The preparations officially start in August when the supermarkets across Chile are filled with mountains of national flags and an impressive array of paper napkins, plates, tablecloths and aprons all in red, white and blue. The section selling bbq tools, charcoal, and the grills themselves have suddenly tripled in size.

«Dieciocho» (18) fever grips Chile every September and is possibly the most popular national holidays. This year the 18th falls on a Tuesday, and with the 19th being a bank holiday the vacation feeling lasts for about 10 days! Yeiiii!

A bit of history so we know what we are celebrating! In 1810 Chile took advantage of the weakest period during the Napoleonic Wars on the Iberian Peninsula to launch an attack that eventually led to independence. The 18th is not actually the date when independence was officially proclaimed however; instead it commemorates the proclamation of autonomy by the First Assembly of the newly created Government. In reality Chilean Independence day is February 12 1818, but, just like in the supermarkets today, celebrations started early and since 1811 the «dieciocho» has become the annual event.

Many years later, September 19 was named «Glorious Army Day», or «Day of the Glories of the Army», in remembrance of the successful achievements of the Chilean military against the Spanish forces. Formal military and naval parades are held throughout the country on the 19th with tributes made to Bernardo O´Higgins, the liberator who led the fight for independence.

Pucón is a great place to base yourself for the celebrations given that there is so much to do in the town. Even though everything pretty much stops workwise during the week of the dieciocho, tourist activities will be on overtime! We do suggest though that you book transport and accommodation in advance though as seats and beds sell out quickly.

Don’t think about it anymore, come down to Pucón and let Sol y Nieveorganize your activities and excursions around the most important dieciocho events that you should not miss out on. This definitely includes the «fonda». Held in public parks across the country, the fonda translates more or less as a community festival with food, drinking, traditional games and dancing.

First on the list to try is a «choripan» (chorizo sausage served in crunchy French style bread). These are closely followed by «empanadas» (Cornish style pasties), and most definitely «pebre» as it goes with almost everything. Pebre is the epitomy of yumminess: finely chopped tomatoes, onions, coriander, spicy green chilli pepper, seasoning and olive oil. It can be used to dip into or to pour over, whichever you prefer it is irresistible, and will be available in huge quantities throughout the fiesta period.

Local beers and Chilean wines will also be free flowing, as will Chicha – a fermented drink tasting deceivingly like non-alcoholic apple juice. It is not until you have been convinced that dancing the «cueca» (Chilean National Dance) is a good idea that you realise the «juice» is really quite strong!

If you prefer the harder stuff, there will be plenty of national Pisco up for grabs. Also watch out for «Melón con vino», yes, it is what it translates as, white wine served in half a melon. If you are feeling brave you could opt for a «Terremoto», (an earthquake), which is a mix of sweet fermented wine with a drop of Fernet, plus a generous scoop of pineapple icecream. Watch out if someone invites you for a «Replica», (an aftershock), as that is often served in a much larger glass!

After trying any combination of the above, dancing the cueca will suddenly seem like a great idea. Despite the fact that the dance is really quite a fine art that takes professionals years to master, all you need is a (willing!?) partner, a white handkerchief and the ability to laugh at yourself before you take this one on as a novice. It involves stomping your way around your partner in half circles whilst waving your white handkerchief around in a certain direction. Be prepared for the sudden change of direction «vueltas» and smile, a lot. It is most definitely something you have to try if you really want to feel the dieciocho spirit.

A slightly less participatory activity is the rodeo which takes place in a semi-circled arena where «huasos» – Chilean cowboys – show impressive horse riding skills in the ring. You will also find a multitude of kites for sale in the national colours, and may even be offered a chance to participate in «rayuela» – a traditional game which involves throwing round discs towards a chalked line or onto a suspended cord. The idea is to hit the line or the cord allowing for points to be accumulated. It sounds simple but it is serious stuff, there are over 500 clubs throughout the country and rayuela was declared a national sport by government decree in 1948.

If you make it through the fonda with its long night of eating, drinking, dancing and playing, there will be the military parade to enjoy the next day. If after the parade you need some peace and quiet to recover, there are plenty of spots along the beach or at the marina to while away some time and reminisce on your experience. With the Villarrica volcano backdrop watching over the town, Pucón is the perfect place to enjoy the celebrations in the midst of nature.

Drop Sol y Nievea mail herefor more information and reservations, and you can also ask us about organising your own private fonda at Sol y Nieve’s very own bbq quincho sporting double volcano views, horseback riding and a games area perfect for the more traditional options right through to good old football!

Happy dieciocho!

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