Araucanía is Chile’s ninth region and in my view the most beautiful and most authentic part of Chile. Its capital is Temuco which is a medium sized city, some 650 km south of Santiago. Some 100 km west of Temuco you find the Pacific Ocean, a rough sea with very cold water, not really suitable for swimming. East of Temuco you find an area with rolling hills, lakes, volcanos and the high mountains of the Andes.
The region is called after its original population the Mapuches, also known as Arauicanos by the Spaniards. It also gives its known to the particular trees which is only to be found high up in the Andes and no where else in the world
Araucanía is the region in Chile with the largest percentage of Mapuche people, the authentic population of Chile. Unfortunately due to years of neglect and the take over of their territories and way of life by big forestry companies, the Mapuche population have recently become more outspoken about the restoration of their territory. The former right-wing government of Chile even spoke about local terrorists when referring to their struggle but we have never had any problems traveling around albeit that you have to be aware, especially north-west of Temuco.
The region has had a large inflow of German immigrants and German style houses can be found all over the place. The first Germans arrived around 1880 with other significant inflows just before and right after World War II. Colegio Alemán (“German School”) where all classes are taught in the German language, is still the best school in Temuco and Clinica Alemána (“German Hospital”) is one of the region’s best hospitals.
Temuco is a city with around 250,000 inhabitants and the regional hub. It is a vibrant city with most of its activities taking place in and around the old downtown. It is a bit messy with live taking place on the streets. The old centre is full of street vendors, many of them elder ladies with a Mapuche background. A familiar side on the streets in Temuco is the ox drawn cart that sell dried sea weed (“cochayuyo”)
The Nobel Price winning poet Pablo Neruda lived for a while in Temuco. This most illustrious son is not really honoured with a statue or anything of the kind because he was a well known communist and follower of the former left wing president Salvador Allende. Temuco is a conservative town and apparently is not grand enough to step over the man’s political views to honour him as the great poet who wrote beautiful things like:
“you can cut all the flowers but you can not keep spring from coming”
“In one kiss, you know all I haven’t said”
The best place to buy fresh fruit/vegetables and fish is “La Feria” in the old town. It is a very colourful place where the local merchants, many of which Mapuche, are selling their produce. The produce is not your typical supermarket type of product. In general the fruit is much larger and, more importantly, it still has the authentic taste. Thus if you buy some huge tomatoes they do taste like tomato used to taste and should taste.
Since the pandemic, it has become noticeable how bureaucratic Chile is. The waiting lines for government offices and banks are now outside on the streets and for everybody to see. From our own experience we can tell you that the lines are slow. Carolina had to go to Banco Estado because her bank account was blocked. It took two hours waiting outside before she was able to speak to a bank employee.
The city is full of restaurants from high end places such as La Pampa to many small holes in the wall which you find on every street corner. In general, Temuco is a beef eating town but one can also fine some good fish and shell fish. Recently the Temucanos have discovered Peruvian food and several places have opened up. The best Chinese restaurant is Kim Long, Chinese food adjusted to the Chilean taste. Their Chinese/ Chilean pisco sour is excellent.
It is always a treat to make a trip to the coast. Places like Puerto Saavedra and Nehuentue, on either side of the river Imperial, are charming and have not changed much over the past 30 years. Outside the months of January and February these are sleepy coastal towns.
There are however, two more reasons to visit. First of all I find it always fascinating to look at the mighty Pacific Ocean. The ocean is brave and the water is very cold, not really inviting to take a swim. The ocean especially combined with the regular earthquakes can be aggressive. It has transformed the area considerably, lakes have been formed and parts of land have disappeared. Over the past two years the ocean has taken our favourite fish restaurant Boca Budi. And that is exactly the second reason to visit the Ocean: seafood. The quality in some of the restaurants, who don’t look very inviting from the outside, can be absolutely stunning.
On our most recent trip we had mussels (“choritos’) that came directly out of the ocean. They were not only enormous but the also tasted delicious. What a treat!!
Lakes, mountains and volcanos
The most spectacular part of the Araucanía region is the Andes region. This mountain range is not as high anymore as in the central zone of Chile but it contains four large volcanos: Llaima, Lonquimay, Villarica and Lanin. As all the volcanos are higher than the surrounding mountains they really stand out. During our stay the volcano Lonquimay showed some activity which made the surrounding area shake a bit.
The volcano Villarica dominates the tourist town Pucon, it can be seen from almost every street corner. This summer Villarica has for the first time lost its snow covered top, climate change had probably something to do with that. It however, still is a beautiful mountain
The mountain range is also covered with hot springs (“termas”), some are like modern swimming pools but the more interesting one are set in natural settings such as the Termas Geometricas, they are, however expensive.
Finally the region between Temuco and the mountains is covered with lakes such as Lago Villarica, Calafquen and Caburgua. Pretty lakes with ample opportunity for swimming and water sports. However, all these lakes and towns are overrun with local tourists from early January till the last week of February. The roads are full with very long traffic jams, beaches are packed and restaurants have waiting lines. Better to avoid this period.
On the night before we left it had snowed and it was pretty cold. As a result the volcano Villarica had recovered its snow cap. What a beautiful mountain.