5 Cities to Visit on a Road Trip in Central Chile

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Because Chile is so long, it can take over 48 hours to drive to the very southern tip from Santiago. That makes for a long bus ride! Rather than do it all in one go, I decided to make a road trip of it, stopping at lots of little towns along the way.

The distances are very long so I decided to do it in chunks, spending a few days at each stop. The drive down is stunning with mountains surrounding the highway and huge farm fields with various crops along the way, so definitely get a window seat!

No need to rent a car — the buses are very comfortable and safe, even for single female travelers like myself. They ticket all the bags and you watch them put it on and then they periodically check on all the passengers to ensure you didn’t miss your stop.

Here are the top 5 towns I would recommend making in the lakes district of central Chile: 

Chillan

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I chose Chillan because it has an amazing farmers & handicraft market on the weekends. It is one of the largest in Chile and attracts vendors from around the region. And it didn´t disappoint!

It was a sprawling market with everything from produce and full pigs to copper carvings and floor rugs. I ate and wandered my way through the market, while listening to traditional Chilean music on the pan flutes and harp. It was a wonderful experience and I got to try some delicious produce :)

 

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Futrono

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Rural beauty completely captures the essence of Futrono. It is a small rural town sitting on the edge of beautiful Lago Ranco. I fell in love with this little town and all of the friendly people in it.
It is pretty off the beaten track, and there was no tourist office or major bus station so I mostly spent my day wandering around. Local people were friendly and could tell that I obviously didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going. They would pointing out spots and tell me a bit about them, which was so sweet! One lady even took me to this swanky hotel on the lake and negotiated her way onto their private beach. I spent the afternoon feeling completely at peace on the shores of this gorgeous lake. The sun was shining, the waves rippling in and beautiful farms and forests all around. It was just the most perfect little moment :)

Valdivia 

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Valdivia sits at the intersection of 3 rivers and is thus stunningly beautiful. There are lots of boats and ferries that can take you around to explore little islands and parks and old military outposts along the shores of the river.

There is also a fish and produce market every day of the week on the banks of the river right in the middle of the town. And to my surprise, there were sea lions at the market as well. As the fisherman cut up the fish, they throw the remains to the sea lions to eat. There were so many of them and they were absolutely huge!

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Valdivia is also the German capital of Chile, so no trip here would be complete without craft German beer. Kunstmann, one of Chile’s largest microbrews, is based in Valdivia and they have a fun tasting room in their brewery. I went to the brewery and got to sample many different kinds of beer. All of them were great, although malty, something I’m not used to drinking. But it was great to learn about beer making (at least as much as I could understand) and seeing craft beers in other countries.

 

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Pucon 

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Pucon, a popular mountain town in Chile, was my last stop on my road trip through Central Chile. It is known for a constantly steaming volcano, great outdoor activities and people from around the world. This is a major expat town, so expect a lot of the standard touristic amenities. Even though it is quite touristy, its natural beauty and quaint feel makes it well worth the stop.

One of my favorite activities in Pucon was hiking to the Salto el Claro waterfall. Falling an impressive 85 meters, this waterfall is definitely off the beaten trail. The hike took about 2 hours, but it was well worth it. The waterfall cascades over this secluded pool and drops into the forest. Its a thin stream of water, but the drop is long and looks so elegant. I took a short swim, but the water was only about 60 degrees, so I was freezing after 30 seconds!

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Another highlight from Pucon was hiking the Villarica Volcano. In total the hike took about 5 hours, and I went with a group of 20 people. The volcano is over 2500 meters and is quite steep in parts. I would definitely recommend using a card. At the top, Villarica has glaciers on it so you’ll also need some special gear.
The view (as usual) was spectacular and you could see nearby volcanos and lakes. The volcano is also quite active, so I had the chance to see some lava in the crater, which was really cool, although the sulfur smell at the top was almost unbearable. The smell sticks to your mouth and you taste it for hours afterward. But the best part of the hike however was sliding down the glaciers! Rather than hiking down, you can sled down the volcano, using these dug out paths the guides have created. You just go on  your butt and use your icepick for a brake.
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Author: Megan Arz

I am a travel and food obsessed Midwesterner living in Chicago and dreaming of the world. I work as a full-time program manager for Greenheart Travel, but I am also committed to integrating the travel lifestyle into my every day routines. I am passionate about ethical travel, meeting new people, creating unique memories and eating local cuisine!

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