The serenity of Puerto Varas

In stark contrast to Santiago, Puerto Varas is a sleepy, lakeside village about the size of my hometown, Havelock North. It sits alongside Lake Llanquihue and is backed by not one, but two, impressive volcanoes. Osorno is the epitome of generic volcano, and being covered in snow and against a blue sky it just took my breath away.

We had booked three nights there but loved it so much we extended our stay to four. This was ideal, as the ongoing protests have had the effect of altering our plans a bit anyway. Our hostel was probably the highlight of our stay: a big wooden chalet with a cosy fire and high ceilings, a quaint kitchen that was a delight to cook in and beautiful views, which really did make it hard to leave. 

Puerto Varas is German influenced (as evident in the architecture, the food and certainly the beer) but not nearly as much as the neighbouring lakeside town of Frutillar.  Frutillar is teeny tiny, the houses are so darn cute and every single cafe sells kuchen (ie German for cake). 

The wharf at Frutillar is very picturesque and the icing on the kuchen is Osorno in the background. Also waterfront is the regional theatre. It is enormous and extremely modern, you can’t miss it. We stopped for a coffee here as the location couldn’t have been more perfect for volcano watching. 

In Puerto Varas we climbed up to the cross in Philippi Park which looked down over the town and lake, but would be so much better if the trees were trimmed. It was still a very pleasant walk though and a popular spot for runners and dog walkers. 

The best walk we did was through the nearby national park. To get there we just caught a collectivo (minibus) heading toward Petrohue – the same way you get around everywhere in the region. It took about an hour and a half to get to the entry to the national park. 

We had to sign in before starting the walk (good safety procedures Chile!) but frustratingly at the end, the ranger was nowhere to be seen so we couldn’t sign out again. Hopefully they didn’t send out a search party! The walk took us four and a half hours and started from the base of Osorno. No matter where we were, the volcano was always in sight, which was pretty amazing. 

The gradient was easy enough but the terrain was more tiring than expected: we were walking on sand / volcanic ash for the majority of the walk. Part of the walk was along the lake as well as through a forest which had survived the last volcanic eruption – pretty impressive! The scenery reminded us a lot of home, especially when we ate our picnic lunch lakeside.

On the way home we stopped in at the Petrohue waterfalls. We were impressed (and after paying $10 to enter our expectations were high!): the volume, colours and scenery were all equally amazing. There were a few small walks available that we dabbled in but did not complete – we’d done enough walking for the day. 

It’s pretty easy to relax and unwind at Puerto Varas. Walking along the lake front never gets old and the stray dogs are super friendly and cute. You can tell they’ve adapted to the cold because their coats are all very fluffy! If you show them the slightest bit of interest they become your new best friend, which was cute. 

We were so glad to escape Santiago and Puerto Varas was such a perfect place to end up. We did still feel the effect of the protests: each night families would march around the blocks banging their pots and pans (peacefully, but not music to my ears) and shops and restaurants would close randomly if they felt like the peaceful protesting might turn into something more. We got caught out a few times, for example with the supermarket being closed when we needed dinner. 

On our fifth day we knew that it was time to move on and see somewhere new. We were definitely sad to leave this beautiful town and probably my favourite ever hostel: MaPatagonia. Thanks for having us!

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