I was excited to visit Pucon which was dubbed an extreme sports town in Chile. We loved our time in Banos, Ecuador, another extreme sports city so I was expecting a lot. Once we arrived, my enthusiasm waned. While it was a very clean, nice town, it was not the type of town that I love.
I didn’t love it because in order to see things, you had to book tours, plus in general everything was quite expensive. Fortunately we had a great hostel which had a kitchen plus there were both grocery stores and fruit/vegetable stands nearby. This allowed us to save a bit of money by cooking our meals instead of going out to eat.
Things We Saw & Did in Pucon
Salto El Claro Waterfall Hike
Andy started looking for things that we could do for free. He stumbled across an article giving detailed steps of how to walk to Salto El Claro, a beautiful waterfall that is only accessible via hiking. You can drive or ride a bike to where it is only a short hike down a hill, but we chose the least expensive option which was to hike the entire way there.
We knew that it would take us around 2 hours to get there, but didn’t have plans one of our days, so it was the perfect time filler. The hike was generally pretty easy – there was a relatively steep hill at the end of our climb and some steep climbing to get down to the falls, but the rest was all on flat roads.
When we arrived at the falls we were happy. There were some tourists around, but after they took their pictures, they left. When we were ready to take pictures, we had the entire place to ourselves. We set up the tripod, took some pictures and took one last look at the falls before we headed back to the hostel.
It was a long day of hiking, just about 5 hours in all, but it was great. We saw something that not many people get to see, got a great workout and didn’t spend a dime. After we got back to the hostel we were anxious to take off our hiking boots and sit down for a while.
Watched the Volcano
The volcano is one of the coolest things in Pucon. It is an active volcano and you can actually hike up it to see the bubbling magma inside. We toyed with the idea of hiking the volcano but after reading about the weather conditions, and how challenging of a hike it is because of the ice… plus the cost, we decided against it.
I am sure that some parts would have been cool, but going on a hike with over 100 people up the volcano which could have limited visibility didn’t do much for either of us. Ironically, the day that we would have gone was the clearest day that Pucon has had in months. It was alright though, we had a great view from the ground all day and throughout the night, where we saw the eruptions within the volcano, a pretty cool site.
Boat Ride on the Lake
We had read that the best view of the volcano was from the lake. We had seen online some tours where you could spend the day on the lake but they were extremely expensive. We figured that there had to be a cheaper way so we headed to the lake to see what we could find.
We were right, there was a cheaper way. For only 5,000 pesos or $7 each, we were able to take a short 45 minute ride around the lake. It was on a pretty crappy boat which went terribly slow and felt every bump in the water, but it gave us the view that we were looking for. Unfortunately, the day we went out on the boat was not the clearest day we had but we were still able to see the volcano.
Tried to Zipline
There were a number of tour agencies in the city, so we walked by the windows, checking out what there was to do should we decide to book a tour. The only thing that really interested us was the zipline (or canopy as they call it) tour. For 13,000 pesos or $18 we could go ziplining across 11 ziplines and it included transit to/from Pucon.
Even though we didn’t have time to go the day we asked, we figured that we would go the next day. When we arrived the next day, we were told that they were booked solid for the next 2 weeks. It was frustrating for us as the guy we spoke to the day before said nothing about that. Miscommunication like this seems to be commonplace in South America. We just had to tell ourselves that was that, there was no way that we were going to be able to go ziplining.
Booked Transport to Patagonia
We knew that we needed to book our transportation from Puerto Varas down to Punta Arenas. There were 2 choices that we were struggling between – a 33 hour bus ride that was only $86 total or a 2 hour flight that was $400 total. One might say, it isn’t a huge difference in price, just fly, but we weren’t sold. The difference in price is $314, an amount that would go very far for us on our travels.
After a lot of back and forth, we decided that we would endure hell on the bus to save money. Once we arrived in Patagonia, we would use that money to go on any excursion that we wanted as well as possibly upgrading our lodging.
We went on the Turibus site and tried to book our tickets. After entering a massive amount of information, the site didn’t accept my card. I knew that it had to be the site as my card has been working flawlessly during our trip thus far. Andy tried the next time and again it didn’t work. We wanted to get our tickets as soon as we could since the bus only had 2 sets of seats together and only left 3x a week.
After another failed attempt, we tried to see if our hostel host would be able to help us call the bus company to see what the issue was. Turns out, only Chilean or Argentine residents are able to book online, something that is not stated anywhere on the site. We tried to see if we could purchase on the phone, but they only allowed foreign bookings to be paid with cash at the ticket offices. Since we weren’t due to Puerto Varas for another 2 days, we knew that the seats together would be gone. We took it as a sign that the bus was not meant to be.
This lead us to look into flying. There were 2 airlines that service the route – LAN, a legacy airline who is affiliated with American Airlines through the Oneworld Alliance and Sky Airline, a small airline which operates many tourist heavy routes. It was an easy decision for us as Sky priced out at $200 per ticket and LAN was double that at $400 per ticket.
Pucon is a very tourist friendly town with lots of great things to see and do, assuming that you have the money to spend. Had we been on a shorter vacation and more free with our money, I think that we would have had a whole list of things to do. Because we were saving up for Patagonia, one of the parts of our trip that we knew was going to be extremely expensive, we were more conservative with our finances.
We spent a lot of time walking around the cute town, smelling the roses. Seriously, when you walked around town, the air smelled sweet since there were rose bushes everywhere. It reminded us of a cross between the pacific northwest and a small mountain town.
I would say that Pucon to me was an average town in my mind. It was cute, the weather was good and there were some things that you could do for free. My problem with it was that everything related to the town was all tourist related. This means that everything is more expensive and you don’t get to experience the local culture as much.