Nestled on the South West shores of the second largest lake in Chile, Lake Llanquihue, Puerto Varas is a must for nature lovers, adventure enthusiasts and those wishing to delight in first class gastronomy with the surroundings of this picturesque lake-side city. There is a reason Puerto Varas has once been voted the best place to live in Chile!
Iconic Puerto Varas and Volcano Osorno
Where is Puerto Varas?
Puerto Varas is located in the province of Llanquihue in the 10th Region of Los Lagos, Southern Chile. 1000km South of the country´s capital, Santiago, and just 20km North of the region´s capital and the city´s larger, more industrial sister, Puerto Montt, it can be easily accessed by air (airport el Tupual in Puerto Montt) or land (via the Pan-American highway).
Regular buses run between Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt, which take around 20 minutes and cost no more than $3.000.
What is there to do in the city?
Take it in
Take a stroll along the Pérez Rosales boardwalk which runs the whole length of the city´s lakeside, remembering to stop to smell the roses and look across the glistening water for spectacular views of the snow-capped volcano Osorno.
Delight in the German architecture
Tired of the views? Well the German and Swiss legacy of the early twentieth century left its fingerprints in the architecture of the houses and gardens. Just walking around the city it is nearby impossible to overlook the Germanic influence, however, the most notable of the architectural testimony worth visiting are: the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish Church (an icon of Puerto Varas), Yunge House, and the Gotschlich House (both reminiscent of Chiloe; having been built almost entirely of wooden shingles).
Get a taste for German and Chilean cuisine
When the hunger or thirst creeps in, take a seat on the lakeside or venture into the town to find something you fancy. Luckily, Puerto Varas boasts exquisite restaurants with European flavors as well as more traditional German or Chilean cuisine, and top Chilean wine. Another German influence has been on the desserts, as you can find cakes, strudels and even apple empanadas in most places here. And talking of apples…Chicha! Here in the south you can try a typically Andean fermented drink make from apples, instead of the more common grape or maize.
What is there to do nearby?
Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park
Puerto Varas is a great base for trips around the lake and to the nearby Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park, offering scenic walks for all abilities around Lake Todos Los Santos and the base of the Osorno Volcano.
On a grey, drizzly morning we set out to hike around the oldest park in Chile, Vicente Pérez Rosales, home of the lake Todos Los Santos and Volcano Osorno, with our fingers crossed a torrential downpour wouldn´t be on its way. A 45 minute bus journey with a local company will get you to the entrance trail to Saltos de Petrohué, an impressive waterfall and routes reaching the river. A further 6km along the road, by bus or foot, is the tiny town of Petrohue on the banks of the lake, and the main entrance to the park offering over 15 trails for all abilities.
The Desolation Trail
After signing in with the park warden (on this particular day there was no fee, but an adult entrance is usually $4.000), and receiving information on the available routes we started on the Desolation trail, so called for the damage various volcanic eruptions have made to the surrounding landscape. The heavy clouds and continuous light drizzle meant that we couldn´t see the top of Volcano Osorno, nor much of any other mountain or volcano, but the immediate surroundings and walking on the black sand was a surreal experience.
As the rain came to the halt and the clouds lifted, we veered off the desolation trail to climb the base of Volcano Osorno, to the first lookout point that has spectacular views of the lake, forest and background mountains. After a rather fun (and steep) descent in the black sand and rock back to the old lava channel that flows to the lake, a large black dog, who freely roams the park, decided to join us for the rest of the return journey.
Walking tentatively on the deserted beach as it was not clear whether the trail continued around the next corner, and almost stepping in the water on some narrow parts, we ambled and scrambled for the best part of an hour to reach the National Park´s campsite where the trek began. Warming up with a tea from the small cafe at the entrance, we waited a few minutes for the bus that took us back to Puerto Varas, where a log fire and hot showers were waiting for us in the hostel.
Rather sinister clouds slowly lifting over the Todo Los Santos Lake and Volcanoes
Other nearby activities
Another notable place of interest 25km from Puerto Varas is the small town of Fruitillar. Many hostels will offer bike rental and excursions to this old German influenced town, with its black sand beaches along Lago Llanquihue. Other activities in the area include horse riding, kayaking on many of the lakes, and zip-lining, as well as many more national parks to explore. For those looking to use this region as a crossing point into Argentina, one-day or longer excursions can be made to Bariloche by crossing the lakes on bus and boat.
A home away from home
Finally, A cosy place to stay is the Hostel Margouya Patagonia, a huge old, wooden colonial house with spacious rooms heated with their own wood-burner and host to lots of international guests. The staff were so helpful and knowledgable about the area, giving detailed maps to aid in solo or budget travel, although you can join them on their many excursions on foot, by bike or kayak too. We celebrated the Chilean National Holiday here with a BBQ and drinks in the garden, lots of good conversation, and valuable tips for our upcoming adventures in the South of Chile.
If in the Lake District in Chile, be sure to stop by Puerto Varas and experience all it has to offer. Like us, you won´t regret visiting this beautiful city of roses!