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World of the Mapuche

The area around Temuco is called “Araucanía” – thanks to the many araucaria trees that grow there in the altitudes. This area is the region with the highest indigenous population in Chile and the center of Mapuche culture in Chile, yet the Mapuche defended their territorry long and successfully against the European invadors. Temuco, the regional capital, could only be founded in 1881 as a fortress.
Pay attention to the signposts in public institutions and elsewhere, they are written in Mapudungún as well as in Spanish here.

“Mapuche” means “people of the earth” (mapu = earth, che = human). Originally, the entire area between the “little north” of Chile and the Island of Chiloé was home to the Mapuche.
In such a large area, of course, there are also cultural differences, which are reflected in the names of the groups by region: “Picunche” (people of the north), “Huilliche” (people of the south), “Pehuenche” (people of the Araucaria Trees) and “Lafkenche” (people of the sea). The Picunche were subjugated early by the Incas, the Huilliche only very late by the Europeans.
Depending on the region, they lived either as farmers, fishermen or hunters and are also famous for being very skilled silversmiths and weavers. Today, many Mapuche communities are engaged in tourism. They introduce interested travellers into their culture and worldview and offer guided tours as well as overnight stay in their traditional houses made of wood and reed.

With your own rental car you are flexible to discover the beautiful land of the Mapuche – a really unique experience! Well planned with the right partner, a rental car trip to the Araucanía is safe and uncomplicated.

Our sample itinerary only includes the picturesque city of Pucón as base station because of its conveniente location inmidst of spectacular landscapes, hiking trails, Mapuche tourism, rafting options and other outdoor activities and last but not least the beach of Lake Villarrica. You can easyly explore the region from there via day trips, so there is no need for packing bags daily.
For outdoor enthusiasts, we recommend an extension in the area around Malalcahuello as described below.

It’s best to plan your trip in Chile with your own rental vehicle in stages and to cover the long distances with domestic flights. Car-Rental-Chile makes it possible: We will be happy to advise you on domestic flights and assist you with the booking process.

First of all, a few tips on trips with a rental car to the Araucanía:
You should be prepared for some rainy days, even in summer. However, when the sun shines, the radiation is quite high, even if the temperatures are not. So, in addition to rain gear, you should always have sunscreen in your equipment.

Some roads are remote gravel roads where you rarely see other vehicles. There may be poor cell phone reception, so in case of a breakdown you should be well prepared. In order to make sure you do not have to worry about emergencies, Car-Rental-Chile offers additional accessories such as emergency kits, extra spare tires, and tools.
Please be aware, that many remote roads are made of gravel, sand or stones, so we recommend careful driving. Keep in mind that, on gravel roads you can only go about half as fast as on asphalt.

There are many accommodations in Pucón and Curacautín, ranging from simple campsites, hostels, holiday homes and middle class hotels to extravagant luxury hotels and lodges. With your own rental car you are flexible and can adapt to weather.

Be respectful! Although many Mapuche open their doors to tourists and explain their ceremonial items, instruments, clothing and rites to the travellers, many things remain sacred to them to this day. If you are offered to wear traditional clothing, play instruments or join the demonstration of a ritual, don´t be shy! However, please do not just take or use instruments and other items and always ask kindly for permission before taking pictures of people.

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Sample Itinerary for a Rental Car Trip to the Araucanía Region:

Araucanía Airport/Temuco – Pucón
Pick up your rental car at the Araucanía airport near Temuco. Please have your driving license and a credit card ready, since a copy of the card must be deposited as a guarantee. The copy will be erased upon return of the car, if there is no damage.

Start your journey on Ruta 5 Sur towards Freire and then follow the signs to Villarrica and Pucón. Spend the rest of the day exploring the lovely tourist town of Pucón, dine at one of the many restaurants and relax on the beach of Lake Villarrica. It is also a good idea to drop by one of the many agencies and see the offer of guided excursions for the next few days.

Overnight stay in Pucón or surroundings. Distance covered: about 95 km on asphalt.

Around the Villarrica Volcano
The Villarrica volcano is stunning – both because of its perfect shape and snow cap like from a picture book and because it is still active! During the day, smoke rises occasionally from the crater and at night you can often see a red glow over its cone, a fascinating reflection of the lava inside. If you love hiking and are in a good physical condition, you can climb the volcano with a professional guide (book in advance!). Take a look into the crater and then slide downhill on the snow with a special suit – a really unique full-day excursion!

Those who do not dare to do this, can drive up the volcano to the Rukapillan ski center and enjoy marvellous views of the surrounding mountains and lakes. Afterwards, we recommend a visit to the caves below the volcano. About 2 million years ago, the top layer of the lava flowing from the volcano began to solidify, while the underlying layers continued to flow. This gave origin to tunnels which reach 300m deep into the volcano. Those caves can be visited with a guided tour, where you can have a look at the lava stream from below.

If you would like to do both excursions, stay an extra day in Pucón.
Overnight stay in Pucón or surroundings. Distance covered: about 50 km on asphalt.

Mapuche Culture
Immerse into the Mapuche Culture today and visit a „Ruka“. There are plenty of options for a visit, you can choose between half-day, full-day and overnight stays. A half-day visit includes an introduction to social structure and traditions. You may ask questions, try on typical clothing, eat Mapuche delicacies and, if you like, you can play “Palin” with your host, a typical game similar to hockey.
If you come with more time, you can also take a cooking lesson or go on a horse riding excursion and much more. An overnight stay in a traditional Ruka is certainly a unique experience!

We recommend the Ruka Antu Rayen in Quehue, very close to Pucón (book in advance!). Señora Rosario and her husband Don Florencio receive their guests warmly; however, like many people in this region, they speak only Spanish and Mapudungun.

Spend the rest of the day at the lakeshore in Pucón and let it fade out with a delicious dinner in one of the many good restaurants.

Overnight stay in Pucón or surroundings. Distance covered: about 20 km, partly on a gravel road.

Wild Waters
It´s time to dedicate a day to the waters that shaped this amazing lanscapes. In the morning, drive east on Ruta 199 towards Palguin Alto and turn to the gravel road there. Through meadows and woods it goes to the beautiful waterfall “Salto El Leon”, which falls down an approximately 90-meter-high, densely covered steep wall, with rainbow colors sparkling over the pond. On the way back, after about 2 km you will come to a signpost “Salto La China”, a very high waterfall, which can be reached via a very short, easy hike. Here you can picnic, have lunch in the restaurant or even swing over the waterfall with canopy. At both waterfalls a small entrance fee is charged. On the way back to Pucón, you can see the Salto Palguin waterfall from the road, which is also worth a photo stop.

In the afternoon, go for a rafting adventure at Rio Trancura (book in advance!) or relax at the amazing „Termas Geometricas“, hot springs in a gorge inmidst the virgin forest near Coñaripe. There are plenty of geometrical shaped pools with thermal water to relax in. A visit in the evening is particularly beautiful, since then, candles are lighted on the wooden runways between the pools to create a romantic ambience.

Overnight stay in Pucón or surroundings. Distance covered: Waterfalls only: about 60 km, including about 11 km on a gravel road. Both waterfalls and Termas Geometricas: about 225 km, mostly on asphalt.

Araucaria Trees
Today, take a hike through the beautiful ancient “Cold Rainforest” of the Huerquehue National Park, northeast of Pucón. The hike starts quite steeply, but the amazing view down to the valley is definitely worth every step. The path leads from one lagoon to the other, the lagoons being surrounded by primeval araucaria trees which gave the region its name and have been growing there since jurrasic times.

If you do not feel like hiking, take a panoramic drive from Pucón via the village of Curarrehue to the Lanin volcano on the border with Argentina. One of the first things you will see entering the village, is the restaurant of the award-winning Mapuche cook Anita Epulef – a perfect place to have lunch (or dinner on your way back). Check opening hours and make a reservation in advance. There is a small Mapuche museum and cultural center at Currarehue, yet it is only recomendable with a local guide who can explain the exposition.
The further you head towards the Argentinean border, the more araucaria you will be able to see without a strenuous hike. However, there are several options for smaller hikes or walks as well as beautiful viewpoints. You will have to return at the Paso Mamuil Malal checkpoint, unless you have the permission papers to take your rental car to Argentina.

A relaxed day at the beach of Lake Caburgua, half way to Huyerquehue National Park, is another nice option to spend this day.

Overnight stay in Pucón or surroundings. Distance covered: Huerquehue National Park: about 70 km, partly on a gravel road. Lanin Volcano: about 160 km, partly on a gravel road.

Pucón – Malalcahuello
Leave Pucón early today heading north. Just before reaching Lautaro, turn off Ruta 5 onto Ruta S-11-R towards Curacautín. Approximately 25 km beyond the village of Curacautín you will reach the Malalcahuello sector with beautiful hotels and holiday homes. Spend the day hiking the Lonquimay volcano in the Malalcahuello nature preserve. Once you have passed the tree line after a rather demanding climb, you can admire the lunar-like landscape caused by the last eruption of the volcano, an amazing contrast to the lush green virgin forest you came through before.

Overnight stay in Malalcahuello or surroundings. Distance covered: about 220 km, partly on a gravel road.
OR Pucón – Araucanía Airport and flight back. Distance covered: about 95 km on asphalt.

Conguillio National Park
Today, go on a hiking excursion to the Conguillio National Park, with it´s out-of-this-world landscapes: inmidst of lush green forests, vast lava fields alternate with bright blue lakes, and Araucaría trees growing in the altitudes, all overthroned by the mighty Llaima volcano. Araucaria grow in the high altitudes. The Conguillio National Park is good to describe in one word: spectacular!

Overnight stay in Malalcahuello or surroundings. Distance covered about 90-100 km, depending on the hotel, partly on a gravel road

Malalcahuello – Temuco – Araucanía Airport
Leave the beautiful landscapes of the Araucanía today. If your schedule permits it, we recommend a detour to the capital of the region, Temuco. Immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle and buy “Merkén” the typical Mapuche spice or Mapuche handcraft on one of the markets, before you continue to the airport.

Drop off your rental car at the Araucanía Airport and take your return flight.
Distance covered: about 140 km on asphalt.