On this active 6-day itinerary, you will discover one of the lesser-visited gems of South America: Chile's Lake District, where central Chile meets Patagonia. Begin in the cosmopolitan capital city of Santiago, and take in the city's vibrant art and culinary scene. Next, head to Pucón to enjoy kayaking, trekking through native Alajuela forest, hiking up to glaciers, relaxing in hot springs, and much, much more.

Highlights

  • Trek and kayak your way through Chile's beautiful southern wilderness
  • Experience the wildlife of Santuario El Cañi and indulge in the local hot springs
  • Hike to the base of Pichillancahue Glacier

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Fly from Santiago to Temuco & Transfer to Pucón Pucón
Day 3 Full-Day El Cañi Trekking & Hot Springs Pucón
Day 4 Full-Day Pichillancahue Glacier Tour & Waterfall Pucón
Day 5 Full-Day Huerquehue Hiking & Kayak Pucón
Day 6 Pucón to Temuco - Farewell Chile  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Santiago de Chile

Hike or take a gondola up to the top of Cerro San Cristobal
Hike or take a gondola up to the top of Cerro San Cristobal

Welcome to Chile! Upon arrival at Santiago International Airport, a driver will meet you and transfer you to your hotel. You'll have the rest of the day to explore the city at your leisure. 

Suggested activities include:

  • Hike to the top of Cerro San Cristobal, where you can get your bearings by surveying the area from a high vantage point. Pathways lead 2,788 feet (850 m) up this central hill to a series of lookouts that offer wraparound views of Santiago. If you aren't the hiking type, not to worry: catch a scenic gondola instead.

  • Stroll the cobblestone streets of Barrio Bellavista. On the north side of Santiago, you'll find this trendy enclave, at once fashionable and bohemian. Stroll past colorful houses adorned with graffiti art and choose between an eclectic array of eateries and bars—great for people watching. 

  • Visit the Plaza de Armas, a stone plaza located in Santiago's historic center dating to 1541. There's also the impressive Catedral Metropolitana, a neoclassical church dating to 1748 whose towering twin bell towers dominate the north side of the plaza.

  • Snap pics in front of the Palacio de la Moneda. Chile's opulent Presidential Palace (known simply as "La Moneda") is a short stroll from the Plaza de Armas. It was here in 1973 that Chile's armed forces, backed by the U.S. government, overthrew President Salvador Allende, kicking off a brutal right-wing military dictatorship that would last for 17 years. Visitors are welcome.

For dinner be sure to get out of the hotel and enjoy a culinary adventure in the city. In recent years Santiago has emerged as a global foodie destination. Chilean chefs are reinventing traditional dishes like empanadas, cazuelas (stews), and seafood with ingredients harvested all the way from the northern deserts and southern Patagonian regions. You can find great restaurants and wine bars not only in the Bellavista neighborhood but also in the revitalized historic barrios of Yungay and Italia.

Day 2: Fly from Santiago to Temuco & Transfer to Pucón

Villarrica Volcano near Pucón
Villarrica Volcano near Pucón

After breakfast, transfer to the Santiago airport for your flight to Temuco. Upon arrival, you'll meet your driver and transfer about 1.5 hours to the town of Pucón.

This village is deservedly famous as it sits on the shore of Lago Villarrica in the shadow of the towering Volcán Villarrica. Pucón is also a popular destination for those looking for seasonal activities, such as hiking and skiing. Zip-lining is a fun activity as well, and there are a number of nearby excursions you can make from town, such as to the geothermic pools.

But that's for another day. For now, if you would like to get out and stretch your legs, then here a couple options for easy activities in and around Pucón.

  • Stroll the city center and waterfront. Pucon's main drag, Av. Bernardo O'Higgins, is the epicenter of activity in town. Here you'll find any number of bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Also, you can walk down the road to where it terminates at the lakeshore.

  • Go on a boat tour around the lake. Many tour operators offer boat excursions around Lake Villarrica. This is a fun and relaxing way to experience the natural beauty of the area. Depending on the climate you'll also be able to take a dip in the water.

  • Dine out. Because Pucón is such a hotbed of tourism, many quality international restaurants have opened up to cater to the crowds. In this town, you'll find everything from sushi to Italian to Arabian to Uruguayan and Argentine steakhouses.

Day 3: Full-Day El Cañi Trekking & Hot Springs

Santuario El Cañi
Santuario El Cañi

Today you'll venture a mere 20 km (13 miles) out of town on a private full-day tour and enjoy some vigorous outdoor exercise in the form of mountain trekking. Your destination is the Santuario El Cañi. This 1,500-acre private reserve makes for one of the best hikes in the entire region.

There's incredible diversity of nature on this hike, which you'll notice immediately once you embark. Over six to eight hours you'll ascend in altitude as you traverse the Andes, passing by lagoons and observing the unique flora. This region is the natural home of the Araucaria, or "monkey puzzle" tree, a type of evergreen conifer that can live an impressive 2,000 years. Lenga and coihue trees are also common here.  

Along the way, your guide will also point out the various wildlife species that call the area home, such as foxes, pudus, and even pumas and condors. Eventually, at 1,550 meters (5,085 feet) above sea level you'll reach a mirador (lookout) that affords 360° panoramic views of the surrounding volcanoes and lakes. Short of hiking up Volcán Villarrica, you won't find better views anywhere nearby.

Immediately after the hike, you'll be able to soak your beleagured muscles in the geothermal pools at Termas Pucón Indomito, which is located near El Cañi. So relax, and let the soothing 100° waters in this natural spa ease the day's exertions. When finished, you'll transfer back to Pucón and can spend the evening further relaxing and unwinding after your hard day's trek.

Day 4: Full-Day Pichillancahue Glacier Tour & Waterfall

The Pichillancahue Glacier
The Pichillancahue Glacier

Today you'll enjoy another trekking adventure, this time to the Pichillancahue Glacier, which is located at the foot of Villarrica Volcano. A driver will pick you up from your hotel and transfer you to Palguin, a region in the interior of Chile's Lake District. Here you'll embark on an easy and well-marked trail through native Araucaria forest.

As you ascend in altitude you'll stop at viewpoints that offer 360° views of the surrounding volcanoes. Eventually, you'll reach the Pichillancahue Glacier, which is unique in that it has been colored black by all the volcanic ash that has fallen on it over the years. The trek culminates with a visit to a towering 30 meter (100 foot) waterfall tucked away in the native forest. Afterward, you'll transfer back to your hotel in Pucón.

Day 5: Full-Day Huerquehue Hiking & Kayak

Kayaking in Huerquehue National Park
Kayaking in Huerquehue National Park

It's an early start today as a driver will pick you up after breakfast and transfer you 35 km (21 miles) from Pucón to Huerquehue National Park. This protected area encompasses over 30,000 acres of virgin forest abounding with Araucaria, lenga, coihue, and other trees native to the Lake District and Patagonia.

The adventure begins with a kayak trip from one side of Tinquilco Lake to the other. After disembarking on shore, you'll start an hour-long trek into the woods, experiencing first hand the region's exotic flora and fauna. As you head deeper into the wilderness you'll pass by a number of lakes and waterfalls. There should be ample opportunity for wildlife spotting, too, in the form of condors and pudús. With luck you may even catch a glimpse of a puma. 

Afterward, you'll cross the lake again back to the starting point, whereupon you'll transfer back to Pucón.

Day 6: Pucón to Temuco - Farewell Chile

Sunset over Santiago's skyline
Sunset over Santiago's skyline

Your great Patagonian adventure has now come to end. In the morning, savor one last leisurely breakfast in Chile before a driver meets you and transfers you 1.5 hours to the airport in the city of Temuco. Here you'll catch a flight to Santiago and make your connecting flight home.

Map

Map of Exploring Pucón & Chile's Lake District - 6 Days
Map of Exploring Pucón & Chile's Lake District - 6 Days
Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019