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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Views from Frutillar, Chile
Frutillar’s Main Symbols

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

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

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

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

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

Views from Frutillar, Chile
Main Road in Frutillar, Chile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Views of Frutillar, Chile

Templo Luterano, Frutillar, Chile

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

Views from Frutillar, Chile

Scenic Views in Frutillar, Chile

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

Views of Frutillar, Chile

Flowers in Frutillar, Chile

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

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile

Frutillar’s Picturesque Wooden Pier

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

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile

Classic Shot of Frutillar’s Pier

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

Views of Frutillar, Chile
Touristy Restaurant in Frutillar, Chile

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

Views from Frutillar, Chile

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

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

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

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

Recommendations for Frutillar, Los Lagos, Chile:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Views of Lago Llanquihue near Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile

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

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

Mural near Llanquihue, Los Lagos, Chile

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

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

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

Biking to Totoral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volcán Osorno

Views of Volcán Osorno in Los Lagos Region, Chile

Volcán Osorno Over Blooming Fields, Los Lagos Region, Chile

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

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

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

Volcán Calbuco

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

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

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

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

Exploring the Town of Llanquihue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Views from Llanquihue, Chile

Wooden Sculptures by the Beach in Llanquihue, Chile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graffiti in Puerto Montt, Chile

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

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

Views of Seno de Reloncaví, Puerto Montt, Chile

Views over Seno de Reloncaví, Puerto Montt, Chile

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

Views of Seno de Reloncaví, Puerto Montt, Chile

Views over Seno de Reloncaví, Puerto Montt, Chile

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

Costanera, Puerto Montt, Chile

Walking Along the Costanera in Puerto Montt

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

Costanera, Puerto Montt, Chile

Chilean Flag on the Costanera in Puerto Montt

Views of Seno de Reloncaví, Puerto Montt, Chile

Monuments on the Costanera in Puerto Montt

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

Views of Seno de Reloncaví, Puerto Montt, Chile

Relaxing Views over the Water in Puerto Montt

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

Nuestra Señora del Carmen, Puerto Montt, Chile

Nuestra Señora del Carmen Cathedral, Puerto Montt

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

Sanito, Puerto Montt, Chile

Sanito, a Cute Café in Puerto Montt

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

Lunch at Sanito, Puerto Montt, Chile

Lunch at Sanito in Puerto Montt, Chile

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

Graffiti in Puerto Montt, Chile

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

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

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

Recommendations for Puerto Montt, Chile:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appreciating Picturesque Puerto Varas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boating and Relaxing on the Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Sunset over Lago Llanquihue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical German-Style Architecture in Puerto Varas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Casona Alemana, Puerto Varas, Chile

Casona Alemana, Puerto Varas, Chile

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

Casa Jupner, Puerto Varas, Chile

Casa Jupner, Puerto Varas, Chile

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

Casa Hitschfeld, Puerto Varas, Chile

Casa Hitschfeld, Puerto Varas, Chile

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

Casa Brintrup, Puerto Varas, Chile

Casa Brintup, Puerto Varas, Chile

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

Centro Cultural Estación, Puerto Varas, Chile

Centro Cultural Estación, Puerto Varas, Chile

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

Casa Rehbein, Puerto Varas, Chile

Casa Rehbein, Puerto Varas, Chile

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

Casa Muñoz, Puerto Varas, Chile

Casa Muñoz, Puerto Varas, Chile

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

Hostel Margouya Patagonia, Puerto Varas, Chile

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

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

Eating and Drinking Well in Puerto Varas

Food Truck Festival, Puerto Varas, Chile

Food Trucks in Puerto Varas, Chile

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

Falafel from Food Truck in Puerto Varas, Chile

Falafel from Costumbrista Food Truck, Puerto Varas, Chile

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

Empanadas Store in Puerto Varas, Chile

Empanadas Puerto Varas

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

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

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

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

Amazing Salad at Café El Barista in Puerto Varas, Chile

Ensalada El Barista, El Barista Caffe, Puerto Varas

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

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

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

Sustainable Living in Puerto Varas

Awesome Bike Parking Sign in Puerto Varas, Chile

Bike Parking Sign in Puerto Varas

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

New Year’s Eve

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

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

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

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

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

New Year’s Eve Fireworks in Puerto Varas

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

Recommendations for Puerto Varas, Chile:

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

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