Well known throughout South America as a holiday retreat for foreigners and Chileans alike, the lakeside town of Pucón is equally famous among endurance athletes as home to a season-starter race set against the backdrop of the majestic Villarica Volcano.
Go: January–February is peak triathlon season, whereas visitors during Chile’s winter months (July–September) are more likely to take advantage of Villarica’s ski and snowboard slopes.
Stay: Gran Hotel Pucón’s (Pucon.com/granhotel) old-school aristocratic charm provides a perfect base for race-week accommodation, within steps of the swim start.
Dine: In Euro-styled downtown Pucón, you’ll find an array of international cuisine in addition to savory South American fare. Senzo’s risotto al pesto posso (homemade risotto topped with a fresh and sun-dried tomato basil sauce) alone is almost worth the trip. Other must-eat spots include Carnes y Vinos (“meats and wines”) for dinner and constantly packed café Cassis for lunch, a latte or an elaborate post-race crêpe.
From mountains to markets
Climb Villarica, an active volcano rising 9,300 feet above sea level and the area’s main attraction. You’ll need a guide for the full-day trip—Sol y Nieve is a reputable outfitter (Solynievepucon.cl). Tours run year-round and cost around $120. For a less strenuous but still scenic adventure, head to Termas Geométricas (Termasgeometricas.cl) for a soak in one of 17 volcanically heated pools and a stroll amid the center’s winding wooden footbridges (admission is $30–40 during peak hours). Or simply peruse Pucón’s numerous boutiques and marketplaces offering quality leather goods, silver jewelry and souvenirs.
Prepare To Party
And get your grill on
Chileans enjoy their celebrations, and the post-race party is a prime example. The Gran Hotel’s ballroom is transformed into a late-night dance club; the party goes from midnight until around 5 a.m. If you befriend a local, you may also be invited to a traditional Chilean barbecue, overflowing with extended family and friends and an endless array of food—including a dozen types of meat, chicken, sausage and freshly caught fish washed down with wine, beer and Pisco Sours.
Mad about Malbec
Wines from both Chile and neighboring Argentina (especially the Malbec varietal) decorate nearly every lunch and dinner table in Pucón. Fortunately, the tannic treats will barely dent your budget—you’ll be hard-pressed to spend more than $20 on an outstanding bottle of wine.
Pucker up. Chile is a kissing culture—the standard greeting involves a sort of half hug along with a kiss on a single cheek.
Beware the Pisco Sour. This legendary local drink has an innocent citrus-sweet taste, yet packs a serious high-alcohol punch.
For a true taste of Chile (at around 25 cents), purchase humitas (a corn-based treat similar to tamales) from the women lining the sidewalk in front of the downtown supermercado.
There’s an incredible vibe at Ironman 70.3 Pucón (Jan. 11, 2015), in no small part due to the intensely competitive athletes of the region’s numerous triathlon clubs. The course itself is no joke either—the run delivers precipitous climbs, but the views across Lake Villarica easily compensate for those complaining calf muscles.