Chile’s Lake District is a very dangerous place and not just because of the looming active volcanoes.
Known as the Región de Los Lagos in Spanish, much of the Lake District was populated by thousands of German immigrants in the mid-1800s (following the eventual subjugation of the indigenous Mapuche people by the Chilean government) and they brought with them their dessert and pastry recipes!
It seems like there is a coffee shop filled with amazing pastries, tortes, cakes and cookies around every corner. Real cream is piled high on your coffee drinks and the equivalent of apple pie is served for breakfast.
Like I said, Chile’s Lake District is a very dangerous place…to one’s waistline!
Much like the sweet treats, majestic volcanoes and lakes also awaited us around every corner.
We spent our first week here resting and relaxing in the town of Puerto Varas. But soon we got itchy feet and rented a car so that we could experience more of this jaw-droppingly beautiful area. Our adventures included a couple of amazing boat rides, exploring countless gravel backroads and hiking through ancient forests.
The Región de Los Lagos is definitely one of the most stunning and delicious places I have ever visited and definitely toward the top of my list of places worthy of a return visit! We had a great time (see more details and pictures below) and are now well rested, well fed (and then some) and ready for our upcoming adventures in warmer and more arid climates (stay tuned!).
Where in the world???
The Región de Los Lagos is found in southern Chile and is basically the furthest south you can get by car before entering the wilds of Patagonia.
It is made up of soaring Andes mountains and volcanoes, an endless series of glacial fed streams and lakes, and several coastal islands. Opportunities for skiing, hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, fishing and soaking in thermal springs abound. (see the map at the very end of this post for more detail)
Fjords of northern Patagonia
We spent two days (and a night) on a large boat exploring in and around the Quintupeu Fjord – where the German battleship Dresden hid out during WWI. We were the only non-Chileans on the boat of about 100 people and during the Captain’s opening remarks in the dining room we were called out as local celebrities – so much for blending in! The scenery was truly breathtaking and I spent hours and hours, bundled in my down jacket and newly acquired Ecuadorian alpaca scarf, on the top deck soaking it all in.
Circuito Lago Llanquihue
We spent a day driving around the circumference of the area’s largest lake called Lago Llanquihue, taking us through multiple Bavarian styled towns and farms. Our tour included a drive up the area’s most picturesque volcano, Volcano Osorno, with it’s perfectly coned top, as well as the turquoise falls of the Petrohue river.
Crossing Logo Todos Los Santos
We spent a day crossing a beautiful lake called Lago Todos Los Santos, known for its glacial fed turquoise waters and views of several area volcanoes. It wasn’t raining (which was a rare treat on this lake which has rain 200+ days a year). The sun was bright and clouds danced across the sky which made for an ever-changing vista. I was mesmerized and took so many pictures on this day my camera battery completely died.
We opted for the tour option that took us to the small eco-village of Peulla (only accessible by boat) and back in the same day, but many other travelers continue on through a combination of shuttle buses and two other lake crossings to eventually end up in Argentina.
Hiking in Alerce Andino National Park
We also spent a day hiking among the giant and endangered Alerce trees found only in this region of Chile and Argentina. These trees are the second longest living species of tree next to the Bristlecone Pine, including one Alerce tree that was found to be over 3,600 years old.
Between the evergreen trees, ferns, rain, mud and moss, it felt just like a hike in the Columbia River Gorge back home in Portland. We had a blast.
A mystery in Ensenada
Lastly, our travels often took us through the little town of Ensenada near the eastern shore of the big lake Lago Llanquihue. When driving through this area we were perplexed by the huge piles of dirt that lined the streets and filled the yards of homes. The surrounding fields and natural areas were buried in a thick layer of the stuff, and heavy equipment ran to and fro moving the dirt into bigger piles and/or loading it into trucks. It almost looked like big drifts of dark, grainy snow. Each time we drove through this town we wondered if it was the result of massive windstorms, or maybe a huge flood?
Later we realized it was volcanic ash. It turns out that the nearby Volcano Calbuco erupted a few months ago and completely buried this town under a massive amount of ash. There was so much of the heavy ash that it caused roofs and structures to collapse, and completely devastated the agricultural fields and rangelands in the area.
It was truly a spectacular eruption (I’d encourage you to Google it to see pictures of both the eruption – which included it’s own lightning storm – as well as the devastation from the ash in Ensenada) and a good reminder that although these picturesque volcanoes make for amazing views, they can roar to life at any moment.
More detailed map
For those that are particularly curious, below is a map that shows the general area where our above adventures took place.