Off the beaten track: an alternative destination in southern Chile

You’ve probably never heard of Coñaripe, but shoestring budget adventure
travelers have three compelling reasons to visit this lakeside town in
the Araucanía Region.

An old favorite among Chileans, the town of Pucón in the Araucanía Region fills to overflowing in summer with local and foreign visitors attracted to the nearby white-water rapids, national parks and Villarrica Volcano.

But for those really wanting to follow the path less traveled and experience a different kind of adventure, the nearby town of Coñaripe provides a worthy alternative. And for the budget-conscious traveler, it’s prices are mighty attractive.

Located on the southern side of the Villarrica volcano’s snow-plastered cone, Coñaripe has developed a lively precinct along the main road, Av. Guido Beck Ramberga, filled with a broad range of shops, local tourism operators and an attractive plaza.

There is also a decent range of budget options, from camping grounds to simple, private cabins, which are rented out to tourists in summer.

While it may not have all the creature comforts and it doesn’t offer extreme activities like rafting and zip-lining, Coñaripe does allow you to get in touch with nature while seeing a completely different side of Chile.

Here, we highlight three of the best activities to try in and around the town.

Cool water: Coñaripe is located on the south-eastern tip of Lake Calafquén, which has a quiet charm and tranquil waters, making it perfect for a relaxing afternoon dip. The town’s beaches feature dark volcanic sand, lending them an other-worldly appeal, and during the evening there are beautiful sunsets. After you’ve had a swim, you can rent a paddle boat or just lie back on the warm black sand, soaking up the sun.

Warm water: One of the major advantages of being close to an active volcano is the plentiful supply of natural hot springs, and Coñaripe is no exception. Within a 15-mile radius of the town, there are half a dozen springs, or termas, that are accessible to the public, ranging from simple pools to luxurious spas.

For price-conscious visitors, the pick of the bunch is Termas del Rincón, with its idyllic waterfall setting, a shallow, mud bath and a  pleasant assortment of wooden tubs. If price is not an issue, the upscale Termas Coñaripe resort is worth visiting as it boasts comfortable stone pools and well-equipped hotel rooms. Buses to the hot springs can be booked arranged from the tourist offices in the center of the town, with round trips including entry starting at CLP8,000 (US$16).

Pack some water: Although the most famous climbing experience in this part of Chile is the ascent to Villarrica’s peak which sets off from Pucón, several tour operators in Coñaripe lead treks up the southern side of the volcano to the edge of the ash-covered glacier.

The day-long hike through the Villarrica National Park passes through untouched forests, filled with distinctive araucaria (“monkey puzzle”) trees and woodpeckers, before reaching a small plateau where the vegetation stops and the sand takes over. From there, it’s a long, uphill walk but the views are spectacular and the sense of achievement on reaching the top is fulfilling. Just make sure you bring a large bottle of water. Tours start from CLP20,000 (US$40).