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Driving Chile’s Lake District

Sweet Ride“Oh, I can drive a stick shift, no problem,” claimed Ashley. Engine starts. Stall. Engine starts. Stall. “Are they watching?” she asked. That’s as far as Ash made it behind the wheel of the high performance Chevrolet Swing hatchback. All seven inches in neutral, but it was a sporty coupe to be fair. Too much power in the four valve engine for this gal from Kansas, so I took the helm and righted the ship… out of the rental car harbor and into the mountains surrounding Pucon, Chile.

Volcano Villarrica - View from Pucon - v9Tourist buses bound for Location X, Destination Y, and Lookout Z were left in our wake as we enjoyed the freedom of our own transportation for a change ($60 for rental car, insurance, and petrol). Armed with a map that lacked any semblance of scale or direction, we headed into the Andes Mountains with majestic views of Volcano Villarrica (Chile’s tallest). Forty minutes and a long gravel road later we pulled into the quaint parking lot of China Falls ($4 entry). The 300 foot waterfall kept us in awe for quite some time as it poured over the edge from a lush jungle above.

Mountains Waterfall China Rapids

LizardNext stop was meant to be a short drive to view some spectacular rapids, but fate had a different objective. We made a wrong, perhaps correct, turn and met a kind old man named Refugio who instructed us how to put the Chevy Swing in reverse. Quite helpful considering we had been pushing the light vehicle out of tight corners up until this point. Refugio also happened to be the developer of a gorgeous assemblage of land and suggested we drive around and select our slice of heaven for $22,000 per acre. Rather than splurge on a piece of dirt, we imbibed on a glass of Chilean white wine and soaked in the views from the choicest plot. But we heard the rapids calling us, so it was onto our intended destination. The river was powerful and surrounded by dense forest housing insects, birds, and reptiles.

Lake VillarricaBy then our hunger was guiding us more than the dismal map, so we aimed for Lake Tinquilco but found Lake Caburgua. A bit lost but craving a late lunch of mozzarella cheese, salami, crackers, and bananas, the Chevy Swing was stowed away on a safe stretch of road as Ash and I made ourselves at home on the rocky shoreline. Not wanting to miss out on a chance to lose feeling in my hands/feet, I took a brisk, albeit short, swim in the crystal fresh water. Not only can Lake Caburgua pass as a suitable shower, it can also chill Chilean white wine quite effectively as we learned by submerging the bottle beneath large rocks. Having a working brain, Ash sat this activity out.

Lake Villarrica - v10 Lake Villarrica - v5 Lake Villarrica - v19

Suitably cold, the natural thermal baths outside Pucon seemed be the perfect antidote. Argh! Termas Las Pozones ($8) did not open until night fall. No worries. We drove one mile and found a hilltop upon which we could enjoy the sunset. The ball of fire descended behind the tree lined slopes as we traded fleeces for bikinis (I wore trunks). At first the volcano heated pools felt tremendous. Little by little though, the heat became unbearable and Ash clamored onto the surrounding rocks of the natural pool. Being a tough guy of course, I stayed in the warming bath… for thirty seconds more. Needing to cool down, Ash led me to the adjacent stream via light from the digital camera. Feeling the cold mountain water on my ankles, I gingerly submerged myself into the depths until the temperature proved unbearable. Thankfully, Termas Las Pozones has four pools of varying temperature and we found the second to be accommodating. As I tried to relax in the soothing pool, Ashley kept pestering me about her being the first female President of the USA (okay, I just wanted to include this hilarious photo). After gazing at the starry night, we dried off and drove back to Pucon thoroughly worn out.

Pre Thermaling Neighboring River Worth $100

Err, I drove back.

- Greg

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Hostels and Adventure Groups offer various tours of the surrounding area of Pucon. DIY (do it yourself) can be the way to see more for less. When sharing with at least one person, you can rent a car for the entire day and see four days of tours in one day. Not too mention, tour groups hit you hard for transportation. For example, hostels charge $15 per person to hit the thermal baths at night (basically $7 for transport). Simply splitting a rental car with like minded people will save you cash and allow you see more on your own terms.

  2. Pucon offers an incredible amount of things to do: white water rafting, skydiving, volcano treks, mountain biking, thermals, etc. Purchasing two or three activities through one provider provides you with leverage. But even if you prefer just one adventure, check around for prices and negotiate.

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