A short flight south of Santiago followed by an hour’s drive from Temuco, Pucon is the adventure capital of Chile, a bustling town ringed with picture-postcard national parks at the foot of the spectacular Volcano Villarica. Overlooking Lake Villarica, the town brims with colourful bars, hotels and restaurants and is the ideal base from which to explore the breathtaking scenery. Temperate Valdivian rainforest shrouds snow-capped mountains while immense glacier-fed lakes spawn raging rivers, waterfalls and hot springs. From the town, tour agencies offer excellent mountain biking, rafting, fishing and trekking as well as the awe-inspiring highlight: a day- hike up to the crater of Volcano Villarica, one of Chile’s most active calderas, to observe molten lava bubbling away in the dark depths (gas masks sometimes included!).
Towards the border with Argentina, forests of iconic monkey puzzle trees (araucaria araucana) compete with larva flows on the flanks of smouldering volcanoes while lonely mountain roads snake through national parks to reach Argentina across the border, routes that lend themselves perfectly to self-drive. Heading south the Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve protects a further 100,000 hectares of mountains, forests and crystal clear waters and has developed an impressive tourist infrastructure.