With so many outdoor adventures available here, it's no wonder there's a surplus of outfitters eager to meet the demand. Be very careful when selecting a tour operator in Pucón because few are 100% competent, and some are downright dangerous or simply don't have the years of experience in the area to provide responsible service. Ask about your guide's familiarity with the tour you are proposing to take (unbelievably, a few operators have periodically sent guides on trekking expeditions without having actually gotten to know the trail first) and what kind of experience and/or qualifications your guide has. Remember that you get what you pay for; be wary of seemingly fly-by-night operations. Most outfitters include insurance in the cost of a trip, but first verify what their policy covers.
Politur, O'Higgins 635 (tel. 45/441373; www.politur.com), is a well-respected tour company that offers fishing expeditions, Mapuche-themed tours, and sightseeing trips around the Seven Lakes area, in addition to volcano ascents. They're slightly more expensive than other agencies but are worth it. Aguaventura, Palguín 336 (tel. 45/444246; www.aguaventura.com), is run by a dynamic French group, and their main focus is snowboarding in the winter, with a shop that sells and rents boards, boots, and clothing; they also do volcano ascents with ski/snowboard descents, and rafting and kayaking, and they offer a half-day canyoneering and rappelling excursion. Sol y Nieve, Lincoyán 361 (tel. 45/444761; www.solynievepucon.com), has been on the scene for quite a while, offering rafting and volcano ascents as well as fishing, airport transfers, and excursions in other destinations around Chile; however, there have been some complaints recently of lackluster service.
Trancura, O'Higgins 211-C (tel. 45/441189; www.trancura.com), sells cheap trips to the masses, and they are best known for their rafting excursions, which they've been doing forever. Beyond that, I do not recommend any other trips with this company because of their yearly roster of inexperienced guides hired on the cheap. They do have ski and bike rentals, however, with low prices.
Several outfitters on the main street, O'Higgins, rent bicycles by the hour and provide trail information and guided tours. Bicycle rentals run an average of $8 (£5.30) for a half-day. You can also just pedal around town, or take a pleasant, easy ride around the wooded peninsula. Miropucón, Fresia 415, Local 6 (tel. 45/444874; firstname.lastname@example.org), offers 3- and 4-hour medium-difficulty bike tours to the Ojos de Caburgua.
Climbing the Volcano
An ascent of Volcán Villarrica is perhaps the most thrilling excursion available here -- there's nothing like peering into this percolating, fuming crater -- but you've got to be in decent shape to tackle it. The excursion begins early in the morning, and the long climb requires crampons and ice axes. Note that the descent has traditionally been a combination of walking and sliding on your behind in the snow, but so many have done this that the naturally formed "luge" run is now enormous, slippery, and fast, and people have been hurting themselves on it lately -- so be cautious. Volcán Villarrica is perpetually on the verge of exploding, and sometimes trips are called off until the rumbling quiets down. Tour companies that offer this climb are Politur and Sol y Nieve. The average cost is $90 (£60), including transfers, entrance fee, insurance, equipment, and guides, but not lunch.
You can pick up your fishing license at the visitor center at Caupolicán and Brasil. Guided fishing expeditions typically go to the Trancura or the Liucura rivers. Try Off Limits, O'Higgins 560 (tel. 45/441210 or 9/949-2481; www.offlimits.cl).
Four Track Tours
These guided tours on 4*4 quad bikes are for people who either can't or don't want to walk through nature, and they are available in any kind of weather. Tours lead riders through Mapuche villages, native forests, and, on clear days, to points with impressive volcano views. Only one company offers this excursion (about $14/£9.30 per hr.): Ronco Track, O'Higgins 615 (tel. 45/441801; www.roncotrack.cl).
Pucón's private 18-hole Península de Pucón golf course is open to the playing public. For information, call tel. 45/443965, ext 409. The cost is $46 (£31) for 18 holes. This is really the only way to get onto the private -- and exclusive -- peninsula that juts into the lake, by the way.
The two national parks, Villarrica and Huerquehue, and the Cañi nature reserve offer hiking trails that run from easy to difficult. An average excursion with an outfitter to Huerquehue, including transportation and a guided hike, costs about $24 (£16) per person. By far the best short-haul day hikes in the area are at Huerquehue and the Cañi nature reserve.
Half- and full-day horseback rides are offered throughout the area, including in the Villarrica National Park and the Liucura Valley. The Centro de Turismo Huepil (tel. 9/643-2673) offers day and multiday horseback rides, including camping or a stay at the Termas de Huife, from a small ranch about a half-hour from Pucón (head east out of Pucón and then north toward Caburgua; take the eastern road toward Huife and keep your eyes open for the signs to Centro de Turismo Huepil). You'll need to make a reservation beforehand. All-inclusive multiday trips cost about $120 (£80) per person, per day. A wonderful couple, Rodolfo and Carolina, run this outfit. Rodolfo is a superb equestrian professor who used to train the Spanish Olympic team. Beginning riders are given an introductory course in the corral before setting out. Contact a tour agency for day rides in Villarrica Park, which go for about $65 (£43) for a full day. Tour agencies will also organize rides that leave from the Rancho de Caballos (tel. 45/441575), near the Palguín thermal baths. If you're driving, the Rancho is at 30km (19 miles) on the Ruta International toward Argentina.
Rafting & Kayaking
Rafting season runs from September to April, although some areas might be safe to descend only from December to March. The two classic descents in the area are the 14km (8 3/4-mile) Trancura Alto, rated at Class III to IV, and the somewhat gentler Trancura Bajo, rated at Class II to III. Both trips are very popular and can get crowded in the summer. The 3-hour rafting trip on the Trancura Alto costs an average of $37 (£25); the 3-hour Trancura Bajo costs an average of $24 (£16). Sol y Nieve offers both trips. The rafting outfitter Trancura also offers an excursion rafting the more technical Maichin River, which includes a barbecue lunch. Kayak Pucón (tel. 45/716-2347; www.kayakpucon.net) runs 3- to 15-day trips around Pucón to as far away as the Futaleufú that begin at $450 (£300) per person and include all food, accommodations, equipment, and transportation.
The Centro de Ski Pucón (tel. 45/441901; www.skipucon.cl) gives skiers the opportunity to schuss down a smoking volcano -- not something you can do every day. There's a sizable amount of terrain here, and it's all open-field skiing, but, regrettably, the owners (Gran Hotel Pucónr) rarely open more than two of the five chairs, due to nothing else but laziness. You'll need to take a chairlift to the main lodge, which means that nonskiers, too, can enjoy the lovely views from the lodge's outdoor deck. There's a restaurant, child-care center, and store. The Centro has a ski school and ski equipment rental; there are slightly cheaper rentals from Aguaventura, Sol y Nieve, and Trancura, among other businesses along O'Higgins. Lift-ticket prices vary but average about $36 (£24) for a full-day pass. Most tour companies offer transport to and from the resort, and a shuttle goes every hour on the hour from the Gran Hotel Pucón. For more information, contact one of the tour operators above.
Pucón's Lake Villarrica beach, right in front of the Gran Hotel Pucón, is a hubbub of activity during the summer months and is the place for vacationers to see and be seen. Thousands of beach goers take up almost every inch of sand and the warm waters of Lago Villarica are filled with windsurfers, kayakers, boats, and swimmers.