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Puerto Varas, Chile

Puerto Varas is a city with a markedly German influence on its architecture located in southern Chile, 1,030km (640mi) away from Santiago. Located by the Llanquihue Lake, facing the imposing Osorno Volcano, it is an important touristic center and known nationally as the “city of roses”. Although this is a small city, home to about 38,000 people and without many attractions on its own besides the baroque cathedral built in resemblance to another one found in the Black Forest in Germany, Puerto Varas is a convenient base to explore the region, featuring very good options for lodging and charming restaurants.

Just 19km (12mi) south of Puerto Varas lies Puerto Montt, the capital and largest city of the Los Lagos Region. This is an important urban center and, although it lacks the architectonic unity of its neighbor, it also deserves a visit. The area west of downtown merits a special mention thanks to Angelmó Street, where the municipal market is located, filled with fishermen displaying their daily produce and restaurants specialized in seafood. Near the market it is possible to take a boat to neighboring Tenglo Island, right across the canal, taking in a magnificent panoramic view encompassing the Reloncaví Sound, Puerto Montt and the volcanoes Osorno and Calbuco (which last erupted in April 2015). Puerto Montt is also where the main airport of the area is located, offering several daily connections to Santiago, Punta Arenas and to Aysén.

Puerto Montt visto desde la Isla Tenglo - Chile
Puerto Montt visto desde la Isla Tenglo

North of Puerto Varas, circling around Lake Llanquihue, you will find a series of small towns resembling European villages. Among them, Frutillar, 30km (19mi) from Puerto Varas, is the one more likely to catch most visitors’ attention. This town was founded in the 19th century and is quite popular for its mills, breweries and old Bavarian houses. Frutillar’s lower end features the beautiful Lake Theater, which hosts the “Frutillar’s Musical Weeks” every summer. This area, by the shores of the lake, also offers excellent views to volcanoes Osorno and Puntiagudo.

Lago Llanquihue - Frutillar, Chile
Lago Llanquihue - Frutillar

Reaching an altitude of 2,652m (8,700ft), the Osorno Volcano rises solemnly in the landscape. Considered to have one of most perfect cones in the world, its last major eruption was recorded in 1869. It is currently home to a small ski resort and is a popular destination throughout the year thanks to the remarkable sights offered from it. A ski lift takes visitors to the viewpoint 1,750m (5,740ft) above the sea level, presenting a great panoramic view of the region, including Lake Llanquihue and the Calbuco Volcano.

Volcán Calbuco - Punta Arenas, Chile
Volcán Calbuco - Puerto Varas

South of the Osorno Volcano and 55km (34mi) east from Puerto Varas, the Petrohué Waterfalls is one of the most pristine places within the Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park. Here you can take an easy trail along the blue waters of the Petrohué River, observing geologic formations such as tiny glass rocks and crystalized lava. 5km (3.1mi) ahead, at Petrohué village, you can board a catamaran in order to sail through the Andes on the Todos los Santos Lake (All Saints Lake). After approximately two hours sailing you’ll arrive in Peulla, a place surrounded by waterfalls, rivers, lakes and abundant wildlife. You can choose to spend a few days in Peulla enjoying the outdoor activities, return to Puerto Varas, or continue the Andean crossing to Bariloche, in Argentina.

Volcán Osorno y Saltos de Petrohué - Puerto Varas, Chile
Volcán Osorno y Saltos de Petrohué - Puerto Varas

If you wish to remain in Chile, an interesting alternative would be to head to the island of Chiloé, just 75km (45mi) away from Puerto Varas. Other nice options would be to visit Valdivia, 200km (125mi), and Pucón, 320km (200mi) north of Puerto Varas. They are all excellent places to visit and get to know in more depth what Chile has to offer.

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