Article Updated April 2016
Lago Llanquihue is a beautiful, quiet place, found among the Chilean Lakes District and perched precariously atop the area of Chile known as Patagonia.
Puerto Varas is the largest town on the shore of Lago Llanquihue. A bus to Puerto Varas takes around twelve hours from Santiago and prices depend on the bus company and the type of seat purchased. I’d recommend booking a Salon or Premium Cama-type bus seat for the overnight trip.
Once arrived in Puerto Varas there are heaps of adventurous activities to keep everyone occupied. Hostels and tourism offices promote canyoning (rappelling through waterfalls), mountain biking, horseback riding, motorbike and quad bike riding, trekking, kayaking and rafting.
For the calmer-hearted folk, there is a gently sloped walk up the hill behind the Sacred Heart Church, and Cerro Phillipi, both of which give unique and wonderful views of the city. Cerro Phillipi is reached by traipsing around the coastline (by foot or car) out to the west end of the Puerto Varas bay. The footpath then winds up past hotels and over railway tracks until you reach the lookout at the top, snuggled into the greenery. The lake itself is so huge that it’s easy forget that it’s not an ocean; and while there are not many swimmers in the cooler weather, many people still head down the lake-shore to picnic and lay about.
There are several well-recommended restaurants and cafés within the small town, specialising in either seafood or meat. Cassis is a delightful multi-layered restaurant on the lakefront and serves up great meals and desserts as big as your head. The small town also has a great supply of outdoor equipment stores in case you need to pick up anything last minute.
Accommodation is easily found in this town and most locales have good reviews. I stayed at the Margouya Patagonia, run by a young local family. This hostel offers large, friendly rooms for great prices; the staff are especially kind and helpful, and the fantastic house provides a cosy atmosphere that wraps around you like a warm blanket.
Osorno Volcano and Saltos de Petrohué
Transport between Puerto Varas and its neighbouring villages is cheap and sensible, if not entirely punctual. $2.000 CLP and ninety minutes will get you from Puerto Varas to the little community of Petrohué, where lake cruises and private boats depart. There is both a hotel and campsites available. Hikers can also set off from Petrohué for up to 20kms (or so) of hiking up the side of the Osorno Volcano. This can be a challenging walk in places, but as is often the case, the view of the volcano and lakes from the track is magnificent. Be sure to take plenty of water and to leave your name with the national parks office.
Stopping off at the Saltos de Petrohué (waterfalls) on the way back is well worth the side trip – the site offer up a delicious opportunity for seeing the falls, river and volcanoes all in one photographic frame. On a clear day, this is a spectacular sight.
Frutillar and Puerto Octay
Puerto Varas’ little minibus service also runs up the west coast of the lake to a final destination of Puerto Octay. While this little town is by no means designed for tourists, it gives a small glimpse into Chilean life untouched by the invasion of backpackers and see-everything-in-thirty-days type tours. There are several excellent viewpoints here, but essentially, a very small amount of time is required to see Puerto Octay. Perhaps that is best – it would seem a shame to disturb a natural beauty.
Frutillar is a small, tourism-oriented town just south of Puerto Octay. It boasts a large theatre located on the lake, several cute little stores, a church and many choices of accommodation. In short, there’s not a lot to do here.
However, the real highlight of this trip north is the coastal views between the two towns. Farms, the lake and volcanoes come together to make an incredibly scenic place that would be heaven to inhabit. The entire cost for buses on this daytrip comes to around $2.300 CLP – a budget-friendly day out.
Note: This story was accurate when published. Please be sure to confirm all details directly with the sites in question.