Puerto Varas ~ Land of Lakes and Volcanoes

30 March – 4 April, 2018

Although our time in Chaiten was mostly rainy, it may have been a  blessing, as I had fought off what I thought was a sinus infection for days, and although I didn’t feel bad, I knew my body would respond better with a little rest. That can be challenging to do on this type of trip, as Mother Nature and her moods tend to dictate when you do your exploring.

Travel day arrived and the sun made a rare appearance. This was to be a long travel day, three ferry rides and stretches of bus excursions that took us around and across many of the lakes dotting this area. When we saw the extent of the road construction during this phase of our journey, we were thankful we didn’t rent a car. The trench right outside my bus window was so wide and deep, one false move and it would have swallowed our bus whole. However, the scenery on the water was captivating and relaxing, and there was no holding onto the rail for dear life in fear of being blown off the deck. 🙂

Although our final destination was Puerto Varas, the bus station is in nearby Puerto Montt and this is where we spent the night, right next to the station at the Ibis Hotel. The next morning, we hopped into a taxi for a ride to the airport, where we rented a car for our stay in Puerto Varas.

Puerto Varas, dubbed the “City of Roses”, is a lively city of 38,000, in the Chilean Lakes District. It sits on the southwestern shore of Lake Llanquihue and holds commanding views of Osorno and Calbuco Volcanoes, both still considered active.  It is also the gateway to Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales.

View from our bedroom window at Hotel Solace.

German colonial architecture has made Puerto Varas one of the most beautiful cities in southern Chile. We enjoyed walks along the lake and discovered during one of our wanderings a larger than life metal sculpture of a woman with outstretched arms, as if paying homage to the majestic, snow-capped volcanoes.

This is also the city where we finally found some restaurants that featured salads instead of the typical “heavy on the meat and cheese” dishes. It was a delightful change. La Gringa was one of our favorite places for lunch, feeling more like a Pacific Northwest café (including the rainy day) than anything else.

As I am slightly obsessed with national parks we decided to take a ride to Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales, Chile’s first national park, and where we knew we would find some picturesque falls, the Saltos del Petrohué. This isn’t your typical waterfall, instead more a chute of crashing whitewater, a relentless pummeling cascade over basalt columns, polished shiny and smooth by volcanic runoff. It is also where some of the best views of Osorno Volcano, can be found. Although it hasn’t erupted since the mid-19thcentury, it still has some active fumaroles.

 A drive around Lake Llanquihue was also recommended, promising interesting little towns along the way –  Llanquihue, Frutillar, and Villa Ensanada.

On the southeastern shore of Lake Llanquihue, Llanquihue also has a noted German influence and celebrates “Bierfest” each January. One of the town’s main attractions are the many wooden sculptures sprinkled around town, created by both national and international artists.

Frutillar sits on the western shore of Lake Llanquihue and is well-known for its German architecture, its landscape, and beautiful gardens. The main attraction is Teatro del Lago (Lake Theater) and the annual summer music festival, “Semanas Musicales”, when several worldwide philharmonic and symphonic orchestras come together. Frutillar also boasts the best cake shops in the whole nation.

Villa Ensanada is a small, peaceful village on the southwest shore of the lake, where, on a clear day, you can see splendid views of Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes. It is also a hotspot for outdoor activities. We had a clear day!!!

I had seen photos of the “palafitos” on Chiloé Island, colorful fishermen bungalows balanced on stilts, in the city of Castro, so this was the destination for our final day of touring. Many of these palafitos have been converted to cafes, hostels, and boutique shops.

Chiloé, which means “seagull’s place” in Mapuche, the indigenous language, is where Magellanic and Humboldt penguins cohabit, the only place where this occurs. Since we had already taken two tours to penguin colonies, we didn’t feel we were missing out by not taking this tour.

Castro, the largest city on the island, is also where two of the four UNESCO World Heritage Site wooden churches can be found.

Puerto Varas was where we were on Easter Sunday. Both Terry and I remarked that this most holy of days was not celebrated in the reverent manner we had seen when we lived in Mexico and how we had read it is celebrated in Spain. It seemed to be just another day in the life of Chileans, which we found a bit odd.

Our time in Puerto Varas had come to an end. Although not one of the more physically active pieces of our journey, it was a lovely stop that I would highly recommend if you find yourself in Patagonia.

Next Up: Back to Argentina

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