677km (420 miles) S of Santiago; 112km (69 miles) NW of Pucón

Few cities in southern Chile are old, and Temuco isn't among them. Founded in 1881 as a military outpost in the very heart of Mapuche territory, its creation sealed the Mapuches' fate and set the foundations for modern-day development -- which, so far, hasn't been pretty. Temuco is near a handful of beautiful national parks such as Conguillío and Villarrica, and is the gateway to the wildly popular Pucón. But unless you've got an early flight or you are driving a long distance down the Pan-American Highway and need a rest, I do not recommend an overnight stay here; there are plenty of excellent options around Conguillío National Park and even more in the Pucón area. You'll need to fly here and transfer to Pucón during the winter; there is direct service to Pucón during the summer.

Temuco grew like a boomtown as Spanish, German, French, Swiss, and English immigrants poured into the region within the first few years of its foundation. Only traces of their architectural influence remain as rampant development has converted Temuco into yet another hodgepodge Chilean city. It's still one of the country's fastest-growing cities, as evidenced by the thundering buses, bustling downtown crowds, and increasingly poor air quality that threaten to absorb whatever charm remains. Most Mapuche today live in reservations (reducciones), west of the city in rural areas approaching the coast, but Temuco, along with the suburb of Padre Las Casas, is the best place to approach the proud culture of Chile's main native people.