The beautiful landscapes of Chile are best absorbed when traveling leisurely. World Spa Magazine takes you on a trip to enchanting lakes, islands, virgin forests and the rugged mountains of Southern Andes.
Situated at the southern end of the Chilean Central Valley, Puerto Montt is a gateway city leading to various expanses of natural beauty that Chile has to offer. Puerto Montt is a working port that has made little if any concession to the tourist industry, the town has bigger fish to fry - namely salmon. It is a starting point for those traveling further south to the Carretera Austral and beyond. Nevertheless, it is well worth looking at the quayside and fish market at Angelmó.
Where to stay There are no luxury places to stay in Puerto Montt. Tourists normally overnight in Puerto Montt if they have an early morning flight to take next day. Most tourists continue to Puerto Varas by road which is only a 30 minute drive away as the location is more picturesque and the accommodation is of a higher standard.
What to eat It will probably be best to eat at a hotel or head to Puerto Varas.
How to get there Fly via Madrid, Spain and Santiago, Chile’s capital.
Puerto Varas is set amid lush, green, rolling countryside on the shores of Lake Llanquihue 20 km north of Puerto Montt. Puerto Varas was colonized by the Germans at the turn of the 20th century and its architecture and sedate style reflects this, but it is now a fast-growing tourist resort. The town's main attraction is an alpine green lake framed by tree-clad hills and beyond, one of the most perfectly shaped snow-capped volcanoes in the world - Osorno. If you're lucky enough to be in Puerto Varas on a clear and still evening, the sunsets over Osorno's snowy mantle can be magical, best appreciated from the lakeshore promenade or one of several hotels which offer fabulous lake views.
An hour's drive via Puerto Montt to the modern port of Pargua for the ferry ride through the Chacao Channel to the emerald isle of Chiloé is an interesting trip. On arrival, it's a short drive to the pretty seaside village of Ancud, a lively fishing port that also has the distinction of being the Spanish Crown's last possession in South America. Here you can view the museum and the fortress of San Antonio, where the treaty was signed for the withdrawal of the Spanish from Latin America. Then head to Huaihuén Hill with its sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Travel inland through a landscape of valleys and precipitous mountains to Dalcahue, a port serving boats from nearby small islands. Visit its traditional handicraft fair, which sells reasonably priced woolen garments.
Next stop is Castro, Chile's third oldest city. Its waterfront is fringed with colourful, wooden shacks on stilts called palafitos where seafood caught fresh from the fjord's icy waters is transformed into simple but delicious dishes. Other highlights include the church of San Francisco with its wooden vaulted interior and the covered market, selling everything from hand-knitted woolens to squid, king crabs and vegetables.
Formed by a lava flow of volcanic rock and set amongst a thousand-year-old forest, the Petrohue falls make an impressive site. Sheltered from the wind, the lake at the hamlet of Petrohue is warm and the beaches sandy, factors that help make it a popular location for swimming and fishing.
Drive along the edge of Lake Llanquihue, skirting Calbuco Volcano before entering the Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park. On reaching the waterfalls on Petrohué River and Todos los Santos Lake, a catamaran takes you across the lake; its emerald waters fringed by forested hills occasionally broken by small clearings and spectacular waterfalls cascading down from snow capped volcanoes. The crossing takes just under two hours. One arrives at the small mountain town of Peulla situated on the eastern shore.
The forest becomes increasingly dense as you continue on to Vicente Perez Rosales National Park toward the Petrohue waterfalls. After a short de-briefing and safety check, embark on a 90-minute rafting trip that passes through some of the most spectacular natural scenery Chile has to offer. A roller coaster ride slices its way through and ever changing backdrop of remote hamlets, snow-capped volcanoes and dense rolling forests.
Depart to the German town of Puerto Varas, with its attractive Plaza de Armas and views of Lago Llanquihue with Volcano Orsono in the distance. Take in the sights before continuing along the lake edge to Frutillar Bajo. The buildings clustered along the banks of the lake are very much Bavarian. Continue along a dirt track along the lakeshore to nearby Puerto Octay, located between the crook of two hills. The architecture is similarly Alpine, with its balconied houses and steepled church. Have lunch and relax at the Termas de Puyehue hotel, with its indoor Olympic-sized swimming pool filled with the hot water from the Puyehue volcanic thermal springs.
Where to Stay
Hotel Cumbres Patagonicas
Quincho Country Home
What to Eat
La Olla, Seafood Restaurant. This place packs in locals and tourists alike.
Las Buenas Brasas, Authentic Steakhouse with an excellent grill.
Chamaca, Popular with locals - serves traditional Chilean meals and seafood dishes.
How to get there: Fly from Santiago to Puerto Montt and travel 30 minutes by road to Puerto Varas.
Torres del Paine
At the heart of Chilean Patagonia, 400 km north of the regional capital Punta Arenas, a granite massif of smooth rock towers and icy pinnacles dominate the landscape in what is one of South America's greatest national parks, Torres del Paine. Milky blue and gem-sharp emerald lakes, sinuous rivers, glaciers and wind-scoured steppes have created a remarkable and unique environment. Declared a biospheric reserve by UNESCO, the area is a natural habitat of over 150 species of birds (flamingos, condors, eagles and ostriches) and 25 species of mammal (including guanacos, armadillos, silver foxes and pumas).
Explore the park with morning and afternoon excursions each day. Some of the activities that might be on offer include: a full day hike to the twin peaks of Las Torres; half day excursion to Salto Grande, Amarga Lagoon and Lakes Nordenskjold & Pehoe; and three-hour light hikes to Los Salmones creek on the Pingo River and Grey River Canyon.
Where to Stay
Explora en Patagonia
What to Eat
All food is included at the hotel during your stay given the remoteness of the park. The breakfast and dinners are all served buffet-style with lots of choice and well-prepared food.
How to get there: Fly from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas and 6 hours by road to Torres del Paine. Or travel by road from El Calafate in Argentina to Torres del Paine. The journey will take around 6 hours as well.
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