Walking through the streets of Puerto Varas, Chile is known to give people a strange sense of “where am I?” The small quaint wood-built homes, silky lake landscape and glacier views give visitors a sensations as if they are in the Swiss Alps, and not Chile. The fact that the sounds of Central European languages are as likely to be heard as the musical sound of Chilean Spanish only deepen the confusion. Regardless of where people arriving to this city in Chile’s northern section of Patagonia believe they are, one thing is not for certain: Puerto Varas is absolutely stunning. The city sits on the edge of a tranquil lake which forms the foreground to a backdrop of snowcapped volcanoes. Rolling hills house delicate hotels, log cabins, and summer homes. This truly is Chile’s most beautifully sparkling gem.
Things to do in Puerto Varas
- Canyoning: Canyoning is an adventure activity that is quickly taking over South America. The basic idea is to find a canyon, suit up in wetsuits and then climbing down the valley by jumping, swimming, and repelling through the creeks. Check out this canyoning video for a better idea about what’s involved.
- Rafting: There are both class 3 and 4 rapids near Puerto Varas. Personally, I think 3 is a little bit tame, but that is personal opinion. The price of rafting in Puerto Varas is between 40-50 US$ per person and well worth the day on the water.
- Hiking: There are a couple of small hikes near Puerto Varas, including one that takes you through the city park up to a view point of the city. This is also where the canopy tour office is. There are major trekking options available including a serious trek up the volcano that can be organized through one of the many tour agents in town.
- Canopy: This is a fun activity to take part in if you’re looking to take up an afternoon. It is also a good way of getting a little bit more in touch with the natural landscape surrounding Puerto Varas.
- Biking: In town it’s possible to rent a bike and cruise wherever your heart desires. There is some interesting landscape to discover just outside of town and if you don’t mind climbing the massive hills in town, this is a good way to get around.
- Skiing: In the winter months (June-October) there is skiing available on the volcano just outside of town.
Where to Eat in Puerto Varas
The food in Puerto Varas is as good as anywhere in the country. The combination of French, German, and Patagonian cuisine is a delicious, although in town it is a little bit on the pricey side. Down by the water there are a couple of good places to get food, try one of the pubs for slightly cheaper fare. If you have a bit of cash to spend check out a place called La Cucina d’Alessandro, I had a steak well there and it was amazing. Rumors are that this place also has the best lamb in all of Chile. If you’re looking for cheaper snack type meals head to one of the cafes, or the supermarket, and grab some pasteries or empanadas.
Where to Stay in Puerto Varas
There are a couple of good hostels in Puerto Varas, although the city tends to cater a bit more of the higher spending class of tourists. I stayed in a great place called Casa Azul which had a great environment, a friendly staff and a very cozy feel. I was given a single room in the attic which apparently used to house their summer students. It was the perfect room for me and only cost me about 25US$ a night. They also had dorms for about 18US$.
Where to go from here?
Buses run from Puerto Varas north to Concepcion and Santiago and south to nearby Puerto Montt and distant Chiloe and Punta Arenas. There are also regular buses that run to Bariloche, Argentina. If you are interested in the Navimag boat you can catch that here as well as it makes its trip south to Puerto Natales. There is a quick train trip to Puerto Montt available, and you can actually get all the way to Santiago via the northbound train system.
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