Chile is Argentina’s neighbor to the west. The two countries are divided by the volcanic Andes from north to south. Chile is a long, narrow land mass with its widest point only 217 miles from east to west. Even though I’ve loved my time in Argentina, I was excited to experience something new.
As the crow flies we’ve been really close to Chile several times the past month, but officially crossing over the Andes takes some planning as there aren’t that many bus-worthy roads connecting the two countries.
We decided to use San Martin de los Andes, Argentina, as the launching pad for us to enter Chile. Our first destination was Pucon, five hours northwest by bus. The old man who sold Harry the bus tickets winked as he assigned us seats on the left side of the aisle because he knew we’d be staring out the window at the amazing volcanic mountain Lanin for hours.
Immigration: No Meat Allowed
The reason the bus ride took five hours was because we had to stop at two different immigration centers. The first time we got an exit stamp from Argentina, which we needed because our ninety-day stay was almost up (I know, can you believe it?). Now our slate is cleared and we can spend another ninety days in Argentina if we choose.
The second stop was at the Chile immigration center. We’d been reading how Chile has really strict laws against bringing any food into the country. Normally we bring lots of snacks on our bus rides, but not this time. We made sure our food bag was empty before we got on the bus. Apparently this young Israeli guy didn’t do his homework because, under the instruction of an immigration officer, he reached into his backpack and pulled out a raw steak. I’m not kidding! Everyone standing in line burst out laughing while he looked bummed about having to throw away his dinner.
Pucon + Volcano Villarrica
A go-to destination for outdoor adventure activities of all kinds, Pucon is a thriving tourist town during the summer and winter months. We were more than happy to be there during its tranquil off-season. Surrounded by the volcanic Andes, Pucon is a beautiful place. We spent a few days taking local buses to the outskirts of town for hikes and walks. We spent an afternoon at a beautiful mountain lake one day, and on another day we bathed in some nearby hot springs. But honestly the most exciting part of staying in Pucon was was being surrounded by the smoke-breathing Volcano Villarrica!
Three weeks before we arrived Volcano Villarrica, one of South America’s most active volcanoes, blew its top after 30 years of dormancy. The explosion didn’t hurt anyone or damage any of the surrounding towns but it sure created a lot of excitement. The volcano is the region’s showpiece, visible from every angle. Everywhere we went we stared off into the not-so-distant sky to see if it was smoking or not; its behavior seemed to change hourly. Locals stood on street corners looking at Villarrica with awe, respect and fear, wondering if, or when, it would blow again.
Up Next: The Big City of Santiago
After spending the last month on the road, we had a hankering to spend some extended time in one location. We’ve both come to realize that we prefer to stay in places longer rather than moving about every three or four days. Santiago seemed like the right choice so we booked bus tickets for an 11 hour journey north.