If you’re making your way through Chile, try to schedule a stop in Puerto Varas. There are several other options in this region, including Osorno and Puerto Montt, and even the slightly further Pucón. These towns are popular destinations because of the two towering volcanoes that dominate the landscape– Osorno and Calbuco. However, in this article I’ll tell you why Puerto Varas is the best destination for a layover if you’re trying to travel between Santiago and Bariloche.
Located in the Lakes District and just across the Argentine border, my travel companion and I stopped here planning to spend only one night. We ended up enjoying the town and surrounding areas so much that we extended our stay an extra night… and in all honesty, we could have stayed longer. If you’re interested in spending time in Puerto Montt and Osorno, I recommend staying in Puerto Varas and making the 20-30 minute commute. The other towns certainly have something to offer, but for the best views of the volcanoes and Lake Llanquihue and access to the Río Petrohué, Puerto Varas is where it’s at. Some have billed this lakeside town as the new Pucón, but somehow it seems to have avoided allowing tourism to overrun its quaint streets.
The town, which was originally occupied by German farmers and acted as the main port along the Lake Llanquihue, has managed to preserve much of its original colonial German architecture. At times you might even feel more like you’re in Europe than South America. A good German beer and some hearty food isn’t hard to find here either.
If you do spend time in Puerto Varas, you’ll most certainly get out of town for a bit to explore nature’s nearby treasures. Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park is a small, yet beautiful park that offers excellent vistas of the Osorno Volcano, raging rapids and serene lagoons. If the weather’s nice you can easily spend half a day here, taking in the views and relaxing somewhere between the waterfalls and mountains.
The natural landscape surrounding Puerto Varas offers excellent outdoor activities, including trekking, fishing, horseback riding, kayaking and white-water rafting. Pristine lakes and rivers are the sites for high-quality water sports that promise not to disappoint. I highly recommend checking out Ko’Kayak for any water sports you’re interested in. The guides, Coco and Matias, are young, fun, knowledgeable and experienced. And after your excursion they treat you to a celebratory Pisco Sour and snacks! What’s better than that?!
If you choose to partake in the activities Ko’Kayak offers, you’ll have to take a bus down the winding seaside road to Ensenada. Don’t mourn the extra hour of commuting, though– the destination is the ideal setting for rafting and kayaking. We’re talking crystal-clear waters accented by snow-capped mountaintops. The rapids along the Río Petrohué are class III, IV, and V, so an experienced rafter will enjoy the run as much as a first-timer.
At the risk of coming off as pushy and more informed than I actually am, I have to say that Puerto Varas is one of the top destinations on my list for anyone traveling in Chile. If you have the chance to enjoy this town’s unique energy and gorgeous location, do it.