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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
After my new acquaintances continued along their way, I paused to take pictures of the lake from this quiet little stretch of road.
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.
“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
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.
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!
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.
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).
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 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.
And on another overlook, Volcán Osorno towered over the blue lake. So much blue, just like Lago Caburgua.
Of course, I can’t forget Volcán Calbuco, with its wide, jagged peak, equally beautiful towering over the golden fields.
And there it is again, atmospheric clouds floating around its speak, providing a nice contrast to the blue sky.
Exploring the Town of Llanquihue
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!