South America Travel Tips

Puerto Varas: Volcanoes Are Cool (Unless They Erupt)

It took me a while to find a decent place after Torres del Paine – I spent most of my time travelling up north and testing places out. Until I found the volcanoes. The dangerous ones.

Chile vs Argentina: first opinions

Here in Chile information, timetables and such are difficult to gather unless you’re here in person.

AirBnB is not popular, unless you’re in Santiago – so you have to stick to hostels to travel cheap. Fruit and vegetables are not as fresh as in Argentina, apart from few exceptions (for example avocados, palta).

Accent is different, it’s more similar to the original Spanish pronunciation (double “L” is not pronounced as a “J” like in Argentina); however Chilenos speak very fast and it’s much more complicated to understand them – reminds me of the Irish accent!

But, let me be honest for a moment, Chilean people have an inner (and outer) beauty like no one else.

Smiling is a must. Laughing is a rule. Having fun is the norm. Their heart is very warm 🙂

Chiloé Island: the sandwich was worth it!

Back to my travels, the first place I stayed in was Puerto Montt, town which allowed me to avoid a 30 hours bus journey from Punta Arenas – with a smooth 2hrs flight. Well, as many told me, there’s nothing happening there. No good. Just a busy port town. They were right!

The day after I hopped on a bus (and with the bus… on a ferry) to visit Chiloé island, famous for its penguin colonies and World Heritage wooden churches. I spent the night in a sleepy sea side town called Ancud but I felt this island was not worth the extra days effort (many people told me the best is on the south side, but well, I’ll get back here another day).

The only thing I appreciated in Ancud was my first Chilean sandwich, it had a wonderful taste and freshly cooked chicken and vegetables. Sorry vegetarian and vegan friends… this food rocks!

Puerto Varas: finally, a GREAT place

The day after, after an unidentified sleep in an unidentified hostel, I took a bus back to Puerto Montt and a short connection to Puerto Varas, my real objective.

Puerto Varas is beautiful. In here, Chile meets Germany, both from an architectural and cultural point of view. It’s not rare to overhear “Ya” or “Hallo” when people return their calls. “Kuchen” (cake) is the most popular sign on the shop windows.

I’ve been told that in 1845 the Chilean army asked the Germans to help them conquer/get back the Southern Lands (they picked the Germans because of their cultural & social level). A general was sent to Germany to recruit immigrants; in exchange for help they offered the Germans land. And with land came houses, families, culture and tradition, which were basically transplanted into Chile.

But what really makes Puerto Varas a great place to visit is its lake Llanquihue (try pronounce that…) and the view of snow-capped Volcán Osorno and Volcán Calbuco, both still active.

Oh – this happened recently, just so you know. At minute 1:43 of the video you really get to understand the picture. It was the 22nd of April 2015.

Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park – just awesome

From Puerto Varas you can get to the Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park pretty easily. So, I went there twice.

To get there, you can catch one of the many blue minibuses (micro) – for a 60km journey it costs like €4! Street vendors hop on the bus at every major bus stop to sell you fresh bread, pastries, chocolate bars or fruit salad. Pretty funny how sometimes it’s the driver who buys most stuff!

The drive towards the other side of the lake is very pleasant and the beautiful road also features a bike lane. The view of the volcanoes it’s already incredible.

On day one I stopped at Lago de Los Todos los Santos, from where the Los Alerces trail starts. This runs on the North-Eastern side of Volcán Osorno, and has beautiful views of the volcano & the lake. In 3 hours you get to walk on volcanic sand, former lava rivers (aluviónes), volcanic forest (if there is such a thing) and lake shore. It’s pretty cool and not at all hard.

However, down here you get the 4 seasons in one day, like a country I’m pretty familiar with. In fact, I started with a sunny day (the only clouds were covering the top of the volcano, grrrrr) to end with a light rain – I was well prepared for that and I have to say the scenery was even more magical. Pity my battery died and could not take some pics to demonstrate that – but also great I could enjoy this better, without having to worry about my phone.

I decided to go back the day after as I wanted to see the top of the volcano. So, hopped on another blue minibus and stopped at Los Saltos de Petrohue, pretty popular waterfalls. But in fairness, after the more-than-awesome Iguazú Falls, I decided not to visit waterfalls any more 🙂

So I hiked the “El Solitario” trail, which runs on the Southern face of Volcán Osorno. This trail was hard to find, despite maps and suggestions that the Park Ranger gave me (uhm, pretty normal here in Chile)! And once again the top of the volcano was covered in clouds.

Other than that, the hike was pretty boring apart from when you get to the “aluvión“, which on this side of the volcano is quite huge and “emotional”. A lava river was flowing here during the last eruption of 1869, and left behind just ash, lava rocks and nothing else. At the end of the trail, I got back down via a different route to get the bus in Ensenada (via a dangerous road – other thing the Park Ranger didn’t mention 🙂

The same night and day after rained so much that this happened on the exact SAME trail I walked the day before. Was I lucky or what?

Puerto Varas was so nice (including the hostel) that I extended my stay to 4 nights. I even got some work done when it rained and made my first Chilean friends.

Unlike other touristy places, Puerto Varas seemed like a perfect compromise to me – it’s well connected, has decent infrastructure, it’s a nice place during the summer and people look happy there  – despite we were in the middle of high season.

Pity I “had to go”.

I mean, I didn’t have to – but to keep the momentum going I wanted to go to Pucón to visit another volcano, currently active. The Volcán Villarrica.

Hasta luego my friends!