Volcanos, lakes and waterfalls – Puerto Varas

7 Jun

Puerto Varas was our first stop in an area called the Lakes District which spans the very North of Patagonian Chile and Argentina. The defining feature, as the name suggests, is an abundance of lakes which were created millions of years ago by melting glacial waters. A concentration of towering volcanos run along the border and form a striking sight amongst lush, green hills and valleys. Puerto Varas lies on the shore of Llanquihue lake and offers breathtaking views of snow-capped Volcan Osorno, one of the Southern Chilean Andes most active volcanos.



The Lakes District was colonised by the German’s in the mid-1800’s and this pretty town still has a distinctly German feel to it with Deutsch architechture and Kuchen (cake) on the menu at many of the quaint cafes.


Tourism is big business here and during the Summer months the town fills up with holiday makers from Chile, other parts of Latin America and around the world. The verdant hills and valleys surrounding the town offer a relaxed pace of life although if you want to step it up the region offers horse riding, hiking, skiing, rafting and canyoning.

We took a 2 hour bus ride from Puerto Varas to Ensenada following a long and beautiful windy road which hugged the lake shore and which was graced with black sandy beaches and views to the volcano.


We camped at a small site by the side of the lakeshore. As April is considered to be the shoulder season between Summer and Autumn, and for some locals too cold to camp, we had the whole site and access to a private beach to ourselves. It seemed incredibly surreal sitting in the warm sunshine with the deep blue waters of the lake lapping on the shore whilst looking up at a towering snow-capped volcano.


The evenings were cool but the firewood was plentiful so we built huge fires and drank cheap red wine from a box.


We watched sensational sunsets and looked up at the big, open star filled skies.


The setting sun bathed the volcano in reds and yellows and created an awesome silhouette which remained in our sight long after the sun had set.


Vincent Perez Rosales National Park was Chile’s first park and covers 251,000 hectares protecting rainforest, volcanos, lakes and waterfalls. Boat men wait at the entrance to the park and for a small fee can take you out onto Lake Todos Los Santos by motorised boats for different views of the park. There are several walks to complete – ranging from gentle beach walks along the lake to more demanding multi-day hikes. It’s possible to climb to the summit of Volcan Osorno but ropes, harnesses and a guide are required so we took the easier approach of hiking to a look out point part way up the volcano.


The path we took was aptly named Passo Desolacion as it was clear to see where lava had once flowed down the volcano taking out everything in its path. Over the top of volcanic rock grew a luminescent moss which bathed the area in a surreal glow. It took us around 3 hours to reach the look out point and from there we marvelled at the views across Lago Todos Los Santos and to volcanos Puntiagundo and Monte Tronador.


Years of erosion of black volcanic rock has formed the beautiful waterfalls called Saltos de Petrohue which can be seen within the National Park. After we paid a small entrance fee, we wandered freely along paths taking us to various watery viewing points. As we got closer to the falls we had to speak increasingly loudly over the almighty sound of the steady flow of water crashing into pools below.


Here we saw giant salmon jumping clear out of the water over and over again attempting to swim upstream but being denied by the thundering waters.


As soon as we heard that it was possible to ski on volcano Osorno which stands at 2,652 metres, we couldn’t wait to get up there. Without our own transport and not wanting to take an expensive tour, our only viable option was to hitchhike to the top. From Ensenada it was a 3km walk to the road leading up to the ski area and from there a further 9km straight uphill. I assured Dan that we’d be picked up in an instant but an hour later and 4km covered we were sweating heavily and Dan was swearing loudly as the drivers of the few cars that passed shrugged their shoulders and drove by. We were finally picked up by a young Canadian couple who must have taken pity at our dejected looking faces.


After introductions and some laughing at just how far we’d managed to walk uphill we set off in the car. The road snaked upwards and we stopped at a couple of viewing points along the way. Dan and I were both relieved that we weren’t still walking at this point! Snow lined the road from three-quarters of the way up and we skidded on small patches of ice.


The views at the top were immense. In one direction Lake Llanquihue stretched out into the distance with tiny Ensenada just a small dot below to the left and Volcano Calbuco a giant screaming for our attention.


Looking the other way we stared up at Volcano Osorno which still looked huge despite us having already climbed 9km up. Fresh powder snow lay everywhere and the chair lifts glided effortlessly up the volcano’s side linking a small network of runs. The volcano’s summit was just how a child would draw it with a perfect cone shape almost symmetrical in every way.


We were surprised the chair lifts at the top were open and saw a group of twenty somethings putting their skiing gear on next to their car whilst dancing excitedly to the cranked up music on their stereo. Rather than take to the slopes we hit the cafe at the top of the mountain and treated the Canadians and ourselves to hot chocolates all round.


It’s certainly a claim to fame to say you’ve skied down an active volcano but we were more than happy to toast to the perfect views, new-found friendship and the God of eruption free volcanos!!

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