Set in the midst of the region of Lakes and Volcanoes in Chile, Puerto Varas is a gem of a town that is often missed. On the walk down from the bus station one can find accommodation along the streets in peoples houses who are looking to make a quick buck. The beauty of Puerto Varas comes to the fore as one closes onto Lake Llanquihue with the volcano Osorno, rising on the horizon, at the other end.
The lake called Todos Los Santos at Petrohue is a must visit. The stunning volcano Puntiagudo rises right behind Osorno and from the lake, at Petrohue the view of Putiagudo is something to behold, also being at the base of Osorno means that the volcano towers right over. On the way to Petrohue, which is 60km from Puerto Varas the legendary active volcano, Calbuco, can be seen towards the right, in its own unique flattened style, much the opposite of Puntiagudo which had its top blown off in an eruption and stands with a conical opening for its peak. Hitchhiking or taking one of the numerous mini-buses down past the falls at Petrohue right up to the lake todos Los Santos is worth it. There are boats that can be rented at the lake, and it feels like being sandwiched in between natures incredible beauty. It was the closest we would get to Puntiagudo but it also inspired us to try an audacious trip the next day to try getting somewhere closer to the volcano to witness it from another angle. The falls at Petrolhue are beautiful as well but to drift over the lake between the volcanoes of Osorno and Puntiagudo built an everlasting memory for me.
The town of Puerto Varas itself has the whole range of accommodation with a room at the lower end being 16,000 pesos for a couple of people. The town is on the expensive side but for a backpacker, there are plenty of options including a couple of local restaurants and two supermarkets, as one walks up towards the city and away from the spectacular lake. Puerto Varas left a real impression on me for the stunning view of the volcano Osorno covered in snow across the immense lake, Llanquihue.
On the next day, we tried to hitchhike up to the base of volcano Puntiagudo but we had to abandon the plan. The roads gave way to paths and signs of life diminished. Although walking with fields and animals all around was surely rejuvenation for the soul and as Puntiagudo grew on us we felt how powerful its opened conical peak was. We were advised by a Chilean of German descent that it would be close to impossible to reach there and with the temperatures falling at night it wasn’t advisable. He offered to drop us back to the main road on his pick up truck and the entire conversation felt surreal. German immigrants were given land for free in the 19th century in this area and now with their blue eyes and blond hair they speak no German, their mannerism Chilean and if I had to guess, I would say their blood Chilean too.
To get close to Puntiagudo we went through the towns of Frutillar and Puerto Octay before coming up short at somewhere in between Puerto Fonck and Perto Rico which seemed to be the closest possible point to witness Puntiagudo. As we walked up and away from Puerto Octay during the overcast day we stood in absolute abandon as the clouds were almost among us and what seemed five volcanoes rose above and around us with the entire expanse of Lake Llanquihue below us
If you have a car it would be an absolute must to explore this region around Puerto Varas and if not, hike up through Puerto Octay and take in the view for seldom have I witnessed such stark beauty standing at one point. Lakes and volcanoes is a recipe like no other. Don’t worry too much, you can always stop a bus, at least until late in the afternoon and get to the town of Osorno.
Options forward from Puerto Varas:-
- Go south to Chiloe from Puerto Varas by bus and ferry.
- Take what must be the most enthralling journey through lakes and over land to Bari Loche in Argentina, I didn’t have a visa or the means at the time so it wasn’t an option for us.
- Go north to Osorno by bus and decide whether to go to Valdivia, Pucon or by road to Bari Loche.