Villarrica is a town in the south of Chile, about 9 hours by bus from Santiago (the nation’s capital). It is a beautiful part of the world, surrounded by lush greenery, volcanos, lakes and rivers. Most people (including locals) would say, “do not travel the south of Chile in winter”.
However, there are pros and cons to every season and this is a guide to navigating Villarrica in winter. There are two major towns in this scenic place, Pucón & Villarrica. Pucón is the more famous and more touristic side, with more tour options. Villarrica is more of a local town, not as polished but more authentic.
First things first – Pucón or Villarrica?
I chose Villarrica as I wanted a more authentic experience, that is also conveniently cheaper and quieter to Pucón.
If you want polished, tours, stores, restaurants and hotels go to Pucón.
If you seek less people, less touristy, better value for money, go to Villarrica. Plus Villarrica is the base for an amazing tour with Aurora Austral Husky Adventures.
Both areas have an amazing vista of Lake Villarrica and Volcano Villarrica, both cities have bus terminals, and tour options.
What to expect in winter?
The south of Chile shuts down during winter. Expect the unexpected, as nothing rarely goes to plan.
- Rainy days (almost everyday)
- Cold weather
- Unclear views due to bad weather (I did not see the Volcano my whole week stay)
- Lack of tour options
- Not all bus services are running
- Some hiking trails are closed down
- Not overrun by tourists
- The town and hostels to yourself
- Lower prices
- You can truly enjoy hot springs
- Hot drinks by a wood fire
- Dog sledding!
Should you go in winter?
If you don’t mind the unpredictable, and are keen for seeing this area without battling the crowds, winter is for you! I have been in all seasons, and really loved my winter stay.
I didn’t get to see Volcano Villarrica, due to the poor weather. However, I enjoyed hot springs with snow, dog sledding and a sleepy town.
How to get there (on a budget)
- Bus from Santiago, Chile
- Show up at the Bus Terminal in Estación Central and feel free to book on the day, you can also book online
- Overnight buses are the way to go (you save paying for a hotel room and can sleep the whole journey)
Panguipulli lake and the waterfall in Huilo-Huilo Nature Reserve (above photos).
Top 10 things to do in Villarrica (in winter)
- Dog sledding with Aurora Austral Husky Adventures
- Hot springs
- Ojos del Caburgua (beautiful waterfall)
- Visit Huilo-Huilo Nature Reserve
- See nearby Panguipulli Lake with its black sand
- Walk around Villarrica lake in town
- Visit Caburgua Lake nearby
- Visit town artesian markets
- Try cheese empanadas and pino empanadas in the markets (Chilean pastry with savoury filling)
- Enjoy kuchen with a hot drink. Kuchen is a delicious cake that usually comes with fruit fillings
Climbing Volcano Villarrica in winter
Climbing Volcano Villarrica is another top thing to do in this town, however you will find it hard to achieve in winter. The weather is very rarely okay to do the ascent. With some luck you may get a day with conditions that allow you to climb up. Be prepared to wait around a few days, a week, or even more, for a clear day.
How to visit the surrounding areas
If you have your own transport, feel free to drive to the places you wish to see and then only pay entry.
For backpackers, in winter there are few public transport options and very few tour companies open in Villarrica. I fully recommend Viajes Turismo Sur Extremo. They have very reasonable prices and great service. Tour companies often have deals with other businesses, resulting in an overall more economic and convenient way to see sites.