An impressively beautiful, evergreen landscape, traditions inherited from the Mapuche people, and agriculture in the process of diversification are the basic features of Araucanía.
The humid climate and nutrient-rich soil bring vitality to native forests, forest plantations, and extensive areas devoted to crops and animal husbandry. The southern forest region begins here, fed by intense rains.
The Spaniards shed so much blood in their attempt to conquer the Mapuche people who inhabited this area, that they were forced to establish their southern «frontier» on the banks of the Biobío River.
Following independence, the Chilean Government opted for peaceful relations and did not begin effective territorial occupation until 1862, when new towns were founded and the railroad, telegraph, and highroads advanced. Araucanía was fully incorporated into Chile in 1882.
Temuco, the regional capital, was founded in 1881. Though one of Chile’s youngest towns, it is one of the most heavily populated, demonstrating its attractiveness as a center for industry, commerce, finance, and services.
Until recently, Araucanía was dependent on cereal farming and was known as «Chile’s granary.» However, agriculture is now highly diversified, while significant urban and commercial development, together with vast possibilities for tourism, contribute other openings for progress.
Over the past decade, land use has changed. While the area devoted to traditional crops and natural pasture has tended to shrink, there has been an increase in artificial and improved pasturelands. This supports a substantial mass of livestock, including beef cattle, swine, sheep, and horses, and abundant production of milk and byproducts.
Wheat is still the main crop; however, production of oats, rape, and lupine has increased significantly. In the quest for new alternatives, fruit and flower growing are also emerging with more than promising prospects. Experts attribute this to soil quality, abundant water sources, favorable climate, and good phytosanitary conditions.
Virgin forests, featuring coigüe, raulí, and tepa, as well as bay and cypress trees, criss-cross the region in all directions. The majestic araucaria, or monkey puzzle tree, also known locally as pehuén, towers above the other trees; its fruit – the piñón, a type of pine nut – is still a staple food for the indigenous Pehuenches.
A large part of this natural wealth is protected in various National Parks (Nahuelbuta, Tolhuaca. Conguillío, Villarrica, and Huerquehue), or National Reserves (Malalcahuello, Las Nalcas, and Alto Biobío).
Forest plantations have expanded rapidly in the past ten years, supplying raw materials for production of pulp, sawn wood, plywood, and particleboard. Furniture made of mañío, raulí, hazel, pine, and eucalyptus is another characteristic local product.
The region’s landscape and its climate lure increasing numbers of visitors. Thousands of tourists come all year round, thanks to the area’s high-standard infrastructure.
The largest lake is Villarrica, at the foot of the volcano of that name. On its banks are Pucón and Villarrica, where even the newest buildings have remained faithful to the local style of architecture. In summer, the beaches of volcanic sand are crowded, while colorful sailing boats, laser boats, and windsurf boards dot the water.
Other major lakes are Caburga, Colico, and Budi. Budi is the only one with brackish water and is home to around 134 bird species, such as black-necked swans.
Amenities range from a casino at Pucón to hot springs, adventure trails, and a Half- Ironman Triathlon (1.9- kilometer swim, 90-kilometer bike ride, and a 21-kilometer race).
The event is part of an international circuit and takes place every year in February.
During the winter, the ski slopes at Pucón extend down the sides of Mt. Villarrica.
Three new ski centers were opened in June 2003, two of them on volcanoes: Llaima and Lonquimay, surrounded by araucarias.