just waiting to be explored.
True, the snow could be a challenge, making parts of the walk slippery and getting very deep at some points. But still, there’s nothing like the magic of walking all alone through a world covered in fresh snow, is there?
The hot springs come to full effect
One other thing Pucón is quite well-known for are the many hot springs in the area. When would it be nicer to dunk yourself into naturally heated water, than when it’s cold outside and your muscles are screaming for some relaxation after several days of hiking?
The hot springs I went to were the Termas Los Pozones. My host recommended them as being one of the most beautiful and cheapest out of the lot. They’re last of a long line of termas lying along the Río Liucura. A bus drives down there from Pucón. From the street, it’s a short downhill walk to the pools. There are about a dozen different ones, with varying water temperatures, so you experiment around and see which one feels best.
Hostels aren’t too full
I had a single room while in Pucon, so I guess this one didn’t affect me quite so much personally. However, fewer tourists don’t only mean fewer people on the roads, but also potentially fewer people in your dorm, if that’s your choice of accommodation.
I was in a small hostel at the edge of town, close to the beach. During my entire stay at Hostal Flamingo, there was a group of French students there, on a ski trip. They could be a bit noisy, but as they were out most of the day skiing it was never too much of a problem.
In the evenings, when the kids where in bed, us adults (two supervisors travelling with the kids, the hostel owner and her friend) would often share a glass of wine in the kitchen. It was just us left then, not counting the hostel’s two cats and the puppy. It’s always great to have the chance to grow close with the people you share an accommodation with, and for me at least that’s always easier when there are not too many people. In this case, it even resulted in a giant BBQ we all had together in the garden on our last night in Pucón.
So, what’s the catch?
Yes, I hear you. It can’t be all just great, you’re saying, otherwise, why wouldn’t everyone travel at that time of year? So in the sense of full disclosure, let me share the negatives of visiting in winter.
Most importantly, it’s cold. Especially up in the National Parks, when you hike above the snow line. At El Cani, the snow crept up higher and higher while I hiked up the mountain until it was up to my knees. At that point, it doesn’t matter how waterproof your shoes are, the snow is going to get in no matter what. As much as I enjoyed the landscape, there came a point when I was too cold and wet to go on any further, and thus I didn’t make it all the way to the summit.
Often, it was slippery as well, because of the snow. You had to be very careful walking, especially downhill. At the National Park, only some of the hiking trails were open, because the others would be too dangerous in that weather.
Other weather-sensible activities you might not be able to do at all. Therefore, if you’re an outdoor sports freak, you might have to put up with the summer crowds after all. Unless you want to go skiing, that it naturally perfectly possible in winter.
Still, overall I really enjoyed visiting in August, when places were empty and the world covered in snow.
Have I convinced you to try visiting pucón in winter? If you’ve already been there, what time did you visit and what were your experiences? Do you think another time of year might have been preferable? Share in the comments!