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Chiloé, Chile: Visiting the Penguins of Puñihuil with Impressive Views of Chiloé's Farmlands and Coastline Along the Way

Penguins at Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile

Penguins in Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile

When I decided to visit the island of Chiloé back in January, I knew that I really wanted to visit the penguin colony in Puñihuil. My preliminary trip research had revealed that there was a small colony of Humboldt and Magellanic penguins that breed together on the small islands (islets) just off the coast of Puñihuil. Even better, it was easily accessible from Ancud, making it a lot easier than some of my other trips to see penguins over the years.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Grey Morning in Ancud, Chiloé

I woke up early in Ancud to figure out how to get to Puñihuil. I’d read that there were public buses, and my hostel had the bus schedules posted to make things even easier. I set out on what seemed to be a grey day, so typical for Chiloé, but to my delight, the clouds cleared away later on, leading to beautiful views throughout the day.

As it turns out, the bus I’d hoped to take only runs in high season, which had yet to really start in Chiloé. Since it was a Saturday, my other options were limited. Instead, I could take a tour, so in the interest of keeping things simple, I signed up.

Mirador Cabeza de Vaca

Fields of Chiloé, Chile
Views over the Farmlands of Chiloé from Cabeza de Vaca

As I had similarly discovered during my tour to Parque Nacional Isluga in northern Chile, going with a guide ended up being a very good idea. Before heading to see the penguins, we took a detour to the Mirador Cabeza de Vaca, a road that leads up a dirt road towards the top of a hill. From here, you can see the ocean on a clear day and appreciate the gorgeous green hills of Chiloé’s rich farmland.

Fields of Chiloé, Chile
Fields of Chiloé

I was completely smitten. I had been curious about Chiloé rural landscapes, and without even expecting it, I was surrounded by green farmlands brightened up by summer wildflowers.

Fields of Chiloé, Chile
Views of the Farmlands of Chiloé from Cabeza de Vaca

As it turns out, this area is called Cabeza de Vaca due to the shape formed by the land – it looks like a cow’s head, apparently.

Fields of Chiloé, Chile
Golden Fields Looking Over the Island of Chiloé

Whatever the reason for the name, I appreciated the chance to take in the landscape spreading out all around us. Being able to see the surrounding land from a high vantage point helped give me a better idea about what Chiloé is really like.

Fields of Chiloé, Chile
Amazing Landscapes of the Green Hills of Chiloé

It’s one thing to hang out in an awesome city by the water; it’s quite another to see the fertile island for what it is.

Fields of Chiloé, Chile
More Green from the Vantage Point of Cabeza de Vaca, Chiloé

Mirador Piedra Run

Views of the Coast of Chiloé, Chile
Seaside Views of the Coast of Chiloé

From there, we descended back towards the main road leading towards Puñihuil, back towards the coastline. With the sun now breaking through the clouds, we were able to appreciate the turquoise blue of the ocean.

Views of the Coast of Chiloé, Chile
Coastline of Chiloé

The views from Mirador Piedra Run gave me a great perspective on the cliffs leading down to the beach. Look at how green the foliage is! After living in the desert for so long, I was used to beige cliffs covered in dirt, not these luscious green ones.

Views of the Coast of Chiloé, Chile

Coastline of Chiloé

According to our guide, there are many stories that speculate about this rock sitting all by itself on the coastline. Perhaps it conceals treasure?

Views of the Coast of Chiloé, Chile
Turquoise Blue Ocean Along the Coast of Chiloé

As we continued our approach to Puñihuil, the ocean turned a magnificent shade of turquoise blue. I almost can’t believe that this color is real! Unspoiled coastline and beautiful views over the water. Amazing.

Pinguineras de Puñihuil

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Schedules at the Penguin Colonies at Puñihuil

After a pleasant drive with many lovely views, we arrived at Puñihuil. Puñihuil is a tiny set of buildings built right along the coastline, including several businesses offering boat tours to see the penguins and their accompanying restaurants to feed you when you’re done.

You can see the bus schedule above – it’s possible to head directly to Puñihuil but I was happy to have seen the views along the way. As you see, there are many boats that take tourists out to see the penguins, although I’m not sure I would name one Titanic if it were up to me…

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Ocean Views at Puñihuil, Chiloé

After putting on our life preservers, we boarded a little cart and were pushed out to the boat, avoiding getting our feet we. And then we were off, heading away from shore towards the penguin colonies. It was nice to see the expanses of turquoise all around me.

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Seabird in the Ocean near Puñihuil, Chiloé

Due to the popularity of the penguin colonies and the need to protect their habitats, there are now strict regulations on how closely boats can approach the rocky islands that the penguins and other birds have made their homes. Bring a zoom lens!

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Penguins at Puñihuil, Chiloé

For once, I had remembered to bring mine, which is how I got these up close shots of the penguins. So adorable! I love them.

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Penguins at Puñihuil, Chiloé

We floated near the penguin colonies, just watching them be their adorable, goofy selves.

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Penguins at Puñihuil, Chiloé

What’s that grey guy doing there? Is he a young penguin or just a visiting seabird?

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile

This penguin was looking right at us! Probably tired of seeing so many tourists pass by his house.

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile

After approaching the penguins on the tinier islands, we headed around to the other islands, where the penguins had more space to walk around and do their thing.

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
A Pair of Penguins at Puñihuil, Chiloé

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Coastline at Puñihuil, Chiloé

After checking out the penguins, the boat turned around gave us a chance to appreciate the coastline from the vantage point of the ocean.

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Seagull Hanging out in Puñihuil, Chiloé

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile

Look at that beautiful coastline!

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Puñihuil, Chiloé

As you can see, Puñihuil is just a small grouping of buildings along the beach, which have sprung up to meet the needs of the tourists. CONAF, Chile’s national park service, operates from here as well, protecting the interests of the wildlife.

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile

Boats in Puñihuil, Chiloé

And after a pleasant spin around the penguin colonies, we were back to the beach, just in time for lunch.

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Beach at Puñihuil, Chiloé

While my tour companions headed off to lunch, I decided to wander up and down the beach, seeing what else the little outpost had to offer. Since the summer season was about to take off in full force, there were a couple of artisans selling their wares on the beach. As it turns out, there is also a trail run by CONAF that takes you up the cliff to get some great views of Puñihuil, if you have time to climb up there.

On the way back, I sat in the front of the van next to our tour guide, who began to tell me stories of real life in Chiloé, rather than the version often sold to tourists. As I’ve mentioned, Chiloé has always been a world apart from the rest of Chile, a island community dedicated to agriculture and fishing. He had grown up in the farmlands without much money, without even shoes to wear to school, and this was a very common story. After working hard in school, and with support of a relative, he finally moved to Ancud where he studied and eventually learned to drive, which over the years led him into guiding tours (very commonly in Chile tour guides do double duty as the van/bus drivers).

One day, he led a group on a tour – and one of the tourists happened to be a schoolmate who remembered him from those days when he didn’t always have enough food to eat at lunch. The two marveled about how far they had come from those days. But as he told me the story, his face grew dark, for all the same reasons that Chiloé is currently in crisis.

With the only access off the island limited to taking a bus ride or a very expensive ferry trip with a car, the costs of basic goods remains very high, with many people only earning minimum wage. He was all for the plans to construct the bridge and make it easier for normal people to drive to Puerto Montt to buy what they needed, instead of having to pay excessive markups on products brought in by others, or having to miss a full day of work to shop on the mainland.

What became clear to me as he talked was just how complex Chiloé’s reality is, beyond the stories of myths and legends told to outsiders. It will be interesting to see how things change for the island after the massive outcry after the devastation of the red tide. (More info about the current crisis on my post about Ancud and recent interviews providing additional insight here.)

It makes me sad to think how the red tide has probably affected Puñihuil, which was so vibrant and full of ocean life on my visit. I am glad I got a chance to see part of what makes Chiloé so special on my visit, and I hope this crisis brings change to Chiloé.

Recommendations for Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile:

  • Although there are a few public bus options to get to Puñihuil, especially during the summer season, I was actually really happy that I took a tour to Puñihuil for two reasons: the tour includes the drive through Cabeza de Vaca, where I saw the gorgeous farming landscape, and because I had an excellent conversation with my tour guide on the drive back, where he really helped me understand the reality of life on Chiloé. I went on the tour with Chiloé Viajes, and it cost $15000 CLP in January 2016.
  • For this reason, if you decide to take a tour, make sure to ask if the tour involves a trip to Mirador Cabeza de Vaca and Mirador Piedra Run on the way to Puñihuil.
  • There are several different tourism groups in Puñihuil – each tour company takes you to their preferred boat company and recommends their preferred restaurant. If you drive there yourself, you have several options, and each of them include free parking. I’m pretty sure all of the boat tours are the same, due to the regulations governing the penguins’ habitat.
  • The other advantage of finding your own transportation or driving is that you’ll have time to walk around the Monumento Natural Islotes de Puñihuil, which has a trail to a viewpoint operated by CONAF, the Chilean parks service. I skipped eating lunch at the restaurant and wandered around a bit, but didn’t realize that the trail would have been worth my time until I saw pictures later.
[Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile: January 2, 2016]

Chiloé, Chile- Visiting the Penguins of Puñihuil

Chiloé, Chile: Appreciating Ancud, the Low-Key, Laid-Back City on the Isla Grande de Chiloé

Views of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Fishing Boat in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Current Situation in Chiloé

As I write this post, the island of Chiloé is in the midst of an ecological crisis. Chiloé is an archipelago of islands located off the coast of Chile, separated from the mainland by a relatively thin strait, the Canal Chacao. Chiloé is connected to the rest of Chile by ferries that cross the canal at surprisingly slow speeds. Its main industries are agriculture and fishing, both commercial and artisanal, with a slow but steady increase in tourist interest in the islands. This means that the vast majority of the people of Chiloé live off the land and the sea. Chiloé is not a rich island, and due to the low minimum wages in Chile, its residents only just manage to eke out a living. (For reference, minimum wage in Chile is currently $250000CLP per month, or about $365 USD.)

Right now, Chiloé is suffering because of the red tide, or marea roja, an unpredictable “bloom” of red algae that can kill fish, shellfish, birds,and other ocean life and cause illness in humans. (Sources: 1, 2.) This year, the algae outbreak is especially high, basically bringing Chiloé’s main industry to a complete halt. The Chilotes (the people of Chiloé) say that this particularly high bloom may have been caused by dumping of antibiotic-laded dead salmon into the ocean waters relatively near Ancud, although El Niño also plays a factor. (Information in English here, here, and here. The last link especially explains the distrust of the government and the salmon industry.)

Murals in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Mural in Ancud: Nuestra isla no se vende se defiende – “Our island is not for sale, we must defend it”

Because of the prohibition on fishing due to potential illness, the island of Chiloé is suffering a major financial crisis. The government initially offered $100000CLP, or about $150 USD, per family to help them get through the crisis, a low amount which caused outrage among Chilotes. Protests have escalated throughout the region – fishermen blocked the major highways leading to Chiloé, isolating the island from the mainland; meanwhile, additional solidarity protests have occurred throughout the country. As a result, the Chilean government is working towards a solution, increasing the amount of financial support provided to families affected by the fishing ban, as well as appointing a new regional coordinator, who has signed agreements with different comunas (or counties) of Chiloé to end the roadblocks and protests.

This situation is much more complex than I understand or can state here. There are rumors of secret deals with the salmon fishing industry; there is a history of government neglect of the island of Chiloé for generations. But everything that is happening now is in line with what I was told by the Chilotes themselves during my visit back in January. Geographically and financially isolated from mainland Chile, Chilotes have developed their own culture and their own way of life. As this article states, Chiloé is not a financial powerhouse, but its culture factors strongly in how the Chilean nation sees itself.

The people of Chiloé dream of an improved quality of life for themselves and especially their children, They want to earn a more sustainable living wage. They want support from their government to connect it with the mainland; they want the much promised bridge over the canal rather than an expensive, slow ferry. And to an outsider like myself, that’s the root of the protests: Chiloé matters. The Chilotes matter. And what happens to the ocean surrounding the archipelago absolutely matters too.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Views of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

I visited Chiloé because of the picture that was always painted for me in guidebooks, when talking to Chileans from other regions, and in photo essays online. Chiloé is a mystical island which is almost a world apart from the rest of Chile, with its own unique culture and history. After my short visit, I definitely deepened my understanding of the region, but I only scratched the surface of the island’s unique character.

I hope my next few posts encourage you to visit the region, which needs visitors investing their money into tourism, especially if the fishing industry remains paralyzed for a while. My trip to Chiloé started in Ancud, the fishing port and and first major city on the Isla Grande de Chiloé.

Fair warning: This post is LONG and filled with photos! I wanted to do Ancud justice – most people only pass through briefly en route to the penguin colony in Puñihuil or on their way to Castro. Ancud is awesome and my goal with this post is to encourage you to spend more time there!

Crossing the Canal Chacao

Views from Ferry Crossing Between Chiloé and Puerto Montt, Chile
Ferry Crossing on the Canal Chacao Between Puerto Montt and Chiloé

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, visiting Chiloé was a travel dream come true. After thoroughly enjoying my explorations around Pucón and Puerto Varas, I was excited to get on the ferry to cross over to the island of Chiloé on January 1, just a few short months ago.

Ferry Crossing from Puerto Montt to Chiloé
Cars on the Ferry to Ancud from Puerto Montt

After celebrating New Year’s Eve until the wee hours with an international cast of characters from the hostel in Puerto Varas, my new friend Marilene and I boarded our bus to Chiloé, sneaking moments to sleep when we could. When the bus boarded the ferry, we all filed off the bus and headed to the open air levels of the ferry to take a look at the views.

Views from Ferry Crossing Between Chiloé and Puerto Montt, Chile
Chile’s Mountains as Seen from the Canal Chacao

Like my fellow tourists, I was excited to see the expanses of blue all around us. After so much bus travel, there is something special about crossing the Canal Chacao on a boat and being able to appreciate the snow-covered mountains and volcanoes off in the distance.

Views from Ferry Crossing Between Chiloé and Puerto Montt, Chile
Seabirds over the Canal Chacao, near Chiloé

Besides the mountains, the marine life surrounds you as you cross the channel, with lots of seabirds following the fish…

Views from Ferry Crossing Between Chiloé and Puerto Montt, Chile
Sea Lions in the Canal Chacao, near Chiloé

…and even sea lions making an appearance and swimming alongside the boat on my return trip a few days later. The trip on the ferry takes about 30 minutes, enough time to stretch your legs before boarding the bus once again for the trip to Ancud and the rest of the island.

Exploring Ancud

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

As I mentioned earlier, we arrived to Ancud on New Year’s Day, a national holiday, so the city was even quieter than usual. This gave me a chance to really take in Ancud’s atmosphere and laid back vibe. Although Ancud is a small city, the first thing I noticed upon arrival is how hilly it is, with colorful wooden houses built into gentle slopes. Perhaps this is why it seems to have a small town atmosphere, even during the busier work week.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Costanera in Ancud, Chiloé

The other thing I noticed is that Ancud is an incredibly walkable city, especially for tourists. Most of the hostales are located within a few blocks of the costanera, or beachfront walkway, and also within walking distance of the Cruz del Sur terminal in Ancud. (Cruz del Sur is the major bus company that serves the island of Chiloé and other parts of southern Chile.) For arriving visitors, this means that your first impression of Ancud probably will involve walking right towards the water.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Views of the Blue Ocean from Ancud, Chiloé

Arriving in Chiloé by bus, you end up right in the middle of the costanera, so you can either head to the center of town or to the beach. I was lucky to have very good weather for most of my time in Chiloé, which meant that the skies were a brilliant blue and the ocean almost equally as aquamarine along the coastline. For this reason, I was more than happy to walk along the costanera in the sunshine towards the center of Ancud.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Wooden Houses and Chilean Flag in Ancud, Chiloé

While there are houses lining the costanera, like those pictured above, there is also a sense of openness, with the city located up on the hills instead of right on the water.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Museo Regional de Ancud Seen from the Costanera

Walking the costanera, you come across several different remnants of Ancud’s history as a Spanish stronghold a few centuries ago. There are a couple of forts you can visit in Ancud with great views over the water, as well as the tower you see above, now part of the Museo Regional de Ancud.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Cannon along the Costanera, Ancud, Chiloé

The costanera also hosts a monument to the battles of past eras, with these colonial cannons looking out over the water. Kids love to play on them, of course, just as I did so many years ago.

Commercial Center of Ancud

Plaza in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Plaza de Armas, Ancud, Chiloé

In most cities in South America, the Plaza de Armas is the best place to start wandering around a new city, exploring the side streets and seeing where you end up.

Streets of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Building and Murals near Plaza de Armas, Ancud, Chiloé

As you walk around the center of town, the street art starts to catch your eye, more reminiscent of Valparaíso, another gritty port city. (Below, I have some photos of impressive murals with their deeper, socially conscious meanings.)

Main Plaza of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Cathedral in Ancud, Chiloé

Chiloé is also famous for its wooden churches, but Ancud’s cathedral was actually destroyed in a 1960 earthquake. The cathedral located across from the Plaza de Armas is a reconstruction, and as such it lacks the character of the wooden churches around the island. (This is what the old cathedral looked like.)

Plaza in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Other View of the Plaza, Looking Towards Calle Pudeto

It’s hard to describe the appeal of Ancud, but I hope these photos capture it. I think the reason I liked Ancud so much is that it just exists; it’s a city where people go about their business and their lives.

Streets of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Calle Pudeto in Ancud, Chiloé

The buildings are brightly colored and interesting, many of them reconstructions after the 1960 earthquake. They are unpretentious, yet still have character and uniqueness.

Streets of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Calle Pedro Montt in Ancud, Chiloé

Walking through the streets also gives you a great perspective on how residential the city is, with houses stretching out over the green hills of the region.

Streets of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Views of Ancud, Heading Towards the Port from the Center of Town

It’s possible to spend hours wandering through the streets of Ancud looking at all the small family owned and operated businesses all around the city, stopping in to small restaurants and bakeries to try the food from Chiloé.

Back to the Beach

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Beach in Ancud, Chiloé

Because Chiloé is actually known for its rainy weather and misty clouds almost always surrounding the archipelago, when the blue skies come out it is definitely time to head to the beach and take advantage of the sun. There are actually two areas with beachfront in Ancud; one located closer to the edge of the peninsula north of town near the Costanera Norte, and another located on the way out of town towards Puñihuil, closer to the bus station. That’s where we headed.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Colorful Flowers by the Water in Ancud, Chiloé

With such bright sun, the reflections off the water were almost blinding, which led me to take some fun pictures, trying to remember this beautiful day.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Fishing Boat on the Beach in Ancud, Chiloé

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Pretty Oceanside Views in Ancud, Chiloé

This would be a good place to bring a book and blanket and just enjoy the sound of the water, a little ways outside the noise and hustle of the city.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Houses of Ancud, Chiloé

Walking further away from the main part of the beach enables you to get a good view of the colorful houses of Ancud all along the costanera.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Summer Reflections on the Sea in Ancud, Chiloé

Yes, there’s something special about being on the water in Chiloé, a feeling that was heightened when I visited the beach in Cucao.

Street Art in Ancud

Streets of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Mural on Calle Pudeto, Ancud, Chiloé

As mentioned above, the murals on the streets of Ancud are a good way to get a sense of the Chilote mentality and the island’s the regional identity and pride. This mural seems to reflect the Mapuche strength of spirit and resistance. (Click here to see the whole mural on Google Maps.)

Streets of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
“Que no te duerman con cuentos de hadas” – Don’t them put you to sleep with fairytales

This mural indicates the mystical, mythical intrigue around Chiloé, where people still believe in legends involving creatures and spirits that need to be respected and appeased. (Interesting article on NPR here.) There is so much to learn about this side of Chiloé that I bought a couple of short, locally published books on the subject!

Streets of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Street Art on Calle Pedro Montt in Ancud, Chiloé – “Life and Death”

I think this mural represents the rolling green hills of Chiloé, which are the main source of survival for so many Chilotes who live in the rural areas of the island.

Mural in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Mural in Ancud, Chiloé

And this one seems to represent the connection with the ocean, with the fishing boats off to the side, a mermaid, perhaps a spirit, and the houses that line the waterfront as well as the trees all over the island.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Mural by the Beach in Ancud, Chiloé: “Este archipélago es mágico, tu basura no” – This archipelago is magical, but your trash isn’t

Finally, this mural by the beach reminds people not to throw their garbage into the area by the beach, as this will just be carried out to the sea, contaminating the waters that give the islands their magic and life. Pretty fitting considering the current crisis faced by the island.

Museums in Ancud

Museo Regional de Ancud Closed for Strike
Museo Regional in Ancud, Chiloé, Closed for Strike

Ancud is home to two important museums that help explain the history of Chiloé. Unfortunately for me, the Museo Regional was closed on my visit due to a strike, but definitely seems worth checking out. The museum houses a reconstruction of an important ship, the Goleta Ancud, as well as a giant whale skeleton. (If you do make it to the museum, let me know how your visit went!)

Centro de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé, Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Centro de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé, Ancud, Chiloé

Thankfully, the Centro de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé was still open. This visitors’ center should be a required first stop for anyone interested in learning more about the wooden churches all around Chiloé, which are protected on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Centros de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé, Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Centros de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé, Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

The Centro de Visitantes is housed in a former convent, the Ex-Convento de la Inmaculada Concepción de Ancud. This building also functioned as the cathedral while the current one was being built.

When you visit, make sure to get a guided tour, as this really helps clarify the different techniques used to make the wooden churches.Centros de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé, Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Basically, the wooden churches were constructed using ship-building techniques. Even if you’re not so interested in churches, it’s pretty interesting to hear all the different types of wood that were used, learn about the different ways to join wood together without nails, and see the many models of the churches around the island, some located in more distant, isolated parts of Chiloé.

Centros de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé, Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Model of the Cathedral in Castro, Chiloé at the Centro de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé

Knowing that I was not going to have the time nor transportation to get everywhere on the island, I appreciated checking out the models and being able to compare their different types of construction. This is definitely a required first stop for anyone planning to visit the wooden churches of Chiloé.

Food and Lodging in Ancud

Hostal Nuevo Mundo in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Hostal Nuevo Mundo in Ancud, Chiloé

Although the bigger, slightly more cosmopolitan city of Castro gets a lot of the tourist traffic, Ancud is actually a really pleasant place to stay. Most of the hostales catering to foreign and budget travelers are located over by the quieter part of the costanera, including Hostal Nuevo Mundo. Hostal Nuevo Mundo has dorms and private rooms, many of them with views over the water, and they also have hot tubs for rent, perfect for those cold Chiloé nights. My friend Marilene stayed at 13 Lunas and absolutely loved it – it seemed to be more friendly and upbeat, and also has great views as it’s at the top of a hill.

Restaurant in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Restaurant Corita, Ancud, Chiloé

In terms of food, Ancud is known for its giant empanadas, bigger than anywhere else in Chile. On New Year’s Day, the only place open was Restaurant Corita, a charming restaurant with typical cooking from the island. Of course, they had a ton of seafood options, but they also had giant salads to eat with the empanadas. Portions are huge and service is excellent.

Tea at Café Bar Nerudiano, Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Freshly Brewed Tea at Café Bar Nerudiano in Ancud, Chiloé

On my second day in Ancud, I decided to try out Café Bar Nerudiano, a cute café located on the second floor of a shopping gallery, which turns into a bar in the evenings. The space is illuminated by big windows that provide views over downtown Ancud and there is a balcony with seating outside. They served many types of loose leaf tea, and even have jars for you to sniff them. This was probably one of the best places I had tea in all of Chile, even though Chileans are pros at tea. Look at that infuser AND more hot water on the side.

Vegetarian Sushi in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Vegetarian Sushi at Café Bar Nerudiano, Ancud, Chiloé

They also serve sushi, including the delicious and filling vegetarian sushi. It definitely struck me as a hangout for young, artistic types – everyone who stopped by seemed to know each other.

Kuchen and Cheese from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Kuchen de arándano (Blueberry Cake) and Fresh Cheese from Ancud, Chiloé

Of course, when I travel, I like to buy food at the markets. I picked up some Chiloé-style cheese from the Mercado Municipal in the center of town – the best part is that I was able to sample several kinds to figure out which flavor I liked best. I also finally decided to stop in to a local bakery and buy a slice of kuchen, the fruit cake popular in southern Chile. I opted for the kind with sugar crumble on top and filled with blueberries. I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious it was; I don’t usually like fruit in my desserts, but the subtle sweetness actually enhanced the berries. Don’t be like me – eat more kuchen earlier in your travels. 😉

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Costanera in the Afternoon Sun

One of the reasons I stayed in the hostel right on the water in Ancud was to have easy access to the waterfront during the sunset! Part of Chiloé’s magic comes from the clouds rolling in over the water as the temperatures change from day to night and night to day.

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Late Afternoon Sun over the Hills of Chiloé, Ancud

The late afternoon sun illuminated the hillside of Chiloé, making the colorful houses stand out of the landscape like a pastoral painting.

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé

And as if on cue, the clouds rolled in over the horizon, guaranteeing a fascinating sunset.

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Costanera Illuminated by the Afternoon Sun in Ancud, Chiloé

This photo gives a good sense of the length of the costanera – a great place to walk or bike, with many people strolling together and watching the sunset.

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Costanera in the Sunset, Ancud, Chiloé

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Colors Changing over the Horizon, Ancud, Chiloé

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Sunlit Clouds in Ancud, Chiloé

As I watched the skies change, I definitely began to understand the mystique of Chiloé.

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

More Sunset Shots from Ancud, Chiloé

What can I say, I love a good sunset, and I made sure to go back and watch the next night. The clouds were in a slightly different formation, but still just as beautiful. Staying in Ancud was an excellent choice for classic sunset shots.

As you can see, Ancud is an appealing city; for me, its low-key vibe provided a perfect introduction to the island of Chiloé. While many visitors head straight to Castro, I recommend spending more time in Ancud and exploring the northern part of the Isla Grande de Chiloé, including the nearby penguin colonies at Puñihuil, subject of my next post!

Recommendations for Ancud, Chiloé, Chile:

  • While the town of Chacao is the entry point to the Isla Grande de Chiloé, most visitors first experience Chiloé in Ancud, the major city at the northern part of the island.
  • Cruz del Sur is the bus company dominating travel around southern Chile and Chiloé, and also owns the ferries crossing Canal Chacao. The bus stops at the Terminal Municipal on the outskirts of Ancud, where you can transfer to buses to other smaller towns in Chiloé. If you are going to Ancud, stay on the bus until you get to the Cruz del Sur terminal in Ancud proper. Most hostels are located near this terminal, making it easy to walk to them.
  • I stayed at Hostal Nuevo Mundo due to its location right on the water, and thought it was a pleasant enough hostel, although not particularly friendly. They had a lovely breakfast and great views from the greenhouse-like porch. My travel buddy stayed at nearby 13 Lunas, and she raved about its social atmosphere and views from the balcony.
  • If you like Ancud’s vibe, you may want to consider basing your explorations of Chiloé from there. We ran into travelers visiting Cucao from Ancud on a day trip. I much preferred Ancud to Castro and wished I had just stayed in Ancud, exploring Castro on a day trip.
  • I definitely recommend eating at Restaurant Corita and Café Bar Nerudiano. There are a number of other cute restaurants around the area. If you eat seafood, you should definitely try curanto, Chiloé’s classic meal, in Ancud. Great article on the experience here.
  • Make sure to check out the Mercado Municipal Ancud, located on Av. Libertad between Calle Dieciocho and Calle Arturo Prat. Here, you can find seafood, cheese, and other food products, and many stands with handmade wool items and other souvenirs. This is where I bought my books on the myths of Chiloé and booked my tour to Puñihuil.
  • Make sure to visit the Plaza de Armas to see the new cathedral. You should also visit the Museo Regional, at Libertad 370, right off the Plaza de Armas. Entry is free. There are a few souvenir and artisanal shops located around the Plaza de Armas.
  • Visiting the Centro de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé is a must to get a sense for the architecture of the unique churches, even if you’re not a big fan of churches in general. You can find the Visitor’s Center at Federico Errazuriz 227. They also have an on-site café and a small shop where you can buy cool posters of the churches. You can read more about the churches in UNESCO’s write-up.
  • Although I didn’t get to see it, the Fuerte San Antonio (old fort) located in the northern part of Ancud seems to be pretty cool. Wikitravel has a nice list of more things to do in Ancud.
  • If you’re interested in learning more about the mythology of Chiloé, this NPR article is a good place to start. If you read Spanish, there are a number of websites documenting the stories told about the island (just do a Google search for “mitos y leyendas de Chiloé”). This is a nice explanation of the cultural history of Chiloé.
  • If you visit Chiloé, make an effort to understand its culture and history. This is a rural area where the main industries are farming and fishing, and life moves slower here. That’s part of the appeal; if you want a lively city, try Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas!
[Ancud, Chiloé, Chile: January 1-3, 2016]

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Ancud, Chiloé at Dusk
Chiloe, Chile - Appreciating Ancud, the Laid-Back, Low-Key City on the Isla Grande de Chiloe

Puerto Varas, Chile: Savoring a Kayaking Adventure In and Around Lago Llanquihue

Kayaking in Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile
Kayaking in Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile

One of the best things about travel is getting to experience activities that are outside your normal routine. As my love for biking is clearly established, I do my best to find a way to get on a bike wherever I travel. I also love horseback riding and trekking, so the first thing I do when I get somewhere new is scope out my options.

Kayaking near Puerto Varas, Chile
Kayaking in a Lagoon near Puerto Varas, Chile

When I arrived in Puerto Varas, Pierre, the owner of the hostel where I was staying, gave me a rundown of all of the tours and activities around the area. I was most interested in trekking, rafting, and horseback riding, since I hadn’t gotten around to doing any of these things in Pucón. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Pierre warned me that the hiking paths in the national park would be infested with crazy seasonal bugs for the next month, and this was no joke – all the hostel guests who went anyway said it was unbearable. (I later ran into the same bugs in Valdivia!)

Kayaking near Puerto Varas, Chile
Getting Started in the Kayak in a Lagoon near Puerto Varas, Chile

With regards to horseback riding, the best options are in the nearby valley of Cochamó, but these excursions require multiple days and I didn’t have enough time for that on this trip (it definitely remains on my wish list for when I return and head to Chilean Patagonia!). As it turns out, rafting is not a particularly popular option either; the Río Petrohue lacks the appeal of the Río Trancura near Pucón. Instead, most people seeking time out on the water opt for kayaking.

Views While Kayaking near Puerto Varas, Chile
Kayaking in a Lagoon near Puerto Varas, Chile

Kayaking? I searched my memory to try and remember if I had ever been in a kayak before. I know it’s common to take a kayak out on the Charles River in my former home, Cambridge, Massachusetts, but I’d never done it. I finally remembered going kayaking in a two-person kayak on a visit to Seattle, but I’d never been in a kayak on my own. That was about to change.

Views While Kayaking near Puerto Varas, Chile
Kayaking in a Lagoon near Puerto Varas, Chile

Excitedly, the hostel owner, Pierre, explained how amazing it is to be out in a kayak on your own. Knowing that I practice yoga and meditation, he said I would fall in love with kayaking because it would just be me out there, paddling, enjoying the natural surroundings, and concentrating on moving, totally in the moment. This reminded me of my revelations out on the bike in the farmlands between Pucón and Caburgua. I was curious. I was definitely in.

Kayaking near Puerto Varas, Chile
Posing in the Kayak in a Lagoon near Puerto Varas, Chile

There are several options for kayaking around Puerto Varas; many agencies offer kayaking in the bay of Lago Llanquihue. If you’re looking for something different, Hostel Margouya Patagonia offers their own special kayaking excursion that starts off in a quiet lagoon, which you see in the photos above. This gives beginners like me a chance to get comfortable with the rhythm of paddling while navigating through calm waters.

View of Volcán Calbuco While Kayaking near Puerto Varas, Chile
Views of Volcán Calbuco While Kayaking in a Lagoon near Lago Llaquihue

After paddling through the calm lagoon and moving farther away from the shore, we headed through a narrow path through lush foliage growing in the water, passing through trees overhead and appreciating the biodiversity of the lakes region. We came out to another expanse of blue water, a hidden lagoon in the middle of green forests, with amazing views of Volcán Calbuco to boot. Our guide gave us time to paddle around this secluded area, taking in the moment of being somewhere totally peaceful. That was it – I was hooked.

View of Volcán Osorno While Kayaking in Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile
Views of Volcán Osorno from a Kayak in Lago Llanquihue

After enjoying the lagoon, we headed back towards where we had started, but taking a new path, following a channel that fed into Lago Llanquihue. Our guide warned us that there were some strong currents in the giant lake, so to be sure to follow his lead. I was enjoying the activity of moving myself around using the strength of my arms rather than relying on my legs as in biking, and as we moved into Lago Llanquihue we had the opportunity to paddle faster and appreciate the freedom of being in a kayak. And I definitely couldn’t complain about these views. A little point and shoot camera can’t capture the majesty of being in the middle of the wide expanse of blue lake with this giant volcano towering above. Bliss on the water!

Kayaking in Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile
Kayaks on Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile

We paddled towards a quiet beach on the shores of Lago Llanquihue, where our guide had a treat in store for us – afternoon tea and coffee with cookies to help us recharge our batteries. We enjoyed being on dry land for a little while, and the brave went swimming in the chilly waters! At this point, it was late afternoon and the sun was beginning to set behind us, illuminating the area with a beautiful golden glow. (You can see the light on our backs in the photo at the top of the post.)

Kayaking in Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile
Kayaking in Lago Llanquihue, with Volcán Osorno in View

We got back in our kayaks and headed towards Volcán Osorno, staying close together but each one of us in our own worlds, enjoying the moment. It was really special to see how the other travelers were also just appreciating the fresh air and warm sunshine on our backs. I definitely understood why people get addicted to kayaking, and will definitely be seeking out more opportunities to explore the area in one.

Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile
Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile

As we paddled towards our final destination, another beach on Lago Llanquihue, I kept looking behind me to watch the sunset. When I got to the shore, I grabbed my D40 from the waiting vehicle and started snapping pictures of the golden glow over the blue horizon.

Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile
Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile

As I discovered during my bike ride along another stretch of Lago Llanquihue, the lake is enormous, so much bigger that it appears from the city. Looking out into Lago Llanquihue, there was really nothing to see except for blue. It felt like the endless expanses of the Pacific, rather than a lake.

Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile
Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas

With such clear, blue, cloudless skies, the sunset over the lake was quite simple, much different than the blue sunset I’d spotted from Puerto Varas upon arrival.

Kayaking in Lago Llanquihue near Puerto Varas, Chile
Kayaks Ready to Head Back to Puerto Varas

Our guides loaded the kayaks back onto the trailer as we put on more layers to keep the chill off us after so much time out on the water. We piled in the car and enjoyed a pleasant, happy ride back to Puerto Varas, all energized and chatty after such a fun afternoon.

Sunset En Route to Puerto Varas, Chile
Sunset on the Highway Towards Puerto Varas, Chile

We were rewarded with more views of the beautiful sunset as we drove back to Puerto Varas. My beloved clouds had appeared in the direction of Puerto Varas and captured the sun’s golden rays as it disappeared from view.

After this kayaking adventure on Lago Llanquihue, I am definitely interested in more kayaking trips. Where I can’t go on foot or on bike, I’ll try to go on kayak. I’m looking forward to trying out my skills again on another trip. This was a perfect way to end my stay in Puerto Varas – well, that and the New Year’s Eve celebration the next night. 😉

Recommendations for Kayaking on Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile:

  • Obviously, I highly recommend kayaking on Lago Llanquihue. This was a great way to see the volcanos up close and personal and gives you another perspective besides trekking up the volcano or biking along the lake.
  • I stayed at Hostel Margouya Patagonia, which offers the sunset kayaking excursion, more frequently during the busy summer season. As mentioned, you first paddle around a quiet, secluded lagoon before heading out to Lago Llanquihue for an afternoon snack and the sunset. In December 2015, the excursion cost $25000CLP, which includes the kayak rental, wet suit and water shoes, life preserver, transportation to the lagoon and from the lake, guide, and an afternoon snack.
  • If you choose not to do a sunset kayaking excursion, try to rent a kayak in the bay of Lago Llanquihue to give you another perspective on the gorgeous views.
  • I took my old point-and-shoot camera on the excursion by tucking it into my wetsuit so that I could take pictures whenever I wanted. Our guide had a dry bag for anything you wanted to bring along, or you could bring your own. I left my D40 with our other guides so that I didn’t risk its accidental submersion in the lake!
[Kayaking in Lago Llanquihue, Puerto Varas, Chile: December 30, 2015]

Puerto Varas, Chile- Savoring a Kayaking Adventure In and Around Lago Llanquihue

Frutillar, Chile: Relaxing in the Picture-Perfect, Musical Town on the Shores of Lago Llanquihue

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile
Picture-Perfect Frutillar, Chile

I first heard about Frutillar from one of the teachers I worked with in the Valle de Elqui. I was scanning a map of Chile hanging up in the classroom, looking for potential places to visit down the line, and we started talking about my options in southern Chile. When I mentioned Frutillar, she got a dreamy, far-off look in her eyes and raved about how beautiful the city was when in bloom in the summer. Naturally, I had to check it out for myself.

Views from Frutillar, Chile
Striking the Right Note in Frutillar, Chile

Frutillar is a small town located on Lago Llanquihue, famous for three things: its music, both the annual musical celebrations called Semanas Musicales, and Teatro del Lago, its lakeside theatre; its German heritage and architecture; and its sweets, specifically the German-style kuchen popular throughout the south but elevated to an art form in Frutillar.

Views from Frutillar, Chile
Frutillar’s Main Symbols

Frutillar is actually technically separated into two parts, Frutillar Alto (High Frutillar) and Frutillar Bajo (Low Frutillar). Frutillar Alto is the commercial and residential part of the town, located literally up on a hill, right off the Panamerican Highway. Frutillar Bajo is the traditional, more picturesque part of the town, which primarily caters to tourists.

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile
Pretty Park in Frutillar, Chile

As the guidebooks mention, Frutillar’s tourist offerings are skewed towards Chilean families and older travelers who want to stay in a pretty lakeside village. But it’s a lovely day trip for more adventure-focused or budget travelers staying in nearby Puerto Varas. One option is to do the intense bike ride from Puerto Varas to Frutillar and back, or you can do what I did and take a local bus from Puerto Varas. I hopped on a bus in downtown Puerto Varas and in about 45 minutes I found myself in Frutillar.

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile
Flowers in Bloom in Frtuillar, Chile

As you can see from the photos, it was a beautiful day in Frutillar. Looking at these photos a few months later, I am struck by the flowers in bloom and the postcard-ready shots from just about everywhere in Frutillar.

Views from Frutillar, Chile
Main Road in Frutillar, Chile

The town is quite small, which means you can leisurely walk up and down the main road, stopping to sit in the parks or relaxing on the beach. I wandered down various streets and realized that most buildings house hostales or little restaurants offering typical Chilean food (and kuchen, of course).

Views from Frutillar, Chile
Artesania Shop in Traditional German House in Frutillar, Chile

Of course, there are several places offering artesania, mostly knitted, crocheted, or woven goods made from the sheep’s wool common in the south. You can also find jams and marmalades made from regional fruits.

Views of Lago Llanquihue and Teatro de Lago, Frutillar, Chile
Teatro del Lago, Frutillar, Chile

Frutillar’s crowning glory is its Teatro del Lago, or Theatre of the Lake. The Teatro del Lago was designed to host the aforementioned Semanas Musicales, Frutillar’s major celebration of classical music which takes place each summer.

View from Teatro del Lago, Frutillar, Chile
Views of Restaurant on the Teatro del Lago, Frutillar

And you have to admit, it is a lovely building, although surprisingly large for small-town Frutillar. The Teatro del Lago hosts a number of cafés and restaurants, providing some luxury dining right on the lake.

View of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile
Views of Lago Llanquihue from Teatro del Lago, Frutillar

The views of Lago Llanquihue from the Teatro del Lago are beautiful, as the theatre is set away from the main road so you can look back at the town and get a panorama of its overall ambiance.

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile
Views of Frutillar from Teatro del Lago

I particularly liked admiring the traditional German-style buildings lining the route out of town, on the other side of the theatre.

Views of Frutillar, Chile

Templo Luterano, Frutillar, Chile

After spotting it from the Teatro de Lago, I wandered over to the Templo Luterano, the Lutheran church located on the main road of Frutillar, a historical monument for its typical neogothic construction.

Views from Frutillar, Chile

Scenic Views in Frutillar, Chile

I walked to the end of the main road, admiring the little cafés offering kuchen and nothing else – seriously, bring an appetite if you come here! And then it was time to head back towards the center of town, taking in the rest of the sights along the way.

Views of Frutillar, Chile

Flowers in Frutillar, Chile

I really loved all the brightly colored photos in bloom all along the road. I love the blues of southern Chile, but after a year in the desert, I was even more excited to see so many colorful flowers.

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile

Frutillar’s Picturesque Wooden Pier

Last but not least, I had to take a stroll down the picturesque wooden pier affording lovely views of blue Lago Llanquihue and Volcán Osorno hiding under the clouds in the background.

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile

Classic Shot of Frutillar’s Pier

I love how evenly the low clouds spread themselves over the mountains in the distance. Perfect harmony!

Views of Frutillar, Chile
Touristy Restaurant in Frutillar, Chile

Back in the center of town, I wandered around again to purchase some sweets and also check out some of the more touristy buildings located off the main drag. This one in particular plays up the German-style buildings, but is not a historical monument. The tendency towards tourist kitsch is one of the reasons that many people suggest visiting Puerto Octay to experience a more authentic, laid-back German-style town on the other side of the lake.

Views from Frutillar, Chile

Semanas Musicales Promo Piano in Frutillar, Chile
Piano Sculpture in Frutillar, Chile

After checking on the bus departure times, I took one more stroll around Frutillar, spotting this piano sculpture inspired by the Semanas Musicales. This is probably my favorite music-inspired sculpture in Frutillar, as it seems to fit nicely into the dream-like backdrop of the picturesque lake.

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile
Volcán Osorno over Lago Llanquihue, Frutillar, Chile

After one more look at the beach and its views of Volcán Osorno, I caught the bus back to Puerto Varas, where I had another adventure waiting for me: kayaking on Lago Llanquihue! All in all, Frutillar was the perfect laid-back day trip; although perhaps it lacks the appeal of an authentic small town, it clearly demonstrates a town proud of its German heritage and its musical traditions – and let’s not forget the kuchen!

Recommendations for Frutillar, Los Lagos, Chile:

  • Frutillar is located off the Panamerican Highway and is easily accessible by public buses from Puerto Varas. Head to the center of town, near the gas station where all the buses leave, and look for a bus with a placard labeled Frutillar (or Llanquihue/Frutillar) in the window. Bus fare each way cost $1000CLP in December 2015. Buses stop in Llanquihue and Frutillar Alto before heading down the hill to Frutillar Bajo.
  • The other common route to Frutillar is biking from Puerto Varas. If you are hill-averse like me, or just not feeling confident about your mountain biking skills, I suggest biking to Llanquihue instead and taking the bus to Frutillar.
  • Bring an appetite for the kuchen (German-style fruit cake) available in many little cafés and restaurants lining the streets of Frutillar. Frutillar gets its name from the strawberries and other berries that grow in this climate, so you might as well try them here.
  • Although I did not visit, the Museo Colonial Alemán is another option for those curious about the German heritage in Frutillar and the surrounding region, and it also has beautiful gardens.
  • Teatro del Lago is the main attraction in Frutillar, and if you can time your visit with the Semanas Musicales, Frutillar’s annual classical musical festival, you’ll get a sense for the cultural tradition of this small lakeside town. Make sure to look for all the sculptures celebrating music as well.
  • Beyond that, Frutillar is really designed for wandering and taking in its parks, beaches, and traditional architecture. There are several hostales but they are geared toward more exclusive guests, so budget travelers generally will stay in nearby Puerto Varas and just head to Frutillar for lunch or an afternoon slice of cake.
[Frutillar, Los Lagos, Chile: December 30, 2015]

Frutillar, Chile - Relaxing in the Picture-Perfect, Musical Town on the Shores of Lago Llanquihue

Puerto Varas, Chile: Biking to Llanquihue and Totoral and Appreciating the Blue Views of Lago Llanquihue

Views of Volcán Osorno from Llanquihue, Chile
Volcán Osorno over Lago Llanquihue in Llanquihue, Chile (My Favorite Photo from the Day)

Fresh off my successful bike adventure to Lago Caburgua in the Araucania region, I moved on to Puerto Varas already knowing that I wanted to rent a bike and explore the area along Lago Llanquihue. My research had shown me that the most common route was biking to and from nearby Frutillar, a journey of 30 kilometers each way, including some incredibly steep climbs up and down hills (as well as amazing views).

Because the buses between Frutillar and Puerto Varas are small and often filled with passengers, it’s challenging to convince a driver to let you bring your big, heavy mountain bike on the bus, which could save your tired legs the difficult return journey. I started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to make it back, so I asked the hostel staff for their opinions on the ride.

That’s when I received the best suggestion ever: you don’t have to do the whole route. You can turn around whenever you would like. As it turns out, the struggle begins about two-thirds into the ride, when the coastal road turns into a peninsula; up until then, the route provides a comfortable challenge, with some off-road biking and low hills. Why not just bike to the attractive lakeside town of Llanquihue and keep going until you feel like heading back?

Fields near Lago Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Bike Path to Llanquihue from Puerto Varas, Chile

It’s amazing how such a simple suggestion can change your entire perspective! Often we get sucked into the idea that we have to make it all the way to the end, that there’s something to prove, some feat of physical prowess or determination. But that’s limiting. Remember, it’s the journey, not the destination – and I wanted to make the journey and be able to enjoy biking along gorgeous Lago Llanquihue and taking the millions of photos that often slow down my progress.

Best decision ever! So that’s what this post is about – biking from Puerto Varas to Llanquihue, continuing to the fishing village of Totoral, and appreciating all the stops along the way. This serves as a nice reminder that there are many ways to achieve the same thing; I ended up taking the bus to Frutillar the next day, so I was able to appreciate the popular town at a relaxed pace without being exhausted and nervous about how I would physically make it back to Puerto Varas.

Fields near Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Volcán Osorno Rising Over the Fields in the Los Lagos Region

So I rented a mountain bike from the hostel and set off from Puerto Varas. The bike route follows the railroad tracks out of town for a few kilometers, making for an extremely bumpy beginning to the ride and proving the need for a mountain bike! After a few kilometers, a narrow but obvious path appears to the right, passing through the green fields you see in the photos above before connecting to a dirt road.

Fields near Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Dirt Road Between Puerto Varas and Llanquihue, Los Lagos Region, Chile

Once you’re on the Costanera Viente Norte, the route gets a little bit easier (and even more scenic!). Along this road, there are several houses, cabins for rent, and new construction by people wisely taking advantage of the currently unobstructed views of Lago Llanquihue.

Fields near Lago Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Fields Along Coastal Route Between Puerto Varas and Llanquihue, Los Lagos Region, Chile

Naturally, I couldn’t help but stop to take pictures of the green fields with the houses perched on rolling hills. How perfect are those puffy clouds in the blue sky?

Road to Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Views of Lago Llanquihue Along Coastal Road Between Puerto Varas and Llanquihue

Descending the dirt road towards Llanquihue, the trees and fields start to reveal Lago Llanquihue’s aquamarine blues. Even though I’d seen the lake up close and personal in Puerto Varas, there is something special about seeing it while out and about in nature rather than surrounded by the noise of a busy city.

Views of Lago Llanquihue near Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Views of Volcán Osorno over Lago Llanquihue, in Llanquihue, Chile

Eventually the dirt road connects to a paved one, and you abruptly reach Llanquihue, coming in on a long stretch of road named Teniente Merino with a beautiful park bordering the lake views.

Views of Lago Llanquihue near Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Views of Lago Llanquihue from Llanquihue, Chile

When I hit the paved road, I suddenly realized that my tire had gone flat, making a very sad sound! By complete chance, I happened to run into two bikers on a long-distance ride around southern Chile, and they immediately pointed out the flat and helped me change the tire. (We discovered that my tire had actually been punctured by a staple, which may have been picked up in the hostel!) Yet another one of those fortuitous travel moments; I would have struggled to change the tire on my own, and I actually didn’t run into any other bikers on the rest of the trip.

Views of Lago Llanquihue near Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Views of Volcán Osorno from Llanquihue, Chile

After my new acquaintances continued along their way, I paused to take pictures of the lake from this quiet little stretch of road.

Views of Lago Llanquihue near Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile

Views of Lago Llanquihue near Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Views of Lago Llanquihue from Llanquihue, Chile

The roadside park would be a perfect place to stop and have a picnic or read a book all afternoon, away from the crowds. The views are amazing and the flowers and bushes in bloom for spring made it an idyllic place to hang out.

Mural near Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile

“There’s time for everything except for giving yourself some time” – Mural in Llanquihue, Chile

After hopping back on my bike with its newly-repaired tire, I continued through the town of Llanquihue, following the main road through the center of town and crossing over the train tracks. I planned to spend more time there on my way back to Puerto Varas, but first, I wanted to see how far I could get on my bike.

On the way, I spotted this awesome mural painted on a stretch of stone wall on the outskirts of time. Its message resonated with the reason I was on this trip – to take some time for myself to really connect to the beauty of southern Chile, and that’s just what I was doing on my bike adventure!

Biking to Totoral

Views from the Coastal Road between Puerto Varas and Frutillar, Los Lagos, Chile

Chilean Snacks Available at Roadside Stand on Coastal Road Between Puerto Varas and Frutillar

After passing though Llanquihue, I continued biking along Ruta V-155, the scenic coastal road that runs along Lago Llanquihue. Although I had packed a picnic lunch, I was happy to see that enterprising Chileans had set up stands selling Chilean treats like kuchen (German-style cake with fruit) and mote con huesillo, the super sweet Chilean drink commonly served in summer. Beyond that, there are artisanal breweries along this route, another nod to the region’s German heritage.

Views of Lago Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Wide Expanses of Lago Llanquihue As Seen from the Coastal Road Between Puerto Varas and Frutillar

But what I was there for were the views, and they were amazing. With the Panamerican highway nearby, this coastal road is not heavily transited by vehicles, except for tourists admiring the views. As I rediscovered in my last bike journey, there is nothing like feeling the air in your hair, being out there in nature, experiencing the views 360 degrees around you. Pictures cannot capture the hugeness of Lago Llanquihue and words cannot substitute for the experience. If you’re considering biking in this area, please go and do it! It’s amazing!

Coastal Highway near Totoral, Los Lagos, Chile
Coastal Road Near Totoral, Los Lagos Region, Chile

As I continued the route towards Totoral, I passed a couple of lookout points where I stopped and took pictures of the expanses of lake below me, but finally after some hills I came to a little fishing beach right on the water, near a Nestlé plant. I continued beyond for a little while, but quickly realized the very steep hills and descents were beginning. After consulting Google Maps and seeing that I had reached the challenging part of the journey after 17 kilometers, I decided to head back to the beach and enjoy my well-deserved lunch.

Views of Volcán Calbuco over Lago Llanquihue, near Totoral, Los Lagos, Chile
Fishing Boats in Totoral, Los Lagos Region, Chile

Absolutely the right decision, don’t you agree? This little beach appears to be a little bay for fishermen, and I was the only person hanging out there, appreciating the views of Volcán Calbuco in the distance. These kinds of quiet moments are the reason I do solo journeys, and this particular experience reminded me of my explorations on Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

Views from the Coastal Road between Puerto Varas and Frutillar, Los Lagos, Chile
Coastal Road Views Between Llanquihue and Totoral, Los Lagos Region, Chile

After enjoying my snack, I headed back to Llanquihue, enjoying heading downhill after some of the steep climbs along the way, and stopping to take as many photos as I wanted. Since I already knew what the terrain was like heading back, I was more relaxed and could truly enjoy the ride!

Volcán Osorno

Views of Volcán Osorno in Los Lagos Region, Chile

Volcán Osorno Over Blooming Fields, Los Lagos Region, Chile

Along the way, I spotted gorgeous fields in bloom at the beginning of summer, with the volcanoes towering above. I had finally learned to identify which volcano was which, with Volcán Osorno’s perfect snow-covered peak.

Views of Volcán Osorno over Lago Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Volcán Osorno over Lago Llanquihue, Los Lagos Region, Chile

And on another overlook, Volcán Osorno towered over the blue lake. So much blue, just like Lago Caburgua.

Volcán Calbuco

Views of Volcán Calbuco in Los Lagos Region, Chile
Volcán Calbuco over Blooming Fields, Los Lagos Region, Chile

Of course, I can’t forget Volcán Calbuco, with its wide, jagged peak, equally beautiful towering over the golden fields.

Views of Volcán Calbuco over Lago Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Volcán Calbuco over Lago Llanquihue, Los Lagos Region, Chile

And there it is again, atmospheric clouds floating around its speak, providing a nice contrast to the blue sky.

Exploring the Town of Llanquihue

Views from Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Scenic Traditional German-Style House in Llanquihue, Chile

After some dedicated pedaling, I made it back to the town of Llanquihue. As I crossed the train tracks, I realized that there was another road leading down a tree-lined street. I had come in on Baquedano through the commercial district, but the views to my left lured me in. I started down Salomon Negria, immediately spotting this traditional house in the German style. Can you imagine the views from this place? This is still one of my favorite photos.

Views from Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Beach on Lago Llanquihue in Llanquihue, Chile

I continued along the road, realizing as I approached that I was heading towards the beach. Who knew that there was such a nice, quiet beach located in this little town? I certainly didn’t!

Volcán Osorno over Lago Llanquihue, from Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Views of the Beach on Lago Llanquihue in Llanquihue, Chile

Not only does Llanquihue have a sandy beach, but there is also a park with lots of trees offering shade from the hot sun. I can see why this little town is attractive for families and anyone needing an escape from nearby Puerto Varas.

Volcán Calbuco over Lago Llanquihue, from Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Swimming in Lago Llanquihue in Llanquihue, Chile

If I had known, I might have brought my swimsuit! Just as I felt in Villarica, there is something special about swimming under the watch of this lovely volcano.

Views from Llanquihue, Chile

Wooden Sculptures by the Beach in Llanquihue, Chile

Having sufficiently appreciated the beach, I headed back into town, stopping in to a little convenience store to buy more cold water. I ended up chatting with the shop owner for quite a while, as Llanquihue does not often see many foreign tourists passing through. These little moments of curiosity and connection are some of my favorite things about solo travel.

Views from Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Wooden Sculptures in Llanquihue, Chile

As I headed out of town, I spotted more of these wooden sculptures lining the river that crosses through the town. I decided to check them out; they appear to be an art installation celebrating the indigenous cultures of Chile.

Views from Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Wooden Sculptures in Llanquihue, Chile

While the commercial district of Llanquihue is not particularly attractive, these sculptures help give the town more character. This is real town, living and breathing with the everyday lives of its inhabitants, as opposed to the tourist-friendly sheen of Puerto Varas. And it has lots of character and is well worth a visit!

Volcán Osorno over Lago Llanquihue, Llanquihue, Chile
Volcán Osorno over Lago Llanquihue, from Llanquihue, Chile

From there, I continued my return trip past my favorite little park, where I took the photo at top of the post (my favorite from the day, though it’s hard to choose) as well as this one. The clouds over the lake had mostly cleared, which led to some pretty reflections of the snow-covered peak in the water. The wildflowers and grass growing along the edge of the park provided an nice contrast to so many blues.

As a reminder to anyone considering the bike journey: after leaving Llanquihue, the route turns into dirt roads and narrow paths through fields before the gravel-filled, bumpy adventure along the train tracks. Make sure to save some energy for the last 30 minutes of your trip, and be smart about the path you take through hilly Puerto Varas.

As you can see, I throughly enjoyed my bike adventure along the coastal route from Puerto Varas to Totoral, and especially appreciated the chance to get to know the town of Llanquihue more than I would have otherwise. This was what was right for me on this trip, and I highly suggest it to anyone feeling intimidated by the hilly route to Frutillar!

Recommendations for Biking to Llanquihue and Totoral, Los Lagos, Chile:

  • As I mention above, the traditional bike route is a 30 kilometer trip between Puerto Varas and Frutillar, and then another 30 kilometers back. You leave Puerto Varas by following the route along the railroad track for a few kilometers until you see a trail appear to your right, and head along a dirt path leading to an unpaved road along the coast. Then the road continues along a paved road through the town of Llanquihue until you reach the coastal highway Ruta V-155. You follow Ruta V-155 for about 15 kilometers of fairly easy terrain, with some hill climbs and descents, until you pass Totoral. After Totoral, Ruta V-155 heads inland, considered to be the “shortcut” to Frutillar along a hilly gravel road. The coastal highway turns into V-305 and apparently includes lots of hills as well. I chose to turn around at Totoral to enjoy a more relaxing and less physically exhausting day.
  • Although most of the route is along a highway, there is not much traffic on this road and there are kiosks, artisanal breweries, and tourist accommodations along the way should you run into any issues or need to refuel with water or snacks. There are several descents down the cliffs to lakefront beaches as well as an easily accessible beach in Totoral, in case you don’t feel like locking up your bike. This is the advantage of taking it easy on the bike – you can stop and check out some of the stops along the way.
  • Make sure to bring lots of water for the journey and make sure your bike rental provides a kit for changing your tire as you will head through gravel and dirt roads and might get a flat like I did.
  • I rented my bike from Hostel Margouya Patagonia, where I was staying, and it cost me $5000 CLP for a half-day rental. There are other bike rental shops in Puerto Varas, or you can go with an organized tour. The advantage of doing this is that you go with a group that follows you with a van just in case you run out of steam (I saw a group doing this on my way).
  • I highly suggest visiting Llanquihue! Even if you don’t feel like biking, or you do want to do the full journey to Frutillar, you can take a bus from Puerto Varas to Llanquihue (they leave from the center of town near the gas station). Any of the Frutillar buses stop in Llanquihue. Llanquihue is a small town with a residential district and a commercial district, but if you head towards the water there is a lovely beach with a little tree-covered park. This would be a great place to spend the afternoon. I also really liked the quiet park on the outskirts of town, which would be my pick if coming in on bike.
  • As I mention above, the biggest lesson I learned on this journey was that I don’t have to do everything the way the rest of the travelers do. I knew I physically was not up for the hill climbs, and so I decided to make the most of my own adventure by taking lots of pictures and stopping whenever I felt like it. This was the right choice for me, but you might feel differently! I like this blog post detailing two travelers’ quest for artisanal beer along the way. Choose your own adventure!
[Llanquihue and Totoral, Los Lagos, Chile: December 29, 2015]

Views of Volcán Calbuco over Lago Llanquihue near Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile
Volcán Calbuco over Lago Llanquihue from the Ride Between Puerto Varas and Totoral
Puerto Varas, Chile - Biking to Llanquihue and Totoral and Appreciating the Blue Views of Lago Llanquihue

Puerto Montt, Chile: An Afternoon in the Port City and Gateway to Chilean Patagonia

Views of Seno de Reloncaví, Puerto Montt, Chile
Views of the Puerto Montt Skyline over Seno de Reloncaví (Reloncaví Sound)

As the thick cloud cover and gorgeous blue sunset foretold on my first day in nearby Puerto Varas, the weather on my second day in the Los Lagos region turned grey and cloudy with the occasional sprinkle of rain . No matter – I had a very mundane errand in mind (take out cash at the only Scotiabank ATM in the region), so I needed to head to the commercial city of Puerto Montt anyway.

To be honest, I was curious about Puerto Montt because of its nickname, Muerto Montt, or Dead Montt, so-called because the city lacks personality. I have a fondness for port cities, like Iquique in northern Chile, and I like stepping outside of the tourist bubble and seeing how people go about their day-to-day lives. So I hopped on a bus to Puerto Montt to head to the bank and see what the city had to offer.

Mercado Puerto Montt Chile
Street Market in Puerto Montt, Chile (Thanks for the photo, Sidetracked Travel Blog!)

Thanks to Google Maps on my smartphone, navigating a new city is that much easier. The bus route from Puerto Varas to Puerto Montt leaves Puerto Varas along Av. San Francisco, merges onto the Panamerican Highway heading South, and then enters Puerto Montt on Av. Presidente Salvador Allende (and let’s just reflect for a moment on how cool is it that this major road is named after the former president). At the intersection with Urmeneta, the bus turns away from downtown Puerto Montt, so I hopped off the bus and followed all the locals wandering down the hill towards the market and waterfront.

The first thing I noticed was the number of vendors lining the streets around the Santa Isabel supermarket at the corner of Pdte. Salvador Allende and Diego Portales, selling all kinds of local produce and other items. (Naturally, I ended up buying some more berries on my way back to Puerto Varas.)

Old Train in Puerto Montt, Chile
Old Train in Puerto Montt, Chile

I continued walking down busy Av. Diego Portales (the start of the Carretera Austral) to get my bearings and get a sense for this hectic city. Puerto Montt is first and foremost an industrial city, its streets lined with big warehouses, superstores catering towards the mechanical side of the spectrum, and cheap hotels and eateries for people only planning a night’s stay before heading out on a ship or truck. I was starting to understand its nickname. Finally, I reached Puerto Montt’s main park on the waterfront. (Right next to the park is the Museo Municipal Juan Pablo II, which has exhibits on regional history and is probably worth a wander.)

Murals in Puerto Montt, Chile
Murals near the Costanera in Puerto Montt

Graffiti in Puerto Montt, Chile

“I still don’t know what we are but I don’t want you to leave” – Graffiti in Puerto Montt, Chile

Drawn in by the random train in the middle of the park and what looks to be the former train station covered in intriguing political murals (note the Resistencia Mapuche painting in the photo above), I headed towards the costanera to enjoy a short stroll along the water.

Views of Seno de Reloncaví, Puerto Montt, Chile

Views over Seno de Reloncaví, Puerto Montt, Chile

Obviously, what caught my eye as I looked out over the Reloncaví Sound were the unusual buoys in the shape of soccer balls. Whether this was celebrating Chile’s win during the Copa América or just the garden-variety Chilean passion for fútbol, I’m not entirely sure.

Views of Seno de Reloncaví, Puerto Montt, Chile

Views over Seno de Reloncaví, Puerto Montt, Chile

With the dismal grey clouds coating the horizon, there was not much to look at, but the water was calm and peaceful.

Costanera, Puerto Montt, Chile

Walking Along the Costanera in Puerto Montt

Walking along the costanera is a pleasant way to take in the downtown skyline and the water. It takes you away from the noise of the rest of the city for a few moments.

Costanera, Puerto Montt, Chile

Chilean Flag on the Costanera in Puerto Montt

Views of Seno de Reloncaví, Puerto Montt, Chile

Monuments on the Costanera in Puerto Montt

One interesting part of the costanera is this series of busts honoring Chilean naval heroes.

Views of Seno de Reloncaví, Puerto Montt, Chile

Relaxing Views over the Water in Puerto Montt

Art in Puerto Montt, ChileThe other attraction along the waterfront is this giant sculpture of a couple in love. Cuddling by the water is probably a pretty popular pastime in Puerto Montt – I’m sure I walked past quite a few couples on the park benches. 😉

Nuestra Señora del Carmen, Puerto Montt, Chile

Nuestra Señora del Carmen Cathedral, Puerto Montt

Next, I headed back toward the commercial district of Puerto Montt, making sure to pass by the main plaza. Puerto Montt’s cathedral, named Nuestra Señora del Carmen, towers majestically above the plaza and is a symbol of the city, constructed out of alerce wood, or Patagonian cypress.

Sanito, Puerto Montt, Chile

Sanito, a Cute Café in Puerto Montt

I continued my walk through downtown Puerto Montt in search of my next destination: a small restaurant/café called Sanito. I had read about Sanito in an article mentioning health food restaurants in Chile – it seemed to be the only vegetarian-friendly spot in the Los Lagos region.

Lunch at Sanito, Puerto Montt, Chile

Lunch at Sanito in Puerto Montt, Chile

This café was definitely a little sanctuary in the middle of hectic Puerto Montt. Its bright interior and excellent music playing overhead gave me the sense that I was back in Cambridge. I opted for a delicious salad and was happy to enjoy some loose leaf tea!

Graffiti in Puerto Montt, Chile

“What’s important is to laugh and laugh together” – Graffiti in Puerto Montt

After my healthy lunch, I headed back through the commercial center in search of my bank and the Casa de Arte Diego Rivera, a theater and exhibition space dedicated to the Mexican muralist. Unfortunately, due to the holidays, it did not seem to have any current exhibitions, but I would suggest checking it out as there seem to be quite a few interesting events held there on a regular basis.

Other than that, Puerto Montt seemed to have a typical commercial downtown with lots of galleries and shops. Not in need of anything, I decided to head back to the market to buy my fruit and catch a bus back to Puerto Varas. In the end, I enjoyed the opportunity to contrast flashy Puerto Varas with scruffy Puerto Montt, and think it’s worth an afternoon’s wander, especially if you have some errands to run or want to take advantage of the markets.

Recommendations for Puerto Montt, Chile:

  • Puerto Montt is located about 30 minutes from Puerto Varas. You can catch the bus on San Francisco (by the church or the Cruz del Sur bus station) and it will drop you off close to the downtown area at Pdte. Salvador Allende and Urmeneta. Most passengers get off here. The ride costs $800 CLP each way and you pay when you get on the bus.
  • Although Puerto Montt is a common destination for people heading to Patagonia either on a bus or by boat, there are limited budget traveler accommodations. The market caters towards workers needing a one-night stay. I highly recommend you stay in Puerto Varas instead of Puerto Montt.
  • As mentioned above, the main attractions in Puerto Montt are the commercial district with its street markets and shopping galleries, the Museo Municipal Juan Pablo II located on the costanera next to the bus terminal, and the Casa de Arte Diego Rivera, located at Quillota 116. While researching this post, I found out that there is a market complex called Mercado Anselmo with stands selling fish, fruit, and artisan wares, just outside the commercial district.
  • If you’re looking for light, healthy meals, head to Sanito, a café offering salads and sandwiches that turns into. Sanito is located at Copiapó 66, just outside the commerical district and is a nice sanctuary from the city hustle. At night it turns into Cariñito, a restaurant/bar.
  • Puerto Montt is a major transportation hub, and many people board the Navimag Ferries heading to Patagonia from here. There is a giant bus terminal located on the corner of Diego Portales and Pdte. Salvador Allende with destinations north and south, but you can also take buses from Chiloé and Puerto Varas that will pass through Puerto Montt. (Cruz del Sur is the main company in the region – they even own the ferries to Chiloé.) You don’t seem to save much money by heading to Puerto Montt, though you may have more options for departure times.
  • If you are heading to Patagonia, Along Dusty Roads has a comprehensive post describing the various travel options to the more southern region of the country. Puerto Montt is considered the gateway to Patagonia for good reason!
[Puerto Montt, Los Lagos, Chile: December 28, 2015]

Puerto Montt, Chile - An Afternoon in the Port City and Gateway to Chilean Patagonia

Puerto Varas, Chile: Where Scenic Landscapes, Adventure Travel, and German Heritage Collide in Southern Chile

Views of Volcán Osorno over Lago Llanquihue from Puerto Varas, Chile
Volcán Osorno over Lago Llanquihue, as seen from Puerto Varas, Chile

After leaving the amazing lakes and landscapes of Pucón and the Araucania region, I headed south to Puerto Varas. Where nearby Puerto Montt is the official gateway to Patagonia and commercial capital of Los Lagos (the Lakes Region), Puerto Varas is the center of all tourist and cultural activity. It draws you in with its ideal location on the shores of Lago Llanquihue, with impressive views of Volcán Osorno and Volcán Calbuco, and then keeps you there with its strong ties to German architecture, food, and culture imported by immigrants a century ago. Not only that, Puerto Varas offers easy access to adventure activities all around the region, including trekking, biking, and my new favorite, kayaking. There’s also an emphasis on natural products and sustainable lifestyle.

As you can probably tell, Puerto Varas is my favorite city in Southern Chile. As my former manager (also a Chile-phile) said when I told her it was my next destination, “I love Puerto Varas. I never feel like I have enough time there!” There’s so much to do and see and experience. It’s a perfectly situated tourist destination where you can easily spend a week or two, and yet somehow manages to avoid feeling over-sold like nearby Pucón.

In this post, I describe Puerto Varas proper, and in future posts, I’ll get into details about the surrounding area.

Appreciating Picturesque Puerto Varas

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Puerto Varas, Chile
Views of the Puerto Varas Costanera and Lago Llanquihue

Basically the first thing anyone wants to do upon arrival to Puerto Varas is head down the hill to Lago Llanquihue to take in the views of the crystal blue lake with views of not one, but two, snow-capped volcanos. Puerto Varas has a long, walkable costanera along Avenida V. Perez Rosales, with several lookout points and beaches. (In fact, while I was there, just in time for New Year’s Eve, construction finished up on a new lookout point, as you seen in the edge of this picture.)

Because the buildings that line the coastline are constructed in the traditional German-inspired style, the entire skyline looks serene and picturesque, spreading across the green hills and city streets.

Views of Volcán Calbuco over Lago Llanquihue from Puerto Varas, Chile
Volcán Calbuco over Lago Llanquihue, from Puerto Varas, Chile

But really, what you’re there to see are the volcanos! I was fascinated by the jagged peak of Volcán Calbuco, and took so many pictures of it that it was hard to narrow down to this one.

Views of Volcán Osorno and Volcán Calbuco over Lago Llanquihue from Puerto Varas, Chile
Looking out over Lago Llanquihue at Volcán Osorno and Volcán Calbuco, Puerto Varas 

And then you turn just a little bit to the left and see both volcanos right in front of you, sitting majestically over the sparkling aquamarine lake.

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Puerto Varas, Chile
Puerto Varas, Chile

There’s a cute little park on a peninsula jutting out into the lake, as you see in the photo above. It’s a perfect place to sit and relax for a little while. (Also an ideal place for taking selfies! 😛 )

Views of Volcán Osorno over Lago Llanquihue from Puerto Varas, Chile
Volcán Osorno Towering Majestically Over Lago Llanquihue in Puerto Varas

Of course, Volcán Osorno is yet another perfect looking peak – Chile’s blessed with so many pretty volcanoes. Well, I guess you could say that the country is actually cursed with them considering there’s an eruption every few decades. But they sure are beautiful to admire from a distance!

Boating and Relaxing on the Beach

Views of Volcán Osorno over Lago Llanquihue from Puerto Varas, Chile
Canoes and Swimmers on the Shores of Lago Llanquihue, Puerto Varas

After sufficiently admiring the views of volcanoes from the coastline of Puerto Varas, you can appreciate Lago Llanquihue by getting in the water. There are a few stands renting canoes and there are also travel agencies that can take you out kayaking in the bay. Or you can just go swimming!

Views of Volcán Calbuco over Lago Llanquihue from Puerto Varas, Chile
Beach on the Shores of Lago Llanquihue, Puerto Varas

As I visited during the holidays, right between Christmas and New Year’s, there were lots of families lounging on the beach located near downtown Puerto Varas. In Puerto Varas, there is another beach further down the costanera heading towards towards Ensenada; each town that surrounds the lake has a least one lakefront beach!

Views of Volcán Calbuco over Lago Llanquihue from Puerto Varas, Chile
Views over Lago Llanquihue, Puerto Varas

Heading towards the railroad tracks and Parque Phillippi, there is another peninsula with a rocky beach and this interesting metal sculpture, which appears to be a woman majestically looking out over the water.

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Puerto Varas, Chile
The Mini-Skyline of Puerto Varas Over Lago Llanquihue

It’s worth walking down this far because you get a great view of the skyline of Puerto Varas, with its distinctive architecture. Definitely a far cry from the adobe of northern Chile (where I lived for a year)!

Blue Sunset over Lago Llanquihue

Blue Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, Puerto Varas, Chile (My Personal Favorite)
Blue Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, Puerto Varas (My Personal Favorite Photo)

As I visited Puerto Varas just as the seasons changed from spring into summer, the weather was changeable, bringing clouds that came and went over the course of the days. Though the skies were mostly clear when I arrived, the clouds rolled in as the afternoon went on, leading to what I’m calling a “blue sunset.” I’ve mentioned before that I’m obsessed with clouds, so I headed to the waterfront to capture their magic. The patches of sun through the clouds led to teal blue reflections on the water.

Blue Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, Puerto Varas, Chile
Blue Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, Puerto Varas

The colorful clouds also completely obscured the volcanoes, providing an entirely new perspective on the lake.

Clouds over Puerto Varas, Chile
Beautiful Clouds over Puerto Varas, Chile

The clouds above were in beautiful formations, glowing with the last rays of the setting sun.

Blue Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, Puerto Varas, Chile
Blue Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, Puerto Varas

Just earlier that afternoon, I had stared at Volcán Calbuco, now completely hidden behind a thick cloud cover.

Blue Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, Puerto Varas, Chile
Sunset over Puerto Varas, Chile

Looking back towards Puerto Varas, the clouds made the skyline look more even more intriguing.

Blue Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, Puerto Varas, Chile
Blue Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, Puerto Varas

I loved the haunting quality of the blue sunset, with the lonely fishing boats floating out in the water.

Historical German-Style Architecture in Puerto Varas

Iglesia Sagrado Corazón, Puerto Varas, Chile
Iglesia Sagrado Corazón, Puerto Varas, Chile

Beyond the blue sunsets, lake views, and volcanoes, many people travel to Puerto Varas to appreciate its German heritage. In 1852-3, German immigrants were encouraged to settle southern Chile by the Chilean government, and they brought with them their traditional architecture, as well as their food and beer.

Park near Iglesia Sagrado Corazón, Puerto Varas, Chile
Park Decorated with Christmas Trees and Iglesia Sagrado Corazón in the Background, Puerto Varas

The classic landmark is the Iglesia Sagrado Corazón, which you see in the two photos above. This red and white building is emblematic of Puerto Varas and easy to spot from any viewpoint as it is located up a steep hill.

Historical House, Puerto Varas, Chile
Casa Kuschel, Puerto Varas, Chile

Besides the church, there are at least 18 well-preserved and clearly marked houses constructed in the German style. Some of them currently function as tourist lodging, while others are private homes.

Casona Alemana, Puerto Varas, Chile

Casona Alemana, Puerto Varas, Chile

The municipality has set up an easy-to-follow self-guided tour of the historical houses, clearly marked with their name and a brief description of their history and which family constructed them. (It was very cloudy on my visit, which made for a more pleasant walking tour, but I do wish I had better photos!)

Casa Jupner, Puerto Varas, Chile

Casa Jupner, Puerto Varas, Chile

It’s surprisingly difficult to find much information on the historical houses, besides this Wikipedia entry (in Spanish). Many of its reference sites have disappeared from the internet.

Casa Hitschfeld, Puerto Varas, Chile

Casa Hitschfeld, Puerto Varas, Chile

Interestingly, I learned from my research that only a few houses are protected as part of the local and national heritage, so only those in the “typical zone” are protected from demolition.

Casa Brintrup, Puerto Varas, Chile

Casa Brintup, Puerto Varas, Chile

Sadly, this is a common tale in Chile; as I learned from my tour guide on the Isluga tour in northern Chile, the government just does not invest money and resources in protecting its history. Santiago favors modern buildings, and the suburbs of the capital are filled with streets of identical-looking houses.

Centro Cultural Estación, Puerto Varas, Chile

Centro Cultural Estación, Puerto Varas, Chile

Sadly, this means that a lot of these buildings are starting to look abandoned (or actually are abandoned), even the cultural center located in the old train station. Kind of sad, but in the end, maintaining old wooden buildings requires investment of time and money, and every town has limited resources.

Casa Rehbein, Puerto Varas, Chile

Casa Rehbein, Puerto Varas, Chile

For this reason, it’s better that these historical houses stay in use as attractive sites for businesses. This one currently houses an orthodontist!

Casa Muñoz, Puerto Varas, Chile

Casa Muñoz, Puerto Varas, Chile

Someone I met in Puerto Varas told me that the people who constructed these houses were not expert carpenters, so the structure inside the buildings is pretty random – they made it work, somehow, but it’s not all precise cuts and perfectly fitted connections.

Hostel Margouya Patagonia, Puerto Varas, Chile

Casa Horn, currently Hostel Margouya Patagonia, Puerto Varas, Chile

Of course, the best use of these historical buildings would have to be Hostel Margouya Patagonia, located inside Casa Horn. I stayed at this hostel, but in their sister building around the corner, also a historical monument. Sometimes it’s just better to keep using the buildings to make sure they are well looked after.

Eating and Drinking Well in Puerto Varas

Food Truck Festival, Puerto Varas, Chile

Food Trucks in Puerto Varas, Chile

Of course, another reasons that you travel to Puerto Varas is to eat well. While the city does not court luxury travelers quite as much as Pucón, it still tends to be a little more upscale than your average Chilean town. This includes gourmet food options served out of modern food trucks. Was I in southern Chile or a major capital city?

Falafel from Food Truck in Puerto Varas, Chile

Falafel from Costumbrista Food Truck, Puerto Varas, Chile

After limited options in the year I lived in the Valle de Elqui, I was excited to see falafel on the menu of the Costumbrista food truck. Costumbrista has a small restaurant located on Del Salvador, one of the main streets in Puerto Varas, but they offer slightly more accessible prices as their food truck. Delicious.

Empanadas Store in Puerto Varas, Chile

Empanadas Puerto Varas

Okay, so I didn’t actually eat there (because I was still full from the falafel!), but this empanada shop is so cute from the outside. What a perfect advertisement for their business!

New Year's Eve Pisco Sour at Café El Barista in Puerto Varas, ChileTo be perfectly honest, I actually ended up cooking most of my meals or eating while out traveling around the area. Instead, I chose to buy lots of fresh fruit from the vendors on the street. It was berry and stone fruit season in the south, meaning that the vendors had cups full of raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and apricots. So delicious – and so fresh!

On New Year’s Eve, I headed into town to spend a few hours doing my annual writing exercise, and decided to go to El Barista Caffe, one of the top restaurants and bars in the area. I was not disappointed. It was the first time they offered me options for pisco sour: dry, classic, or sweet.

With ample outdoor seating, it was the perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon in Puerto Varas. They are also super traveler friendly; lots of solo travelers stopped by while I sat there.

Amazing Salad at Café El Barista in Puerto Varas, Chile

Ensalada El Barista, El Barista Caffe, Puerto Varas

New Year's Eve Wine at Café Barista in Puerto Varas, ChileFor lunch, I opted for one of the most flavorful salads I’ve had – with fried goat cheese, roasted mushrooms, sun-roasted tomatoes, and an amazing honey dijon sauce. Definitely enjoyed the gourmet flavors – it had been a while.

I finished up my outdoor writing session with a glass of red wine before heading back to the hostel for the big New Year’s Eve party. It was a good way to finish out the year – honoring myself and processing all the changes I went through in 2015, especially towards the end of the year.

My only regret is that I didn’t try this restaurant earlier in my trip – worth revisiting a few times!

Sustainable Living in Puerto Varas

Awesome Bike Parking Sign in Puerto Varas, Chile

Bike Parking Sign in Puerto Varas

The other thing I really liked about Puerto Varas was its emphasis on sustainable living and natural products. As a biker, I appreciated this cute bike parking sign in the downtown shopping district. There are several stores offering natural products, including Huerto di Fiore, where I bought some natural shampoo made right there in Puerto Varas. (They also offer teas from the Republic of Tea, imported from the US!)

New Year’s Eve

New Year's Eve Barbecue at Hostel Margouya Patagonia in Puerto Varas, Chile

Panorama of the Hostel Barbecue (click to see it more clearly)

One of the reasons that I headed to Puerto Varas was that I needed somewhere awesome to spend New Year’s Eve. After a successful solo Christmas in Pucón, I knew that Puerto Varas had just the right social atmosphere for my first solo New Year’s Eve.

As mentioned above, I stayed at Hostel Margouya Patagonia, which had so many guests in high season that they opened a sister site in their usual English school location. The best part of their location? The giant backyard, perfect for a barbecue attended by 30+ people. And the crowds kept rolling in as night fell.

New Year's Eve Fireworks over Lago Llanquihue in Puerto Varas, Chile

New Year’s Eve Fireworks in Puerto Varas

Right before midnight, the city of Puerto Varas puts on a simple, but lovely, fireworks display over Lago Llanquihue, captured in my blurry photo, above. The entire hostel headed down to the waterfront before then going out dancing to ring in the new year. Even though I’d booked an early bus to Chiloé on January 1, I appreciated the good vibes of my fellow hostel guests and felt it was the perfect way to end my stay in Puerto Varas.

Recommendations for Puerto Varas, Chile:

  • Puerto Varas is an excellent place for a longer stay, especially if you need a place to rest for a few days on an extended backpacking journey. There are enough interesting restaurants and unique shops around Puerto Varas to make wandering around quite fun, and there are plenty of cultural and adventure activities around the area.
  • Make sure to go on the walking tour of the historical homes of Puerto Varas. Your hostel should be able to provide you with a map, or ask at the tourist information center downtown.
  • There are two scenic viewpoints above Puerto Varas, one a 30 minute trek up the hill in Parque Phillippi, and the other up Monte Calvario.
  • I stayed at Hostel Margouya Patagonia, a highly recommended hostel run by Pierre, a Frenchman fluent in Spanish and English who takes his business very seriously. The hostel has a complete kitchen and they offer lots of tours around the surrounding area, especially in high season. They also rent bikes for the ride to Frutillar, saving you time and money.
  • I highly suggest having a meal, coffee, or drink at El Barista Caffe! There are many, many cafes in Puerto Varas which serve the region’s famous kuchen, or German-style cakes topped with regional fruits. Cafe Danés also came highly recommended and always seemed really busy. Based on my experience at their food truck, I would also recommend Costumbrista. There are lots of good eating options – look around!
  • Besides checking out the beaches and going on the walking tour, you should try to get out and about in the Lakes Region. There are a LOT of options. You can take a local bus to Frutillar, a cute town on the shores of Lago Llanquihue, known for having a lot of kuchen and musical performances (post forthcoming!). The more ambitious can do the 30km bike ride to Frutillar… and then head back. I opted to bike only to Llanquihue and Totoral, about 17km, avoiding the super steep hills and making my ride back much shorter! (More details in my future post.) Besides Llanquihue, you can head in the opposite direction towards Ensenada. Puerto Octay is another town beyond Frutillar which is more authentically German than touristy Frutillar.
  • For water sports, you can rent canoes or going kayaking in the bay. My hostel offered a sunset kayaking option, taking us to a nearby lagoon and ending with us kayaking in Lago Llanquihue as the sun set behind us. This was an an amazing experience that I’ll document in a future post.
  • Puerto Montt, the capital of the Los Lagos region, is only 30 minutes away by bus, and is an important commerical center with an interesting market. (See my future post.)
  • If you’re interested in trekking, there are several routes located around Volcán Osorno that are easily accessible by public transportation. The most common route is on the Sendero Desolación and the extension, the Sendero Los Alerces (information here, in Spanish). For the really ambitious, there is another extension to the Rincón del Osorno trail, which leads back to Petrohué. I opted not to do this hike because there are giant flying insects that come out in late December in January which make the hike just about swatting insects. (I ran into these insects in the Valdivia area a week later!) The other trail is the Sendero Solitario, which you can read about here (in Spanish). After trekking, most people stop by the Saltos del Petrohué, pretty waterfalls located in the Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales. Tour agencies also offer trekking up Volcán Osorno followed by mountain biking down. There is no entry fee at the national park, and the bus from Puerto Varas to Petrohué costs $2500 CLP each way. Entry to the Saltos de Petrohué costs $1500 CLP.
  • For fans of water sports, there is also the possibility of going rafting in the Río Petrohué, though the owner of the hostel where I stayed told me that it wasn’t really worth the cost (especially since the river is rather far away from Puerto Varas).
  • If you’re lucky, you can find a tour to Lago Todos Los Santos, a less-visited but beautiful lake located on the other side of Volcán Osorno. This description in the New York Times is magical.
  • The one thing I really wish I had done was spend some time in the Valle Cochamó, a beautiful valley located near Puerto Varas. There are multiple day horseback riding trips that I definitely want to do on a future visit. Unforutately, I was short on time and really wanted to visit Chiloé. When I head back to Chile to visit Patagonia and hopefully the Carretera Austral, I will definitely spend some time in Cochamó!
[Puerto Varas, Los Lagos, Chile: December 27, 2015-January 1, 2016]

Puerto Varas, Chile Where Scenic Landscapes, Adventure Travel, and German Heritage Collide in Southern Chile