Home » captures of life and travels in South America & the States! » Chile

Category: Chile

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

Villarica, Chile: Charismatic Chilean City with Amazing Views of Volcán Villarica

Volcán Villarica over Lago Villarica in Villarica, Chile
My Favorite Photo of Volcán Villarica as seen from Villarica, Chile

Lest you’re sick of photos of gorgeous blue lakes and volcanoes, this is my last post on the region of Araucanía in southern Chile – and probably my favorite place in the area. On my last day in Pucón, I thought I’d go horseback riding, but with all available spots booked up due to high season, I opted for a low-budget trip to nearby Villarica instead. Villarica is a small city on the other side of Lago Villarica, which maintains closer ties to its Mapuche heritage and promised to have a little more character than tourist-catering Pucón.

Downtown Villarica

Municipalidad, City of Villarica, Chile

City of Villarica, near Pucón, ChileMunicipality of Villarica, Chile Decked Out for Christmas

I was not disappointed. I hopped a bus in Pucón for the 30 minute ride to its neighboring city, and before I knew it, I was in downtown Villarica. From the moment of arrival, Villarica feels different – like a place where normal people live and work, with lots of businesses lining the main streets, shopping complexes, and actual houses with lawns in front of them. With wide sidewalks and a relatively compact downtown area, it’s a pleasant place to wander around aimlessly, just seeing what you come across.

I started off my tour in front the municipality building, where I was impressed by the attractive wooden buildings, such a difference from the adobe in the north. I appreciated seeing Villarica decked out for the holidays, with strings of lights dangling from its main buildings.

City of Villarica, near Pucón, Chile

Map of Downtown Villarica, Chile

As the map shows, there are only a few tourist attractions in Villarica, making it an easy place to get to know in an afternoon – but well worth the visit!

Museo, Villarica, Chile
Library in Villarica, Chile

As it was a holiday weekend, the library was closed, but I managed to check out the ruka located inside the Mapuche cultural center. The ruka (sometimes written ruca), is the traditional housing structure made of straw and mud, used by the Mapuche people who still live in southern Chile (more info in Spanish here).

Ruka in City of Villarica, Chile
Ruka Museum in the Mapuche Cultural Center in Villarica, Chile

For those who don’t know, the Mapuches are the indigenous group that still have a large, powerful presence in southern Chile (and Santiago, for that matter) and are known for resisting the invasion of both the Incas and the Spanish conquistadores. I appreciated the brief but interesting opportunity to get to know a little more about Mapuche culture both by checking out the ruka and the stands filled with traditional foods and crafts around the cultural center.

Artesanía, Villarica, Chile
Artisan Wares in Villarica, Chile

The other aspect of Villarica that was fascinating to me were the multiple artisan markets located near the Municipality, down several main streets, and near the Mapuche cultural center and library. This region is especially known for its woodwork, evident from the prevalence of wood buildings all the way to wooden kitchenware. You can also find pottery and knitted goods – I was particularly impressed by a stand run by a collective of women artisans boasting high quality knitware, located near the municipality buildings.

City of Villarica, near Pucón, Chile
Streets of Villarica, Chile

Beyond handicrafts, there are several interesting stores all around Villarica. I found myself wandering around, taking my time, and window shopping.

City of Villarica, Chile
Streets of Villarica, Chile

This gave me a chance to fully appreciate the different vibe of Villarica. It seems like a pleasant residential city – and it is actually growing in popularity among expats exactly for this reason. With lots of nearby services (read: giant shopping centers) and a compact downtown area, it’s also appealing to Chilean families.

Funny Sign in City of Villarica, Chile
“Alcohol causes damage, but we forgive it” – Funny sign in Villarica, Chile

And let’s not forget the food and nightlife.  There are tons of spacious restaurants and bars scattered around Villarica. I think this would be a fun place to go out, if that’s what you’re into, and probably a little more affordable than Pucón.

City of Villarica, Chile
Streets of Villarica, Chile

By this point in the afternoon, I was sufficiently charmed by the city of Villarica, so I decided to continue my explorations and headed to the lakefront to enjoy the rest of the sunny day.

Villarica’s Beautiful Costanera

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile
Volcán Villarica from Villarica, Chile

When I mentioned that I was curious about the fairly new costanera (promenade) along the shores of Lago Villarica, a resident of Pucón told me that the views from his city were better. WRONG. Villarica’s costanera provides gorgeous views of the blue, blue lake and the mountains in the distance.

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile
Volcán Villarica over Lago Villarica in Villarica, Chile

Even better, the views of Volcán Villarica are unobstructed by hotels and new luxury buildings in construction – for the most part. I was captivated by the views of the volcano in all its glory!

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile
Lago Villarica, Villarica, Chile

Of course, I couldn’t help but appreciate the deep blues of the lake coupled with the pretty blue sky. Just as at Lago Caburgua, the hills in the distance also take on a blue hue. Good thing blue is my favorite color! 😉

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile

Little Lakeside Park on Lago Villarica, Villarica, Chile

I think the most charming part of the costanera is the fact that there are so many little lakeside parks, or rather, grassy areas with trees, right on the shores of the lake. This is a perfect place for a picnic with friends or family, or a place to sit down with a book and spend a couple of hours in the sunshine.

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile

Volcán Villarica over Lago Villarica, in Villarica, Chile

Because the costanera is so long, it’s pretty easy to find a quiet corner to relax – you don’t have to go all the way to the beach. As far as I’m concerned, the decision to construct the costanera for Chile’s bicentennial celebration in 2010 was an excellent one – and for some reason, Villarica’s gorgeous lakefront views still seem like a well-preserved secret, perhaps because most foreign tourists base themselves out of Pucón.

Playa Pucara

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile

Playa Pucara, Lago Villarica, Villarica, Chile

After wandering the length of Villarica’s costanera from the center of town, you end up at Playa Pucara, a black sand beach popular among vacationing Chilean families.

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile

Playa Pucara, Lago Villarica, Villarica, Chile

Obviously, this beach is not at all a secret, nor does it want to be! There are plenty of services located by the beach, including basic cafés, public restrooms, and several little food stands with Chilean favorites like mote con huesillo. Due to the open spaces, the beach never feels crowded; there’s room for everyone. With the strong sun and hot temperatures of summer, it’s a good place to go for a swim.

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile

Lago Villarica, Villarica, Chile

Besides swimming, entrepreneurial Chileans offer rides in their paddleboats and fishing boats – lots of little stands line the shores near the beach.

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile

Playa Pucara, Lago Villarica, Villarica, Chile

Although it was much too hot to consider lying for long on these concrete beach chairs, they are a nice touch to the beautiful boardwalk park. The urban planners definitely knew their audience and came up with everything.

Views of Lago Villarica from Villarica, Chile

Playa Pucara, Lago Villarica, Villarica, Chile

Of course, the best part of Playa Pucara is its views of Volcán Villarica. Like many others, I rested for a while on the concrete stairs just to contemplate the views.

Street Art

Street Mural in Villarica, Chile

Cool Street Art in Villarica, Chile

I have to admit – I was off my street art game during my visit to Villarica and only snapped a couple of pictures. While Pucón is fairly sterile, Villarica has more character and there are lots of murals to discover while walking through the streets. I wish I’d taken more pictures, but at least I started paying more attention as I kept traveling!

Street Art in Villarica, Chile

“Life is a parachute that doesn’t open until we rest in the earth” – Mural in Villarica, Chile

As you can see, Villarica is well-worth at least an afternoon during a visit to Araucanía and Pucón. Many guidebooks suggest staying in Villarica as a more relaxed alternative to Pucón, and I agree; Villarica caters towards Chilean tourists and it’s easy to walk around without feeling like someone is trying to sell you a tour or invite you into a pricey restaurant. Villarica definitely captivated my imagination with its laidback character and authentic charm, and hopefully someday I’ll be back!

Recommendations for Villarica, Araucanía, Chile:

  • First of all – GO! Most foreign tourists end up staying in nearby Pucón, whereas Chilean families gravitate towards Villarica. Because Villarica is a larger, more residential city, it does not give off that overwhelming tourist vibe, even though there are plenty of shops for artisan goods as well as museums.
  • Buses from Pucón to Villarica leave from Calle Palguín, across from the JAC bus terminal (if I remember correctly – double-check with a local!). Rides each way cost $1200 and buses leave every 10-15 minutes or so, making stops along the way to Villarica. The trip takes about 30 minutes and drops you off at the terminal in Villarica, located on Pedro de Valdivia between Anfión Muñoz and Gerónimo de Alderete.
  • Downtown Villarica is infinitely walkable, as you see from my photo of the map, above. Make sure to take time to wander around – there are lots of little specialty stores, artisan markets, and plenty of restaurants as well as cool cafés like the larger version of Huerto Azul. I chose not to eat there because I had already splurged on my Christmas meals back in Pucón. 😉
  • Make sure to walk down to the costanera all the way to Playa Pucara, as the views are truly stunning. I had a tough time narrowing down the photos for this post. Bring a beach towel or blanket and a book and be prepared to spend an afternoon enjoying the views. Don’t forget sunscreen – the sun is super strong reflected off the water.
  • Though I did not stay there nor check out the accommodations, Mapu Hostel probably would have been my lodging of choice if I had stayed in Villarica. If I go back, I will definitely stay in Villarica over Pucón!
  • All of the buses that leave Pucón and head north towards Santiago and south towards Patagonia pass through Villarica, so you could spend an afternoon there before taking a night bus.
[Villarica, Araucanía, Chile: December 26, 2015]

Villarica, Chile - Charismatic Chilean City with Amazing Views of Volcán Villarica

Pucón, Chile: Biking to Lago Caburgua and the Ojos de Caburgua (and Feeling Gratitude on My First Solo Christmas Day!)

VePlaya Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, near Pucón, Chile
Blue As Far As the Eye Can See at Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, near Pucón, Chile

While Pucón is an attractive city worth a couple of days of relaxation, the real appeal of the region is the multitude of opportunities to participate in high-adrenaline adventure sports. Mountain climbing? Volcán Villarica is right there. Trekking? Several national parks are within your reach. Rafting? Some of the best rivers in Chile are a short drive away. Horseback riding? You can even go on a ride through Mapuche villages with a local guide.

With all of these options, the one that most appealed to me was biking. Back in Boston, I had become a serious urban biker, going on weekly adventures, but after moving to the Valle de Elqui, I had not managed to get my hands on a functional bike, except when traveling. For Christmas, I decided to take myself on a long bike ride to Lago Caburgua and the Ojos de Caburgua, beautiful waterfalls that cascade into aquamarine pools, the so-called ojos, or eyes.

Views over Río Trancura, Biking from Pucón to Caburgua, Chile
Views over Río Trancura from Ruta S-905, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile

As I’ve mentioned, Pucón and the surrounding area are very bike friendly. There are protected bike lanes along the main highway, assuring a safe beginning to any long distance bike journey and enabling you to build up confidence for the roads ahead. After renting a gorgeous new mountain bike from Freeride Pucón, I happily set off on my solo adventure in the gorgeous summer sun.

Views of Volcán Villarica between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile
Views of Volcán Villarica from Ruta S-905, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile

The guys in the bike shop suggested heading to Lago Caburgua first and taking the route along the paved highway, Ruta S-905. Although it involves a climb up a steep hill, the road is paved and that way you don’t spend all of your energy early in the day navigating dirt roads. I knew I wasn’t in top biking shape, so I was prepared to rest and walk as need be – which gave me a chance to take in the views of Volcán Villarica from a distance.

Lago Caburgua

Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, near Pucón, Chile
Lago Caburgua from Playa Negra, Caburgua, Chile

After an hour or so of biking, I reached my first destination: Lago Caburgua.  This incredibly blue lake is surrounded by low, rolling hills covered in green trees. Coupled with blue skies, basically everything takes on a tinge of blue. I LOVE BLUE!

Lizard at Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, near Pucón, Chile
Lizard at Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Chile

Because it was around lunchtime on Christmas Day, the beach was fairly empty, making it a peaceful place to have a picnic lunch and just take in the views. While eating my lunch, I spotted this lizard darting around and couldn’t resist taking a picture.

Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, near Pucón, Chile
Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, Chile

Playa Negra is the most accessible public beach on the shores of giant Lago Caburgua. At the time of my visit, a sizeable portion of the beachfront was under construction, ostensibly to install a malecón and visitor services (are we sensing a trend?). The small street passing by the beach was congested with vehicles, but it was easy to walk or bike in.

Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, near Pucón, Chile
Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, Chile

As at Playa Grande in Pucón, there are plenty of opportunities to take a spin out on the calm waters of Lago Caburgua. Paddle boats are pretty much my favorite way to explore lakes – looking at these photos makes me realize that I missed an opportunity!

Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, near Pucón, Chile
Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, Chile

Near Playa Negra, there is also the more exclusive Playa Blanca with its white sand beaches. The beach is only accessible by car and requires you to pay for parking in order to gain entrance. This makes it popular with Chilean families and a little bit quieter than the larger Playa Negra, but not worth including on my itinerary.

Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, near Pucón, Chile
Playa Negra, Lago Caburgua, Caburgua, Chile

The town of Caburgua is relatively small and the tourist services are mostly located on the main highway as you enter the town and reach the lake. There are several restaurants for tourists located on the road that leads to the lake and a couple basic kiosks just off the beach. All in all, visiting Lago Caburgua enables you to spend a simple, pleasant day relaxing by the water.

Ojos de Caburgua

Fields on Route between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile
Fields on Route Towards Ojos de Caburgua

Cristo between Pucón and Caburgua, ChileAfter a couple of hours enjoying the beachside views of Lago Caburgua, I decided it was time to head to my next destination, Ojos de Caburgua. The entrance to the series of waterfalls called Ojos de Caburgua is located off a dirt road detour between Pucón and Caburgua.  To get there from Caburgua, I first had to retrace my steps along Ruta S-905, this time heading downhill. I ended up stopping to capture the lovely green fields along the way – did I mention I had been living in the desert for the past year? So much green was fascinating.

The detour is by “El Cristo” and is easy to spot as it’s the only major road marked by a number of advertisements for lodging options. As you turn off the road, you see the little garden chapel with Christ on the cross. I thought it was quite lovely.  As you in the below photo, the detour is marked, but it’s hard to spot amongst all the foliage!

Cristo between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile
Little Chapel by “El Cristo,” between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile

After turning off the main highway, the road continues along a very bumpy dirt road which only allows one car to pass at a time (and that basically means one bike as well!). As I’ve primarily biked in urban areas, I found the dirt road challenging, but not impossible. I definitely understood why the bike rental shop had suggested going by highway first; I might have gotten discouraged otherwise.

Views from the Route between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua, Chile
Entrance to Campground at Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile

The entrance to Ojos de Caburgua is well-signposted from the road, even giving an estimation of how many kilometers remain. To enter, you have to pay a modest entrance fee, and luckily they have bike racks for securing your bike. Since this is a high transit area, it’s better to leave the bike in a highly visible location than take it to the waterfalls, where it could get snatched.

This entrance to Ojos de Caburgua also has a campground, as seen above.

Views of Volcán Villarica between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile
View of Volcán Villarica While Walking to Ojos de Caburgua

The Ojos de Caburgua are located about 2 kilometers from the main entrance on private property, and the landscape is lovely, even affording views of the majestic Volcán Villarica.

Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile
Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile

Access to Ojos de Caburgua is by a series of trails and stairs, all leading towards the falls and the gorgeous aquamarine pools. The Ojos de Caburgua are set among Valdivia temperate rainforest, giving a completely different sense of the area than you get from the road. There are several vantage points affording a closer look at the system of waterfalls.

Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile
Views of Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile

Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, ChileI spent about an hour appreciating the sound of the cascading water, climbing around the different trails to see other views of the waterfalls, and just taking in the cool shade of the tall trees.

Because there are so many visitors to the Ojos de Caburgua, it isn’t really a place to rest with a book and enjoy the landscape. After a while, I was ready to get back on my bike and keep experiencing the landscape of the hills, forests, and mountains around the area.Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile
More Views of Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile

Posing in Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile
Posing at Ojos de Caburgua, between Pucón and Caburgua, Chile

Of course, I couldn’t leave without taking a selfie!

Biking Back to Pucón from Ojos de Caburgua

Views from the Route between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua, Chile

Views from Ruta S-919, the road between Pucón and the Ojos de Caburgua

Along Ruta S-919, the gravel road between Pucón and Caburgua, there are lots of beautiful farmlands. While the urban area around Pucón is increasingly more popular with tourists, leading to more development, the region still maintains its laid-back vibe. This is just the ambiance of Araucanía – forests, fields, farming. That’s why it’s so popular among people just wanting to get away from their normal routine. Life moves a little more slowly here.

Views from the Route between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua, Chile
Views from Ruta S-919, the road between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua

At this point in the late afternoon, I was getting tired, and the hilly gravel road was more challenging than I expected – though not impossible. At the same time, it was hard for me to gain momentum because I kept stopping to take pictures of the mountains and fields. Haha!

Views from the Route between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua, Chile
Panoramic View of the Fields Around Ruta S-919, the road between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua

Naturally, these photos show the beautiful landscape, but they do not capture the feeling of biking through the forests and mountains, wind in my hair, just feeling dwarfed by the wonders of nature all around me.

Views from the Route between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua, Chile
Fields Off Ruta S-919, the road between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua

For some reason, in Araucanía, I felt like the mountains enveloped me. As I biked, the views were just always so beautiful, forcing me to be really present, to really take it in, to really appreciate this moment of my life. As I’ve mentioned about my trip to Rapa Nui, and the sense of luck and love that accompanied me on my backpacking trip in 2013, travel can force you into these moments of clarity.

Views from the Route between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua, Chile
Lush Forest on Ruta S-919, the road between Pucón and Ojos de Caburgua

You realize that the decisions you have made in your life have led you here. You realize how lucky you are to be able to experience something so different than your reality – whether talking about my life in Boston or in the Valle de Elqui.

As I biked through the countryside of Araucanía on Christmas Day, these were the thoughts that floated through my mind. I have mentioned that I needed to clear my head, and I certainly did. There is nothing like appreciation and gratitude to remind you what’s important. I was where I needed to be – on a bike, surrounded by incredibly scenery, and feeling thankful.

Views over Río Trancura, near Hui Hui/Pucón, Chile
Paved Road and Bridge Between Quelhue and Pucón, Chile

Despite these feelings of appreciation, the hilly, rocky road was bringing me to my physical limit. I was starting to be concerned that I wouldn’t make it back to Pucón without getting a ride, when suddenly I came out to a flat, even road. And it kept going – I had left the hills behind me! Before long, I made it back on to paved road and headed into the more populated urban landscape.

Views over Río Trancura, near Hui Hui/Pucón, Chile
Snow-Capped Mountains Seen over Río Pucón, near Quelhue, Pucón, Chile

As I crossed over the bridge between Quelhue and Pucón, I noticed the amazing views – snow-capped mountains in the distance, lush green forests surrounding the river. I hopped off my bike and started snapping pictures of the views.

Views near Hui Hui/Pucón, Chile

Mountains near Quelhue, near Pucón, Chile

Again, it’s difficult to convey the sense of awe, of being surrounded by the mountains that towered above me. The Mapuche village of Quelhue is located right by these hills, and I’m sure that’s no accident. The energy of these green mountains is powerful, even passing through.

Views over Río Trancura, near Hui Hui/Pucón, Chile

Green Forests near Río Pucón, near Quelhue and Pucón, Chile

After taking in my last views of the river, mountains, and forests just outside Quelhue and Pucón, I headed back to the city to return my bike and eat a well-deserved (and much-needed!) Christmas dinner.

All in all, it had been a perfect solo Christmas Day: I spent the whole day cleansing my body with intense physical exercise, I got a chance to take in the blues of Lago Caburgua and listen to the powerful cascades at Ojos de Caburgua, and I reconnected with my sense of awe and gratitude while biking through the landscapes of rural Araucanía. Upon my return to Pucón, I treated myself to a generous Christmas dinner at Trawen and headed back to the hostel to call my family. I had been nervous about spending the holiday alone – but it ended up being amazing.

Recommendations for Biking to Lago Caburgua and Ojos de Caburgua:

  • The best bike rental shop in Pucón is Freeride Pucón – they have the latest bikes, keep them well-maintained, and provide everything you need for a safe bike ride.
  • Make sure to bring snacks and water – the sun is strong in this area and the hills can be challenging. You need fuel!
  • While more experienced or aggressive mountain bikers may want to head to Ojos de Caburgua directly via the long, hilly dirt road, I suggest doing what the bike rental shop told me and heading to Lago Caburgua first. After leaving Pucón, you follow Ruta Internacional along the bike path until reaching Ruta S-905, heading towards Caburgua.  The road is steep at times, but even with a few stints of walking I made good time.
  • In Caburgua, you can eat typical Chilean food like empanadas at tourist restaurants, buy snacks at the lakefront kiosks, or enjoy a picnic lunch as I did. Make sure to buy more water if you need it – there’s nowhere else to get some besides Ojos de Caburgua.
  • To get to Ojos de Caburgua, you head downhill towards the turnoff to El Cristo, very clearly signposted. If you’re nervous about missing it, use Google Maps – these roads are all clearly marked and it’s hard to get lost.
  • Entry to Ojos de Caburgua costs $1000CLP and is worth it – the falls are beautiful and the trails are well-maintained.
  • Don’t forget to pay attention as you get closer to Quelhue – the surrounding landscape is beautiful.
  • If you visit in the summer, make sure to save time to visit the Feria Costumbrista Kui Kui, showcasing Mapuche foods in Quelhue. I didn’t go but it looks like it was amazing!
[Caburgua, Araucanía, Chile: December 25, 2015]

Pucón, Chile - Biking to Lago Caburgua and the Ojos de Caburgua (and Feeling Gratitude on My First Solo Christmas Day!)

Pucón, Chile: Termas Geométricas, the Luxury Hot Springs Hidden in the Mountains near Coñaripe

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile
Termas Geométricas, near Pucón and Coñaripe, Chile

I’ve started getting into hot springs, thermal baths, aguas termales, whatever you want to call them. My interest started back in 2013, when I visited the Termas de Cacheuta, near Mendoza, Argentina. Even in the winter temperatures, I tried the outdoor pools, and then headed indoors to ease myself into the progressively hotter baths, gradually making it into the very hottest bath, said to be excellent for your health.

This past year, I realized just how nice it was to feel warmed to your bones during a cold winter by soaking in the medicinal (and muddy) waters of Mamiña, near Iquique, Chile. I followed that up with the high altitude baths of Termas de Puchuldiza.  At the end of the year, I brought the volunteers to a lovely end-of-year retreat at Refugio El Molle in the Valle de Elqui, where we soaked in super hot mineral waters heated by wood-burning fires. I’m hooked.

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile
Entrance to Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

So when I headed to Pucón and started asking about the top activities in the area, Termas Geométricas came highly recommended – and with an equally high price tag. Besides the pricey entrance fee, as you see above, you pay another $10000CLP or so for the tour, or really, transportation. Visiting Termas Geométricas is a financial commitment, and an all day activity.

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile

Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

I was assured that Termas Geométricas were absolutely worth it, due to their unique construction and beautiful setting. Visiting the thermal baths is a popular activity on rainy days in Pucón, when the weather makes it challenging to do the usual adventure tourism around the area. It’s also a good way for tired hikers to relax their muscles by soaking for a few hours.

And it’s not such a bad idea for a very physically and emotionally exhausted field director enjoying a holiday vacation. (That describes me in December!)

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile
Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

Termas Geométricas are located about two hours from Pucón, near Coñaripe, up a dirt road into the foothills of the mountains. Much of the road is paved, but you need an appropriate vehicle to climb up to the hot baths, especially on a day as rainy as the one I visited on. There are several other termas and spas located in this same area due to the mineral water, but Termas Geométricas is the most popular one among foreign tourists – Chileans probably don’t visit as much due to the price tag.

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile
Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

The establishment provides you with what you need – a towel and a lock for the lockers located inside the changing rooms – and you just need to bring your bathing suit. That’s it. After paying your entrance fee, you’re on your own (well, you and a horde of other visitors if you come during peak hours).

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile
Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

The reason these hot springs are so popular is due to their cool design.  They appear to be carved into the mountain walls surrounding the narrow pathway.  The foliage is plentiful, so you have the sense you are in the middle of the jungle (you kind of are – this is bosque valdiviano, or Valdivian temperate rainforest).

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile
Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

The main feature of the hot springs are the red wood pathways and buildings, which are constantly being repainted, so watch out for fresh paint signs. The baths themselves are constructed from stone to match the mountains, and there are some other features, like the wheel pictured above.

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile

Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

There are probably about 15 hot baths to choose from.  The most popular ones are located closer to the entrance, but if you keep following the path away from the entrance, you can find more private or secluded places to soak. There are a few located above the main area, but they were closed on my visit.

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile

Don’t Enter – Really Hot Water at the Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

The baths have varying temperatures, ranging from about 27 degrees Celsius to 34 degrees, although none of them were heated to that temperature on my visit. While the water was hot, there was actually only one really hot bath on my visit, and it was tiny! The temperature is regulated by the staff, but some baths happen to be extra toasty on a given day so are closed to visitors, as you see above.

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile

Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

There’s not much to say about the experience of soaking in thermal baths – it’s quite lovely. I would spend a while in one hot spring, and then step out into the cold air, take in the landscape and design, and then choose another.

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile

Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

There is something quite pleasant about walking around in a bathing suit with cool raindrops splashing down on you and small waterfalls providing a steady soundtrack of relaxation.

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile

Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

If you keep wandering all the way back, you come across a large waterfall, as you see in the photo below. While you can’t actually go under it, there is a smaller, super cold waterfall on the grounds that you can duck under to shock your body between dips in the hot baths. Not for me!

Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile
Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

All in all, it’s a pleasant place to while away a few hours. Many people visit with friends and family, and spend the time chatting, but I chose to find a hidden corner with fewer people and just soak and relax. Later in the afternoon, the crowds head to the café and you can get quiet time.

Would I say this is worth the price of admission? Probably not. While the design is lovely, I went for the healing hot water and there weren’t enough truly hot baths for me. The pricing is designed to make the place a bit elitist and keep the volume of visitors down to a manageable level. Especially for budget travelers, I would suggest trying out more affordable termas elsewhere in Pucón or during your travels through Chile.

Lunch at Termas Geométricas, near Coñaripe/Pucón, Chile
Lunch at the Café at Termas Geométricas, near Pucón

The surprise of the visit was the delicious food at the café! The little café has a wood-fired oven and makes pizzas, breads, quiches, as well as locally popular sweets like küchen (German-style cake with fruit topping). I loved the vegetarian quiche because of its ingenious addition of pecans, adding a nice crunch. Yum – must recreate this!

View from the Road between Coñaripe and Pucón, Chile
View from the Road between Coñaripe and Pucón

After a few hours at the hot springs, we headed back to Pucón. As evidenced by the sun coming through the clouds a few times during my visit, the heavy rains were over. On the road back, I spotted the blue skies over Lago Villarica, and knew I would finally get to see Volcán Villarica in all its glory. This was also a good omen – summer was officially arriving, and that meant almost my whole trip was illuminated by sunny days!

Recommendations for Termas Geométricas, near Pucón and Coñaripe, Chile:

  • Here is the website for Termas Geométricas, where you can get a sense of the layout and find more precise driving directions. Here are over 1000 rave reviews on Tripadvisor.
  • Visiting the hot springs is one of the most popular activities on any tourist’s agenda, so your hostel or hotel probably has a preferred tour group that they work with. The tour is just transportation to and from the springs, so I suggest going with whichever operator offers you a discount.
  • If you decide to rent a car, be aware that the road off the main highways is rocky and muddy and a flat is incredibly likely. We got a flat on the highway on the way there. There is no cell phone service in this part of the mountains, so the tour operators look out for each other to help with anyone who has a flat tire or mechanical problems.
  • The prices for the entrance fees are indicated in the photo above (either $20000 or $24000 CLP for adults, depending on arrival time). Most of the tours arrive at noon or one and leave at four, so be prepared for crowds in that time frame. It felt a little crowded upon arrival but there are plenty of lockers and you can find a little private corner if you keep walking away from the entrance. I think it would be fun to come at night.
  • As mentioned, make sure you bring your bathing suit, but you don’t need anything else. I walked around without flip flops and my towel to avoid having to carry them. Once you soak in your first hot bath, you don’t feel cold anymore when you step out, and if you do happen to feel cold, just get in another one!
  • The bathrooms are outdoors but well-maintained, and I did not see any showers or plugs to dry your hair. Be prepared to be a bit chilled on the way back so bring warmer clothing and a scarf to keep long hair off your neck.
  • While I enjoyed my visit, I do think these hot springs are quite expensive for what they actually offer, and I would suggest going to other nearby thermal baths.
[Termas Geométricas, near Pucón, Chile: December 23, 2015]

Pucón, Chile - Termas Geométricas, the Luxury Hot Springs Hidden in the Mountains near Coñaripe

Pucón, Chile: Experiencing Lakefront Beaches, Volcano Views, and Amazing Food in Southern Chile

Volcán Villarica, Parque Nacional Villarica, Pucón, Chile
Volcán Villarica, Parque Nacional Villarica, near Pucón, Chile

After spending a year living in the dry, desert mountains in the Valle de Elqui, I was ready for a change of scenery, or as they say in Spanish, un cambio de aire. Literally. My work as the field director for a volunteer English program had been, shall we say, eventful, and I recently gone through some major shifts and emotional endings in my life abroad. I needed to clear my head and connect with nature. I needed to get some space to consider my next steps. I needed to head south.

Until December, my knowledge of Chile was confined to the wide expanses of the north: I loved my time in the beach cities of Arica and Iquique, was fascinated by the crazy landscapes of the region around San Pedro de Atacama, and fell in love with the high Andes scenery of Parque Nacional Lauca and Parque Nacional Isluga. Every time a Chilean asked me about the places I’d visited, they asked, “Have you been to the south? Tienes que ir.” You have to go. I had never been further south than Rancagua, an hour or two outside of Santiago.  My destination in December was obvious.

This past year, I spent my first Christmas outside of the United States and away from my family. When I lived in Buenos Aires and Lima, I had returned to the U.S. for the holidays, and it had always been a bit jarring to step out of the airport dressed in summer clothes into winter temperatures. It made no sense to go back: December and January are prime months for visiting South America, especially Chilean Patagonia. This time around, I knew I was going to travel, the only question was where?

Views of Volcán Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Streets of Pucón, Chile

Naturally, it’s a little unnerving to think about spending Christmas completely alone, so I decided to head to Pucón, one of Chile’s “adventure capitals.” With so many hostels and a traveler’s atmosphere, I knew I would find company for a holiday celebration and also enjoy getting back into the travel groove. Y así fue – that’s how it was.

Pucón itself is rather small, with the majority of its activity concentrated on the busy commercial streets whose buildings are predominately wood in a pseudo-alpine style, just like nearby Bariloche, Argentina. Because Pucón’s main industry is tourism, a number of excellent restaurants call Pucón home, and there is plenty of shopping geared towards non-budget travelers. On a sunny day, it’s a pleasant place to wander around, and with ample public transportation and excellent bike paths, it’s easy to navigate. Realistically, most people head to Pucón in order to get out of the city; you can hike through Parque Nacional Villarica, climb Volcán Villarica, go kayaking on Lago Villarica, go rafting on the rivers, mountain biking, horseback riding, basically any adreneline-inducing sport that you’re into.

But if you feel like relaxing, as I very much did, it’s definitely worth spending a day or two taking it easy on the shores of Lago Villarica or exploring the shops and cafés that line Pucón’s streets.  Here’s what I saw in between my more adventurous trips around the region.

La Poza

La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón

La Poza is the most accessible lakefront beach in Pucón. Located at the end of Av. O’Higgins, the main road in Pucón, it provides great views of Lago Villarica and, on a sunny day, Volcán Villarica. There are several boats waiting to take you out for a scenic tour, but it’s also a nice place to enjoy a sunny day.

La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón

On the pedestrian walkway, there are a few benches, some of them with some shade to get out of the summer sun. I saw families and couples relaxing and chatting together, and solo travelers enjoying a book or some time to journal.

La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón

The lawns are well-taken care of and there are lots of cheerful flowers all along the pathway. Coming from the desert, seeing so much green and blue was a bit of a culture shock!

La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Wooden Woodpecker, La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Volcán Villarica, La Poza, Pucón, Chile

Volcán Villarica as seen from La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón

Of course, the real reason anyone goes to La Poza is to take in the amazing views of Volcán Villarica. On my first few days in Pucón, the skies were cloudy so I didn’t get a chance to see the volcano, but once I finally did on Christmas Eve, I knew had come to the right place.

Volcán Villarica, La Poza, Pucón, Chile

Volcán Villarica as seen from La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón

There’s something about seeing a lovely snow-covered volcano up close and personal that really reminds me to be thankful for everything in my life. Perhaps it’s the earth energy of the powerful natural wonder, as my yoga instructor would say, or perhaps it’s just that awe-inspiring beauty! (The morning that I experienced the sunrise at Volcán Cotopaxi in Ecuador is still one of the most memorable days of my life.)

Little Flowers at La Poza, Pucón, Chile

Flowers at La Poza, Pucón

In any case, I loved the views from La Poza and spent quite a few afternoons here, appreciating how the light reflects off the deep blue water and hills surrounding Lago Villarica.

Sunset at La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Sunset at La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón

Of course, I had to catch at least one sunset over Lago Villarica while visiting Pucón.  I had an early dinner on Christmas Day and hurried to La Poza to see how the light would illuminate the clouds…

Sunset at La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Sunset on Volcán Villarica, from La Poza, Lago Villarica, Pucón

…but most importantly, how the late afternoon light would enable the volcano to become even more beautiful. Watching the sunset from La Poza is a wonderful way to spend an evening.

Playa Grande

Moody Clouds over Lago Villarica, Playa Grande, Pucón, Chile

Moody Clouds over Lago Villarica, Pucón

While La Poza is a good place to enjoy a relaxing afternoon any time of the year, Playa Grande is the place to be in summer.  This black sand beachfront on Lago Villarica provides wide expanses of water for swimming and plenty of space for sunbathers.  Of course, when I first arrived, the sun was not to be seen, but after one more rainstorm, summer burst in with clear blue skies.

Playa Grande, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Playa Grande, Lago Villarica, Pucón

The difference between a cloudy day in Pucón and a sunny one is striking, and once the sun comes out, so do all the locals and tourists. Beyond sunbathing and swimming, there are several operators renting kayaks and paddleboats, and a handful of restaurants, bars, and kiosks catering towards the summer crowds.

Playa Grande, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

As you can see from this photo, the most exclusive lakefront homes are located in the gorgeous green forests of the nearby peninsulas. While there are exclusive hotels right on the beach and lots of construction around town, Pucón still has yet to be overdeveloped and maintains that small-town, “retreat” vibe, probably one of the reasons it’s so popular among Chilean and foreign tourists alike.

Playa Grande, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Lago Villarica, Pucón

As I keep saying, seeing water this blue after a year in the desert was UNREAL. It’s not for nothing that my site is called blueskylimit – I’m obsessed with blue skies and blue lakes. So much blue!

Playa Grande, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Green Hills Surrounding Lago Villarica, Playa Grande, Pucón

These green hills are completely different from the barren browns of the Valle de Elqui. The fresh air and new scenery was definitely doing me some good.

Playa Grande, Lago Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Playa Grande, Lago Villarica, Pucón

You could do much worse than spending a day lounging on the black sand, reading a book. I have to admit that I was too eager to explore the surrounding area, but if I ever make it back here, I’m going to have a beach day.

Wandering Around Pucón

Views of Volcán Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Streets of Pucón, Chile

Beyond exploring the lakefront beaches, Pucón is worth wandering around. I couldn’t get enough of seeing Volcán Villarica towering above Pucón as I took my time checking out the stores and restaurants on every block.

Views of Volcán Villarica, Pucón, Chile

Streets of Pucón, Chile

Pucón has basically everything a traveler could need, with tons of outdoor equipment stores, travel bookstores, and even department stores. I enjoyed window shopping and just transitioning my brain into a less rural vibe. So. Many. Options!

Views of Volcán Villarica, Pucón, Chile
Streets of Pucón, Chile

One let-down from my time in Pucón is that its large, central park was under construction and off-limits to the public, just like the main plazas in Vicuña and Pisco Elqui. I seem to be a magnet for plaza construction. So I had to settle for the wooden buildings and the volcano, not such a bad tradeoff. It’s been 13 years since I visited Bariloche, Argentina, but I have to admit that the wooden buildings gave me a sense of deja vu, as well as the plentiful gourmet chocolate everywhere! 😉

Eating Well in Pucón

Ice Cream at Huerto Azul, Pucón, Chile

Ice Cream from Huerto Azul, Pucón, Chile

Of course, I couldn’t visit Pucón without trying out the delicious food available in almost every store and restaurant. My research on travel blogs and in guide books mentioned Huerto Azul as a required stop for picking up artisanal ice cream, chutneys, chocolate, and herbal teas. While I couldn’t take any of the tempting sauces and seasonings with me, I absolutely could try out the ice cream and chocolate. 🙂

Christmas Eve Lunch at Café de la P, Pucón, Chile

Christmas Eve Lunch at Café de la P, Pucón, Chile

Lunch at Café de la P, Pucón, Chile

After having read this blog post mentioning some of the most delicious cafés in Pucón, I was tempted to have my Christmas Eve lunch at Café de la P. I had a delicious sandwich accompanied by a berry juice (fresh berries grow all over the Lakes Region and Araucanía), and then followed by a slice of pecan torte.  There were so many insanely rich looking cakes, I just couldn’t decide!

Christmas Dinner at Trawen, Pucón, Chile

Starting the Meal Off Right at Trawen, Pucón

After my long bike ride to and from Caburgua (post forthcoming!) on Christmas Day, I returned to Pucón ravenously hungry. As Christmas Day is the more important holiday in the United States, I decided to treat myself to a delicious full dinner at Trawen, a restaurant noted for its healthy food options, fresh juices, and baked goods. I had passed by several times and always found it packed.

Christmas Dinner at Trawen, Pucón, Chile

Christmas Dinner at Trawen, Pucón, Chile

Luckily for me, they are friendly to solo travelers and I found a bright table to enjoy my wine, soup, and the best meal I had eaten in Chile until that date: garbanzo gnocchi with a savory sauce. Amazing. I want to go back and eat there again just looking at these pictures!

Ice Cream at Friatto, Pucón, Chile

Ice Cream at Friatto, Pucón, Chile

Having passed Friatto, yet another artisanal ice cream shop in Pucón, I knew I had to go back with an empty stomach. After not being a huge fan of the fruit ice cream, I went for chocolate and manjar, and the deep chocolate flavor was amazing. Yes, I ate very well in Pucón, and it was well worth it to splurge!

Christmas in Pucón

Christmas in Pucón, Chile

Christmas Tree in Pucón, Chile

As mentioned above, I spent my first Christmas away from the U.S. and my family in Pucón. While Christmas for me usually means cold temperatures and snow, I have always appreciated seeing decorated trees and sparkling lights around town, no matter where I happen to be during Christmas season. Pucón’s little plaza was quite festive.

Christmas Eve in Pucón, Chile

Christmas Eve at Okori Hostel, Pucón

Christmas Eve in Pucón, Chile
Christmas Eve in Pucón, Chile

When researching the many hostels in Pucón, I stumbled across Okori Hostel, a brand new hostel located near the airport on the outskirts of town, surround by the ever-more-rare native forests. While the hostel was not as busy as those downtown, I spent Christmas Eve with the owners, their mother, and a group of Brazilian friends who were also curious about this brand new place.  Karin, one of the owners, loves coloring mandalas and helped me understand how to use them as meditation and read the colors to get insight into what is going on inside me.

There were adorable decorated trees and Christmas lights strung up on actual trees all around the properties, making it a suitably festive place to spend Christmas. Until this night, I didn’t realize that Christmas Eve was actually the main holiday for people in many countries around the world. It helped me understand why the server at Café de la P was worried about whether or not I was going to be alone that night. Luckily, I was well accompanied by friendly, open-minded people!

Christmas Eve Supermoon in Pucón, Chile

Supermoon as Seen from Pucón, Chile

Christmas Eve in Pucón, Chile
Christmas Eve Dinner

As you may recall, this was also the night of the Christmas supermoon, which was beautiful to observe but very hard to capture. I woke up in the middle of the night and saw the giant moon right outside my window, unforgettable.

We spent Christmas Eve together as a big happy international family, with the Brazilians doing the majority of the food preparation and me helping out with the salads as much as I could. Over a few bottles of wine and lots of good conversation, we welcomed the holiday.

All in all, it was a perfect way to spend Christmas Eve. For Christmas Day, I planned to head on a solo bike ride to Caburgua, a gift to myself after so many months without the opportunity to ride a bike.

Pucón was the perfect place to spend the holidays, and the region of Araucanía proved to be the ideal gateway into the Chilean lakes region and northern Patagonia. There is so much to see in Araucanía, the area around Pucón, Parque Nacional Villarica, and beyond.  My adventure was about to begin!

Recommendations for Pucón, Chile:

  • There is a LOT to do in the area surrounding Pucón. I’ll talk about some of the activities I did in future posts, but in the meantime, the Globetrotter Girls list a number of excellent options, weather permitting.
  • Similarly, there are so many tour operators that it can be overwhelming, and each different company has its specialty. You should definitely ask around and check with fellow travelers. Aguaventura comes highly recommended – I ended up not taking a tour with them but found them to be honest and professional.
  • The best, best, best place to rent bikes in Pucón is Freeride Pucón – the staff is friendly, the bikes are well-maintained, and the prices are competitive. There are several protected bike paths around town, making biking in the region a nice option.
  • I stayed at Okori Hostel, which is a brand new, beautifully constructed hostel just outside downtown Pucón, across from the airport.  I also heard wonderful things about Chili Kiwi Hostel, located right at La Poza. I was curious about Hostal French Andes, run by the owner of Aguaventura, as it is has Japanese-style capsule dorm beds.
  • There are so many amazing places to eat in Pucón – definitely check out Trawen and Café de la P, as pictured above.  I also heard that the café at École was amazing.
  • The Wikitravel entry on Pucón is thorough, if you want to see all your options at a glance.
  • If you are traveling by TurBus, be aware that the bus terminal is located just outside town, which means you may need a transfer to get downtown unless you’ve packed relatively light.
  • Do not listen to the guidebooks and ignore Villarica, which is actually a charming city located on the other side of Lago Villarica. I actually enjoyed Villarica more than Pucón! Make sure to take a bus ride over to Villarica – they leave from the center of town. More to come in my post on Villarica.
 [Pucón, Chile: December 22-27, 2015]

Pucón, Chile - Experiencing Lakefront Beaches, Volcano Views, and Amazing Food in Southern Chile

Parque Nacional Isluga, Chile: Encountering History and Living Culture in the Chilean Altiplano

Altiplano Landscape, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile

Views of the Chilean Altiplano en route to Parque Nacional Isluga, Chile

There are times when an independent traveler wants to take local buses and explore ruins or beautiful landscapes at a relaxed pace. And then there are times when taking an organized tour is the more economical and convenient option, due to massive distances or the need for an off-road vehicle.  But then there are other times when your tour guide shows a passion for promoting and protecting the rich regional heritage that is often missed by tourists quickly passing through en route to somewhere more famous, when this knowledgable person serves as a gateway into the history and culture of a fascinating region. This was the case on my tour to Parque Nacional Isluga.

On my last full day in Iquique, I signed up for the Parque Nacional Isluga tour for two reasons: I was curious about the weavings from Isluga that were on display at the Museo Regional de Iquique, and I wanted to see the high altitude Andean landscape in this part of the country. I had already visited the gorgeous lagoons in Parque Nacional Lauca, near Arica, and the wonders of the Atacama Desert, near San Pedro, and I was curious how the scenery changed over here.

In the end, beyond the scenery and textiles, this tour ended up illuminating so many aspects of life in the northern desert over the past few centuries, and inspired me to keep on traveling and exploring Chile. Fair warning: this post is very long and picture-heavy, but I want to encourage other travelers to take the time to visit this area on their way through Chile!

El Gigante de Atacama

Gigante de Atacama, near Iquique, Tarapacá, Chile
El Gigante de Atacama, near Tarapacá, Chile

The tour left Iquique very early in the morning for one good reason: we wanted to make it to the Gigante de Atacama before the sun came up over the mountain. The Gigante de Atacama, or the Giant of the Atacama Desert, is a huge geoglyph carved into the side one of the hills found in the middle of the expanses of sand. These geoglyphs are found throughout northern Chile, and for the most part, archeologists are still studying and debating the meaning of the figures.

Gigante de Atacama, near Iquique, Tarapacá, Chile
Sun Coming Up Directly Over the Gigante de Atacama

The Gigante de Atacama is well-known because of its massive size and its very clearly humanoid shape.  As in many of the rock carvings I saw in Yerbas Buenas, near San Pedro de Atacama, the figure looks like a shaman. This shape could represent an important meeting or could be a signpost signaling a particular travel route (speculation found here). In any case, I was struck by the fact that the sun rises directly over the top of the head of the Gigante de Atacama; like many ancient Andean cultures, whoever carved this figure into the mountain was well aware of the path of the sun.

Gigante de Atacama, near Iquique, Tarapacá, Chile
Geoglyphs near El Gigante de Atacama

It is no accident that the sun rises directly over his head; the visual impact of illumination appearing slowly and strongly above this giant figure could represent spiritual or intellectual insight. According to our guide, other geoglyphs in this same “family” also appear to have been designed in connection with the sun, coordinated with the sunset and movements of this and other celestial bodies over the course of the year. Fascinating stuff. Near the Gigante de Atacama, there are other intriguing shapes and figures, as you see above.

Ruta 15, Atacama Desert to the Altiplano, Tarapacá, Chile
Isolated Bus Stop to Bolivia in the Desierto de Atacama, near Tarapacá, Chile

At this point in my tour, our guide was encouraged because a number of us showed serious interest in the ancient cultures of the Atacama and the speculations about the origins and reasons behind these figures. As a reward, he decided to take us somewhere not usually included on the tour.

Ruta 15, Atacama Desert to the Altiplano, Tarapacá, Chile
Ruta 15, Not the Inca Trail

As we returned to Ruta 15, we passed a road very clearly carved into the desert, just a faded outline, but very distinct. This was the Camino del Inca, the Inca Trail, passing through the desert. Less impressive than the stonework found in the Andes, it rarely catches the attention of people passing by, but there it remains, cut through by modern roads, passed over by off-road vehicles, but still there.

Ruta 15 continues up into the high Andes all the way to the Bolivian border. I was surprised to see this isolated bus stop in the middle of the desert, but with all the mining in the area and transit to and from Bolivia, this shelter provides some shade from the sun for whoever ends up waiting.

Asterisk in the Atacama Desert

Ancient Pottery, Atacama Desert, Tarapacá, Chile
Ancient Pottery in the Atacama Desert

We parked near the bus shelter (hence the photos) and got out to walk through the desert to our special destination. As we walked through the sand, we glanced down our feet and saw shards of pottery just about everywhere, preserved by the relentless sun. This simple pottery was not painted in any way, which our guide said suggested that it was used for ceremonial purposes, and these were likely pieces that fell off the loads being carried along the way.

Desert Asterick, Atacama Desert, Tarapacá, Chile
Asterisk in the Atacama Desert

After a short walk, we arrived at this incredibly curious geoglyph: a giant asterisk carved into the desert. Like the geoglyphs and the desert section of the Inca Trail, this asterisk was created by digging into the earth and turning up the lighter layers of sand, and using the darker rocks to create a contrast visible in the desert.

Desert Asterick, Atacama Desert, Tarapacá, Chile
Asterisk in the Atacama Desert

Similar to the Nasca Lines of Peru, this desert asterisk is more visible from above, and this is exactly how they found it. According to our guide, Google Earth led those curious about the mysteries of the Atacama to discover this intriguing shape. There is a section that was run over by an off-road motorcycle, whose rider probably had no idea he was passing through what seems to be a ceremonial site.

Desert Asterick, Atacama Desert, Tarapacá, Chile
Textures of the Rocks of the Desert Asterisk

In this photo, you can see the textures and colors of the rocks used to mark out the desert asterisk. This is inhospitable landscape, and at some point in the past, there was a reason to mark this location or record this shape.

Desert Asterick, Atacama Desert, Tarapacá, Chile
Asterisk in the Atacama Desert

That’s the fascinating thing about traveling through the Andes, and the reason I was so inspired by my trip. There are many things we know, but so many things we don’t know, and will probably never know. It’s just part of the mystery of the region, of our past as humans. Some people have reported seeing flying objects in the sky flashing lights in this configuration, so one theory among the curious is that this may have been a symbol indicating a landing pad. I’ll leave it up to them to debate. 🙂

Geoglyphs, Atacama Desert, near Tarapacá, Chile
Geoglyphs in the Atacama Desert

After sufficiently appreciating the asterisk, we headed back to the tour van and continued along Ruta 15.  Of course, we spotted many other geoglyphs along the way. These appeared to be a little more traditional, shapes relating to animals and other figures of daily life. As you can see from the photo, unregulated offroad vehicles have damaged the desert around the geoglyphs, turning up the rocks surrounding them. It’s hard to convince people that rocks and sand are part of Chile’s national heritage and need to be protected.

Mirador Alto Pachica & Quebrada de Tarapacá

Mirador Alto Pachica, en route to Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Mirador Alto Pachica, View of the Quebrada de Tarapacá

Our next stop on the climb up Ruta 15 into the high Andes was the Mirador Alto Pachica, a viewpoint that offers a broad view of the Quebrada de Tarapacá. Down below in the valley, there is more vegetation around the rivers, so farming villages still persist. (For Spanish readers, there is some interesting information about the various towns of the area here.)

Mirador Alto Pachica, en route to Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Mirador Alto Pachica, View of the Quebrada de Tarapacá

Personally, I was most fascinated by the views of Inca terracing.  Ever since my trip to Peru back in 2007, I have been intrigued by how the Incas (and their predecessors) carved out ways to grow crops in seemingly impossible locations. Our guide explained that engineers have studied the way water was moved from one place to another in this valley and still don’t fully understand how the ancient system worked.

Mirador Alto Pachica, en route to Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Posing above the Quebrada de Tarapacá

Of course, this kind of view requires posing for pictures. Our guide took lots of photos of us from the best vantage point, and promised to send them along. Unfortunately, this never happened, but I have this shot of me posing for the pictures taken by one of my fellow tourists.

Altiplano Landscape, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Views of the Desert Hills in the Atacama Desert in the Tarapacá Region

We continued our climb into the higher altitude of the Andes, watching the landscape change from brown and beige to the rich reds and oranges from the mineral-rich mountains. One glance at these colors makes it unsurprising that mining is big business in the area!

Reaching the Altiplano, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Ruta 15, Altitude 4351 Meters above sea level

Finally, we reached the highest point in our climb, 4351 meters above sea level. This is quite the climb in altitude in one day, and can be tough on your body, but at this point we were all feeling good and ready to continue the journey.

Entering the Chilean Altiplano

Altiplano Landscape, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile

Altiplano Landscape, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Llamas and Other Andean Animals in the Chilean Altiplano

At this point, we were high in the Chilean altiplano (highlands), and it was time to go off-roading. While Ruta 15 continues towards the Bolivian border, the interesting sites lie on the dirt roads running parallel. You start to see another type of traffic, animals like llamas, vicuña, and other cameloids making their way across the high altitude vegetation.

Altiplano Landscape, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Appreciating the Chilean Altiplano

And then there were the views. I loved seeing the volcanos and snow-covered mountains appearing and disappearing as we rounded corners and headed deeper into the altiplano. Without any lakes around, the landscape was colored in sun-toasted earth tones.

Geisers de Puchuldiza

Geisers de Puchuldiza, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Geisers de Puchuldiza

Our next stop after admiring the landscape and wildlife was the Geisers de Puchuldiza. These geysers are not naturally occurring; the holes in the earth were left open after some sort of mining activity and the water forces itself out due to the pressure beneath the earth’s surface.

Geisers de Puchuldiza, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile

Geisers de Puchuldiza, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile

Selfie at the Geisers de Puchuldiza

There are several spots where the boiling hot water rises to the surface, and the most interesting is where the water comes out with such force and heat, but freezes into this large ice formation in the winter cold of the high Andes. The ice surface glows bright white in the sun, and if you stand close to it you might think you are in Antartica.

Geisers de Puchuldiza, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile

Geisers de Puchuldiza, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Geisers de Puchuldiza

Watching the steaming water spring out of the ground is entertaining for a little while, appreciating nature’s force and reminding you that there is more going on beneath us than we usually consider.

Geisers de Puchuldiza, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Termas de Puchuldiza

From there, we walked over to the Termas de Puchuldiza, a very basic thermal bath built in the middle of nowhere in the Chilean altiplano. At this altitude, the air is cold, but even still I was convinced to change into a bathing suit and get into the healing waters.

Termas de Puchuldiza, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Termas de Puchuldiza

I have to say, after this trip, I am now a big fan of thermal baths, whereas before I didn’t quite understand their appeal. While I’m not sure if the stories about the healing properties of the mineral waters are true, it is relaxing to hang out in a hot pool in the middle of winter. I was especially appreciative to spend some time talking with the other people on my tour and learning their stories.

Beautiful Landscape of the Altiplano, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
More Views of the Chilean Altiplano

After leaving the thermal baths, we got back in our car, and before long, we hit a road bump – other trucks passing by signaled at our tires, and it turns out that we had a flat.

Beautiful Landscape of the Altiplano, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile

Appreciating the Active Volcano in the Chilean Altiplano

Good news is that our guides were prepared and were able to change the tire quickly. In the meantime, I wandered into the landscape a bit to take the pressure off them and snap some shots of the beautiful scenery from another angle.

Mauque

Village of Mauque, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Church of Mauque

Tire replaced, we continued our route to Mauque, one of the traditional Aymara towns located near Parque Nacional Isluga. Mauque is notable for its very old, traditional church and the old-fashioned construction of its houses.

Village of Mauque, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Church of Mauque

Unfortunately, for some reason, the local government decided that the old-fashioned plaza of Mauque needed to be modernized. Take a look at the tire marks on the ground. On the morning of our visit, the Chilean authorities bulldozed the plaza to make room for a new one.

Village of Mauque, near Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile

The town already has a steel monstrosity of a soccer field in the middle of town. Imagine that – a traditional Aymara town being forced into modern buildings and structures. When we arrived, two of the older townspeople were sitting in the plaza, shocked by the destruction of their plaza. As our guide said, a modern plaza would completely throw off the feeling of the town, and even reduces its appeal to tourists.

Unfortunately, this kind of “development” is fairly common throughout Chile.  Character and history give way to uniformity.

In any case, there are artisans in Mauque who offer their hand-knit and woven alpaca products to tourists, if you’re interested in purchasing directly from the makers. After Mauque, we also made a stop in Enquelga, where we saw one of the artisans at work, spinning alpaca yarn. She offered a number of beautiful shawls at low prices; you can see what I ended up purchasing in one of the photos below.

Ceremonial Village of Isluga

Ceremonial Village of Isluga, Paruqe Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Ceremonial Village of Isluga

Finally, in late afternoon, we arrived to Isluga.  Isluga is a ceremonial village, which means that its houses are only inhabited during religious events (more information in Spanish here). It’s a little strange to see so many streets filled without houses, but no people.

Ceremonial Village of Isluga, Paruqe Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Ceremonial Village of Isluga

Hanging from the crosses are pieces of fruit which appear to have dried in the sun and cold. These types of offerings are commonly seen throughout the Andes, although I am not exactly sure what they represent.

Ceremonial Village of Isluga, Paruqe Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Ceremonial Village of Isluga

It was quite peaceful to take in the picturesque location of the town, so close to the mountain which plays an important role in Andean philosophy (cosmovisión).

Ceremonial Village of Isluga, Paruqe Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Ceremonial Village of Isluga

Laguna Arabilla in Parque Nacional Isluga

Laguna Arabilla, Parque Nacional Isluga, near Iquique, Tarapacá, Chile
Laguna Arabilla, Parque Nacional Isluga

Our final scenic stop was the one that originally drew me in: the promise of high altitude lagoons. I was not disappointed. This is the sector protected by Parque Nacional Isluga. Because these lagoons are the habitats of flamingoes and other native species, the Chilean national park service has constructed an educational walk around the lagoon, restricting you to the path in order to protect the ecosystem.

Laguna Arabilla, Parque Nacional Isluga, near Iquique, Tarapacá, Chile
Laguna Arabilla, Parque Nacional Isluga

Due to the late hour, we didn’t have much time at Laguna Arabilla, but it was quite lovely. Coming from the desert mountains of the Valle de Elqui and a week spent on the coast, this landscape was a big change and I had more appreciation for its beauty than I may have if I had come directly from a tour of the Salar de Uyuni or San Pedro de Atacama.

Laguna Arabilla, Parque Nacional Isluga, near Iquique, Tarapacá, Chile
Posing at Laguna Arabilla, Parque Nacional Isluga

In any case, I enjoyed the drastic change from the desert and expanding my knowledge and understanding of the geography of Chile. The Andes are amazing.

Colchane

Paso Frontizero Colchane, Tarapacá, Chile
Posing at the Paso Frontizero Colchane, at the Border with Bolivia

After covering so much territory in one day, it was time for an extremely late lunch at Colchane, the last Chilean town before the Bolivian border. Of course, we couldn’t resist taking pictures of the distances to the nearest Bolivian cities!

Sunset in Parque Nacional Isluga, Tarapacá, Chile
Sunset in Parque Nacional Isluga

After finally eating a real meal, we piled back into the van for the long trip back to Iquique. As night fell, our guide began to tell us about his experiences with the supernatural at oficinas salitreras like Humberstone. It was almost like being around a campfire, swapping stories, where everything seems a little more possible at night than you would believe by the light of day.

I arrived back in Iquique feeling inspired by my visit to the highlands, intrigued by all the history I know so little about, and motivated to keep on exploring and keep on sharing what I learn. I am very thankful to our tour guide for having so much passion for his home region and sharing it with us!

As you can see, I highly recommend heading out on this tour, not just for the beautiful landscapes, but for the opportunity to get a glance into ancient history encoded in the desert, the lives of Aymara villagers, and to just appreciate how different life is at this altitude.

Recommendations for Parque Nacional Isluga Tour, Tarapacá, Chile:

  • Take the tour! This tour is absolutely worth the money, especially if you are visiting from other parts of Chile where the landscape is really different. The tour uses an off-road readyh vehicle that allows you to visit the more out of the way sites, like the geysers. I booked my tour through the hostel I stayed at in Iquique, who work with Show Travel. I really appreciated the insight of my guide, but he was working on starting his own agency and may no longer work there. Fair warning: most tour guides do not speak much English in this region, and you will get the most out of the tour if you make an effort with your Spanish.  The tour cost $45000 CLP in July 2015.
  • Keep in mind that you go from sea level to over 4000 meters above sea level in a very short period of time, which can be hard on your body. To avoid altitude sickness, the tours serve only cookies and crackers on the tour until about 6PM, when you reach Colchane and have a real meal. You may want to bring some fruit if you want some healthy sugar rather than the processed cookies, but I was advised several times not to eat too much as altitude sickness in this particular region can be especially brutal.
  • Make sure to bring some extra cash to buy any of the woven goods sold in Mauque and Enquelga. I bought a hand spun and woven alpaca shawl for $25000 CLP, which is incredibly inexpensive for the quality of the weaving and the material. You can see the shawl in the border photo above. It is one of my favorite souvenirs ever and is incredibly warm due to the alpaca wool and the tiny, tight woven stitches.
  • If you are a vegetarian, the hotel/restaurant in Colchane can serve you a vegetarian option but make sure to tell your travel agency and guide that you need a special meal.
  • Be sure to bring your bathing suit for the Termas de Puchuldiza. Having just visited Mamiña, I chose not to and immediately regretted it. Luckily, one of my fellow tourists had an extra outfit that they lent me.
  • Be prepared to spend the entire day in the tour van – I was picked up at 6:45AM and returned to my hostel at 10:00PM.
  • This video, made using Google Earth, gives a really interesting view on the Gigante del Atacama.
[Parque Nacional Isluga, Chile: July 24, 2015]

Parque Nacional Isluga, Chile- Encountering History and Living Culture in the Chilean Altiplano

Tarapacá, Chile: Savoring the Desert Oasis of Pica and Its Treats

Catedral en Pica, Tarapacá, Chile
Iglesia de San Andrés in Pica, Chile

In my year living in the Valle de Elqui, one of my favorite activities was heading out into the orchard to see what fruit was coming into season and to pick a few figs, avocados, grapes, whatever was ready.  One of the best things in the garden was the lime tree, filled with the kind known as limón de pica in Chile.  (These small, round, green key limes are just called limones in Peru because they are basically the only type of limes or lemons you can find. Chile’s limones are oval and usually mostly yellow – what Americans know as lemons.)  After the heavy rains last summer, I gathered up several kilos of limones de pica that had fallen off the tree and enjoyed them for the next couple of months.  Suffice it to say, I’m a fan.

In any case, in Chile, the limón de pica was given its name because it grows extensively in and around the town of Pica, located in the region of Tarapacá, in northern Chile.  Only a couple of hours away from the busy city of Iquique, easily accessible by public bus or car, it is a popular destination for Chilean tourists.

Catedral en Pica, Tarapacá, Chile
Inside the Iglesia de San Andrés in Pica, Chile

The route from Iquique to Pica climbs up the cliffs to Alto Hospicio (where I snapped this picture), and continues along Ruta 16 towards the Panamerican Highway, about an hour inland.  On the way, the highway passes Humberstone before arriving to the crossroads town of Pozo Almonte, right on Ruta 5 (the Panamerican).  Every bus stops in this transit center, where you can transfer to another if necessary.  Leaving Humberstone, I flagged down a bus heading to Pica and was able to snag a seat once half the passengers descended in Pozo.

From there, it’s about an hour to Pica, an easy ride through the desert.  On the way, you pass through La Tirana, a small town known for its famous religious festival celebrating the Virgen de Carmen.  The festival is celebrated from July 12-18 and is attended by thousands of people every year.  This celebration is particularly famous in Chile because it is the most traditionally Andean of any in the entire country; the dances are extravagant, fascinating, and entertaining.  While I visited the area in July, I arrived just after the festival had ended, so had to settle for watching videos in the Museo Regional de Iquique.  That said, on my way through, the small town was still doing a brisk business selling religious trinkets and welcoming quite a number of tourists.

Catedral en Pica, Tarapacá, Chile
Stained Glass in the Iglesia de San Andrés, Pica, Chile

After passing through La Tirana, we continued heading through the desert, but as we approached Pica I started noticing the various patches of bright green foliage.  Pica is famous because it is a pleasant oasis in the middle of the large northern desert, which makes it a great place to grow hot climate fruit like mango and citrus.  And that was basically the reason I went there – to eat delicious fruit.  What can I say, I’m a simple person.

Catedral en Pica, Tarapacá, Chile
Stained Glass Reflections, Iglesia de San Andrés, Pica, Chile

The bus route ends at the central plaza of Pica, where the first thing to catch your eye is the gorgeous Iglesia de San Andrés, as you see in the photos above.  This church is prized in northern Chile for its traditional construction and attractive interior.  I was particularly fascinated by the rainbow reflections of the stained glass windows, as you can see from the photos.

Plaza de Armas, Pica, Tarapacá, Chile
Main Plaza of Pica, Chile

After checking out the cathedral, I walked around Pica’s main plaza.  As mentioned, Pica is an oasis, which means it has a much more agreeable climate than the relentless sun of the open desert.  After spending the morning exploring Humberstone, I was more than ready to cool off in the plaza.  And to be honest, that is basically all there is to do in Pica: sit in the pleasant plaza to while away an afternoon.

Main Street of Pica, Tarapacá, Chile
Pretty Streets of Pica, Chile

Pica has a number of old, traditional houses painted in bright colors, inviting you to admire them.  The main road hosts a library, several hotels, and a couple of stores offering Pica’s other specialty, alfajores de Pica.  The town is small, so it’s easy to wander around without getting lost.

If you continue along Calle Esmeralda, the main thoroughfare heads to Cocha Resbaldero, Pica’s other main tourist attraction besides the church and the fruit.  Cocha Resbaldero is a natural pool or thermal bath formed out of volcanic rock, popular with tourists interested in taking a nice relaxing dip.  As I was heading to Mamiña for its healing mineral waters the next day, I opted to skip the crowds (which you see here!).

Helado en Pica, Tarapacá, Chile
Artesanal Fruit Ice Cream in Pica, Chile

After sufficiently ascertaining that there was not much to do in Pica (and finding that there was not fruit on every corner as I expected), I headed back towards the main plaza. After poking around some more, I found a pleasant restaurant offering fresh juices and fruit by the kilo. I bought some early-season mangos and toronjas (grapefruit) and then headed back to a little storefront offering homemade ice cream.  As I am on a mission to try artesanal ice cream in every small town where I find myself, I couldn’t resist and tried out mango and guayaba (guaba).

Alfajores de Pica from Pica, Tarapacá, Chile
Alfajores de Pica, Chile

Before leaving Pica, I bought a couple of packages of alfajores de Pica, which differ from the usual alfajores due to the slightly different technique used to make them.  Alfajores de Pica have crispy cookie layers and are usually filled with mango jam rather than the traditional manjar.  They may also be rolled in coconut, completing the tropical flavor.

If you decide that it’s not worth trekking all the way out to Pica just to buy some alfajores, they are often sold by vendors at the transit hub of Pozo Almonte and can be found in supermarkets in Iquique.  Similarly, there are juices made with fruits from the region at the Mercado Centenario.  Either way, visiting Pica makes for a pleasant day trip when combined the nearby attractions of Humberstone and La Tirana; visiting the oasis provides a nice break from the surrounding desert.

Recommendations for Pica, Tarapacá, Chile:

  • Buses to Pica leave from the 700 block of Barros Araña near the Mercado Centenario in the center of Iquique.  Before arriving in Pica, they pass by Humberstone and through Pozo Almonte and La Tirana. You can get on and off the buses at any of those stops (or anywhere else on the route).  A bus to or from Iquique costs $3000 CLP.  From Humberstone, the bus costs $2000 CLP.  You can buy your return ticket at the bus stand next to the main plaza, where you see all the buses parked.
  • If you are interested in swimming in Cocha Resbaldero, make sure you arrive earlier in the day to give yourself enough time to walk over there and enjoy a relaxing dip.  The pool is really popular with Chilean tourists so it may be better to visit on a weekday.  The pool costs $2000 CLP.
  • There are a number of restaurants in Pica but as it is a small town, they only appear to be open during the lunch hour.  I found one restaurant serving juices in late afternoon but there were no other customers inside.
  • You can buy alfajores de Pica at the factory on the corner of the plaza, across from the church.  The older gentleman who sits outside the factory is a local celebrity and the walls are covered with articles describing the alfajores and other aspects of town life.  There is another factory selling alfajores a block or two from the plaza.
  • Although Pica was a pleasant place to visit for an hour or two, I would definitely suggest combining it with a stop in Humberstone and La Tirana to make the most out of your day.
[Pica, Tarapacá, Chile: July 22, 2015]

Tarapacá, Chile: Exploring Northern Chile's Mining Past at Oficina Salitrera Humberstone

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile, 1872-1960

Now that I’ve had a chance to end my time in the Valle de Elqui, travel around southern Chile, and decide to move back to Peru, it’s time to rewind to where it all began last year: my inspirational trip to the region of Tarapacá and the sites around the amazing city of Iquique.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Timeline of the History of Oficina Salitrera Humberstone

If you think about it, it’s quite fitting that my trip to Iquique was one of the first steps towards heading back to Peru.  The region used to be Peruvian territory until the Guerra de Pacífico (the War of the Pacific) between Chile, Peru, and Bolivia, which resulted in a treaty that ceded Tarapacá to Chile in 1883.  While military history is not my strong suit (and for a much greater understanding of this conflict I highly recommend The Chile Reader, a book containing primary historical documents translated into English), this war was also known as the Guerra del Guano y el Salitre, two valuable materials used as fertilizer in this era and the financial impetus for the conflict.  (For the record, guano is bird manure and salitre is saltpeter.)

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Abandoned Buildings in Oficina Salitrera Humberstone

And that brings us to salitre, or saltpeter (potassium nitrate), a mineral that was once found in massive quantities in the deserts of northern Chile.  In its heyday, saltpeter was a highly valuable, in demand natural fertilizer exported all around the world.  As Chile is a country which owes a great deal of its wealth to mining, it follows that Chilean industry would seek to exploit this natural bounty.  And exploit it did: the regions of Tarapacá and Antofagasta were once home to hundreds of oficinas salitreras, or saltpeter mines. (Wikipedia has a full list.)

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Housing Sector in Oficina Salitrera Humberstone

For anyone truly interested in understanding the history of northern Chile and the role that mining has played in generations of families, you have to educate yourself on what the life of a Chilean miner has been and currently is like.  In the Valle de Elqui, almost every family I knew was touched by mining, where a father or son or partner or cousin heads north to Antofogasta or Tarapacá on a regular basis.  Miners generally work in cycles where they will spend 10, 12, or 14 days working in the mines and an equal number on descanso (rest) back at home.  While Los 33 is a dramatized Hollywood version of a particularly challenging episode in Chilean mining history, it can serve as an easily accesible visual introduction to life underground.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Athletic Courts in Oficina Salitrera Humberstone

In the heights of the saltpeter industry, entire complexes grew up around the mines, located in the most inhospitable parts of the north, baking under the desert sun.  Some of the salitreras were small and consisted of little more than the industrial operations and basic housing, but others, like Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, evolved to have extensive living complexes, a hotel and bar, swimming pools and basketball courts, schools, and even a theatre.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Crumbling Buildings in Oficina Salitrera Humberstone

According to what locals told me, Humberstone was actually quite unusual, serving as the “model” saltpeter mine, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting.  It just makes you realize that if you think these conditions are harsh, they were much worse in most of the other oficinas.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
One of the Few Shaded Places in Oficina Salitrera Humberstone

I didn’t know what to expect when arriving at Humberstone, known as an abandoned yet amazingly preserved national monument recognized by UNESCO.  I took one of the frequent buses from the Mercado Centenario in the center of Iquique and was deposited at the bus stop on the recently relocated highway.  While the highway used to pass right next to Humberstone, now you have to walk about 10 minutes to get to the entrance.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Humberstone’s Theatre, the Center of Social Life in the Mining Complex

After paying the entrance fee, I received my map of the massive site and started wandering around.  There is a lot to see.  If you are fascinated, as I was, by all the history contained within the site, you could easily spend the entire day there, wandering through the buildings on the main square, poking around the main “streets” containing the living barracks, checking out the various on-site museums displaying wooden doors and windows, household goods, tools used by the miners, or games created by the children.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Kitchenwares Once Used by Residents of Oficina Salitrera Humberstone

It’s definitely worth contemplating what life was like for so many men, women, and children for decades, living in this hostile climate and having to find a way to adapt to this lifestyle in order to eke out a living.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Posing in the Old School at Oficina Salitrera Humberstone

As a teacher myself, I appreciated walking through the old school and picturing the children trying to imagine their futures beyond the pampa (desert mine region), living in a bleak environment.  One of the classrooms displays enlarged pages containing an excerpt from a book written by a man who grew up in the saltpeter mines, illustrating the harshness of life for women and children.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Old Administrative Offices at Oficina Salitrera Humberstone

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Old Mini Railroad to Transport Saltpeter at Oficina Salitrera Humberstone

After walking through the streets of the residential sector, I explored the homes of the higher ranking managers and the relative comforts of their quarters and administrative offices. Many of the museum exhibits are housed in these sturdy, well-preserved buildings.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Climbing the “Torta” or Mountain of Industrial Residues from Saltpeter Extraction at Oficina Salitrera Humberstone

From there, I climbed to the top of the “torta” or the mountain created by the residues from the mining process. This provides an amazing vantage point over the entire area, giving a clear view of the vastness of the mine.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile

Views of Oficina Salitrera Humberstone from Above

Looking from the uniform residential buildings (still echoed in the suburban Chilean landscape today), to the towers of nearby Oficina Santa Laura, to the sprawling industrial sector littered with abandoned machinery, I was able to construct a visual of what the area must have looked like a century ago and how lonely it must have felt to live and work here. The expanses of the desert are impressively vast. You can barely make out the highway from the highest vantage point. The sense of isolation is complete.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Industrial Sector at Oficina Salitrera Humberstone

After sufficiently appreciating the view and being thankful for the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of life here, I headed over to the industrial sector, observing the heavy machinery and getting a sense of how saltpeter was processed.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Industrial Sector at Oficina Salitrera Humberstone

To be fair, I was much more interested in the residential area because it baffled my mind to imagine people living here for as long as they did. Not just here, but in any of the many abandoned oficinas you can see from the highway as you travel around the region.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Industrial Machinery at Oficina Salitrera Humberstone

The really ambitious independent traveler can continue exploring Oficina Santa Laura, another nearby saltpeter mine about 20 minutes away on foot.  I wanted to continue on to Pica before it got too late in the day (and needed a break from the sun), so I skipped it this time around.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Old Posters Promoting Chilean Nitrate/Saltpeter in the Museum of Oficina Salitrera Humberstone

For what it’s worth, people say that you can feel the spirits of ghosts while wandering through the abandoned mining complex.  Some tour agencies even offer nighttime full moon tours for just this reason.  I spoke to a local tour guide who told me that there are definitely spirits still inhabiting other mining complexes, especially those where conditions were more brutal and more lives were lost.  I found it particularly moving to hear the stories of these spirit encounters and imagine these poor souls still wanting to tell their stories.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Bringing Life Back to Oficina Salitrera Humberstone

Whatever your beliefs, I think it’s important to honor these workers of the past and how their sacrifice and dedication contributed to the development of Chile.  My visit to Humberstone gave me a greater appreciation for the realities of mining and brought me to a deeper understanding of Chile and its culture.  I highly suggest a visit.  I went independently, which gave me much more time at the mining complex and enabled me to read the plentiful, informative signage (often in Spanish but sometimes in English) and spend more time appreciating the entire site.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Posing Above Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Thankful for the Opportunity to Learn

Recommendations for Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile:

  • Humberstone is easily reached via public transportation.  Buses leave every few minutes from the 700 block of Barros Araña, near the Mercado Centenario in Iquique.  A bus to Humberstone from Iquique cost $2000CLP in July 2015.
  • Make sure to tell the driver that you will get off in Humberstone, as the buses continue on to more distant destinations, and only tourists stop in Humberstone.  The highway exit is incredibly well labeled and visible, but you can always follow the route on Google Maps if you want to make sure you don’t miss it!
  • Upon arrival, cross the highway via the overpass and keep walking to the visible parking lot.  The entrance is well labeled and easily to find.  Entry to the site costs $3000CLP and includes a map of the complex.
  • The map gives a good sense of the layout of the site.  I started with the main plaza, headed through the residential sector, climbed the “torta,” and then saw the administrative offices, before heading to the industrial sector.  On my way back, I wandered through the exhibits lining the main road.  Due to the exhausting nature of being in the sun for so long, I also suggest heading to the farther sector first and working your way back, ending with the indoor museums.
  • Do not forget sunblock, and if you don’t have a hat, you can buy one at the artisan stands located on site.  The sun is brutal.  Just imagine living here!
  • You can walk to Oficina Santa Laura from Humberstone if you are interested in seeing another site. Oficina Santa Laura gives a clearer sense of the industrial aspect of the oficinas.
  • From Humberstone, I headed onward to Pica by waiting at the same bus stop I got off at.  You can also visit La Tirana on the way to Pica.  If you want to squeeze all three locations into one day’s trip on public transportation, leave Iquique by 8 or 9AM to give yourself enough time to explore.
  • For more information on the saltpeter mines, give yourself time to explore the many on-site museums and displays. This BBC article gives a little more context on the mining complex. This interesting article explains how important saltpeter used to be.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Out of pride of being pampino (Saltpeter Miners), let’s take care of our heritage as future generations will judge us for it

[Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile: July 22, 2015]