Villarrica, ChileAuthor: Alicia
Date of Trip: January 2007
Of course, Villarrica itself is beautiful with a the large lake with the same name, and many lakeside beaches to enjoy. We went to the "Playa Blanca" one day, just outside of town, and one of the more popular because it is accessible by public transportation. Many locals took a taxi and were dropped off at a pathway leading down to the lake. Others walked from the main road, about a mile down to the path. A parking area also was available and we decided to pay the $5 fee and park in the shade and off the road. Parking on the dusty roadway is free. It was a short walk from the unpaved, grassy parking area down to the lake.
The beach was clean, but rocky at the shoreline until we walked further into the lake. We hadn't worn any shoes and wished we had! The surroundings were fantastic - the sapphire blue lake with the hills and volcano in the background. The water was cold until we acclimated to it. But the sun was warm by early afternoon. Most people were arriving when we left at about 3 p.m. Later we learned there were many beaches in the area, but not very many with a parking area.
My mother and husband took a fishing trip with Segundo Cea fishing services, starting very early in the morning until early afternoon. The launching point is located down the street from the main Plaza Villarrica. They had a boat with a guide, with tackle provided, but hooks and bait were purchased separately. Mother was successful at catching about 10 lbs of fish, a mix of river salmon and trout. She chose to keep the fish and we had a fish fry at the cabin! She said it was the best birthday she could remember. However, in typical Chilean fashion, they returned much later than the time that had been stated, which had my father worrying and would have caused problems if we had been trying to keep any kind of schedule. But even though my husband didn't catch any fish, he said the beauty of the River Tolten and the peaceful boat trip was worth it.
While they were fishing, I visited the main plaza with my father and son. It was hosting an international arts and handicraft fair, which kept me entertained with textile handicrafts, jewelry, even herbology from Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. John kept busy riding "little cars" - a push-pedal metal car rented for about a quarter for fifteen minutes.
At this fair we bought lapis jewelry designed by the seller. It was unique and a good price. Later, a friend in Santiago in the jewelry business verified that it was high quality lapis lazuli and silver.
As far as eating, we stocked our kitchen for the traditional breakfast items we enjoy and ate breakfast in the cabin. Lunch depended on where we were and what we were doing. However, we sometimes placed an order with Carmen for traditional Chilean food, or if she was preparing she let us know in the morning and we placed an order. She is a wonderful cook and had a well-equipped kitchen.
One evening we walked down Isabel Riquelme to the restaurant El Yugo, off the beaten path normally, but with a wonderful atmosphere, great food (specializing in grilled meats), and a fantastic view of the river.
We also went to the plaza at the Municipalidad de Villarrica and viewed wooden handcrafts sold there. This region of Chile is famous for its wood crafts. A festival was going on, with musicians playing andean pipe music. A trolley car was giving short tours of the town, and we got a nice ride, with a gorgeous view of the lake. It was fun to see Chileans enjoying their summer evening. We were treated that evening to a full moon shining above the volcano and reflected in the lake. An almost magical sight never to be forgotten.
We also visited the Mapuche Cultural Center with authentic replicas of traditional homes of the time of the Spanish conquest. A large handicraft mall next to the cultural center had a variety of handicrafts, mostly in wood of course. We purchased quite a few souvenirs and gift items to take home. We found all of the souvenirs to be cheaper than in Santiago. If you have the money to ship extra items home, the wooden furniture is wonderful and unique.
Our few days in Villarrica did not do the area justice. We could have been there two weeks and still not seen or done everything there is to do. The lake was gorgeous and cool for hot summer days, fishing, hiking, thermal baths, horseback riding, etc...
We did pass through Pucon on one excursion and found it to be high-priced and mostly a tourist trap, albeit quaint. We agreed that Villarrica was a more authentic Chilean experience and infused with the warm hospitality of the townspeople. We enjoyed just walking down the main street Pedro de Valdivia shopping, eating ice cream, etc... We felt extremely safe because of a visible police presence. We learned that the town doubles their police force for the tourist season. The town is also very clean and maintained.
My husband and I have both travelled further south to Puerto Montt and even Chiloe, and of course the beauty of the area is overwhelming. However, Villarrica offers a little of everything within a small area. We were very happy with our choice since we had only one week. It was relaxing and wonderful for the whole family, with swimming, thermal baths, fishing, hiking, and more available within a short distance.
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