Once a Mapuche stronghold, TEMUCO, 677km south of Santiago, is the largest city in southern Chile. Most visitors use it solely as a transport hub or as a base for exploring nearby Parque Nacional Conguillío. But the city itself has a rich Mapuche heritage, particularly evident in and around the colourful markets, which are among the best places in the country to hear Mapudungun (the Mapuche language) spoken, and there are still occasional clashes between the Mapuche and the police, particularly over land rights.
Temuco was founded in 1881, and it was only when the railway from Santiago arrived in 1893 that the city began to prosper. An influx of seven thousand European immigrants from seven different countries formed the farming and commercial nucleus that soon transformed the forested valleys and plains.
The diagonal Avenida Caupolicán separates the city’s quiet and exclusive residential districts to the west and the unattractive maze of shops and offices to the east. Temuco’s centre is the relaxing Plaza Aníbal Pinto, luxuriant with fine native and imported trees, set off by a large monument depicting the struggle between the Spanish and the Mapuche Indians, while a few blocks north lies the Monumento Natural Cerro Ñielol, a densely forested hill with some enjoyable walking trails and home to the copihue (Lapageria rosea), Chile’s national flower.