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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
I particularly liked admiring the traditional German-style buildings lining the route out of town, on the other side of the theatre.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Classic Shot of Frutillar’s Pier
I love how evenly the low clouds spread themselves over the mountains in the distance. Perfect harmony!
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.
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.
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]