The city of Pucón in the Araucanía Region has deservedly earned a reputation as the adventure capital of Chile.
Located in the shadow of the Villarrica Volcano, with its striking conical form and snow-capped peak, and on the shores of stunning Lake Villarrica – not to mention the lush mountain forest and raging snow-fed rivers – it’s fair to say that the city does not lack for outdoor attractions.
But along with its natural beauty and high-octane activities, Pucón also offers an accessible insight into the culture of Chile’s indigenous Mapuche people.
That’s because the Araucanía Region is the heartland of modern Mapuche culture, a place where they maintained their independence for hundreds of years and repelled the colonial advances of both the Inca and later the Spanish empire. In fact, the region was not incorporated into the Chilean state until 1882, decades after the country had shaken off the yoke of its European masters.
A great introduction to Mapuche culture can be seen at the Kui-Kui Fair, in the Quelhue sector on the outskirts of Pucón. Only 3 miles (5 km) from the center of town, Quelhue can be reached by foot, bike, or taxi – though visitors have to cross a wooden suspension bridge to reach the town of traditional straw huts and rustic country buildings.
The fair runs every year from January until the end of February, and is an effort to share the art, gastronomy and culture of the Mapuche people to international and local visitors.
There’s traditional food to be sampled, like “catuto” – or “mültrün” in the Mapuche tongue – a savoury cake made from crushed wheat and corn that is boiled or fried and served with honey or freshly made jams.
Chilli pastes, traditional soups and plenty of barbecued meat are also on the menu, which can be washed down with a glass of “muday” – a drink made of fermented corn or wheat.
The fair also displays traditional dances and ceremonies from around the region, stalls of hand-made craft and weekend Palín tournaments, a hockey-like Mapuche sport.