Pucón, Chile

Pucón’s fame can be boiled down to three things: the lake, the volcano and its easy access to every kind of outdoor sport imaginable. How often do you come across a small town smack in between a divinely blue lake and a perfectly conical volcano? Just to add to the effect, the volcano’s crater spends most of its day billowing smoke – even the occasional giant smoke ring – and on clear nights it gives off an eerie red glow. Pucón is a place where a variety of earthly wonders conspire to create a point of inspirational natural energy. For better or for worse, a lot of people have already picked up on that fact. The town receives alternating floods of package tourists, Santiago holidaymakers, novice Brazilian snowboarders, adventure-seeking backpackers and New Age spiritualists.

While the popularity and international feel can be off-putting for some (people tend to love or hate this place), Pucón boasts the best small-town tourism infrastructure south of Costa Rica. That means quality accommodations, efficient tourism agencies, hundreds of activities and excursions, vegetarian restaurants, Mexican food, falafels, a casino where you can lose all of your money; you name it.

Like every other place in the region, Pucón really shifts gears in the winter. Many agencies and accommodations shut down, crowds slow to a trickle and skiing/snowboarding become the focus. The alternating rain and puelche (powerful wind that blows off the Argentine pampa) can be too much for the faint of heart. Expect price gouging during the summer (January and February) and Easter, when Pucón is literally overrun with turistas.

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