Chile’s Lake District left quite an impression

Chile’s Lake District is a very dangerous place and not just because of the looming active volcanoes.

One of several active volcanoes in the region.

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!

The German immigrants had a significant influence on the area’s food and architecture…including the local beer production.

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.

Breakfast of champions!

Would you like a little coffee with your cream, Glenn?

Walking past these dessert cases all day, and not being able to eat one of everything, starts to make Glenn depressed!

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.

I took this picture out our hotel window in the town of Frutillar. Not a bad scene to wake up to.

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.

Renting a car in a foreign land is always an adventure. I only got pulled over once! In my defense, it appeared to be a random check point to ensure drivers had the proper licenses, were wearing seat belts, etc.

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.

Map showing the general location of Chile’s Lake District

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.

On the boat from Puerto Montt, heading out into the fjords.

Visiting the town of Rio Negro, nestled under a volcano that looks like how I used to draw mountains as a child…a perfect cone topped with snow.

All ashore that’s going ashore! Unlike these fellow travelers, Glenn and I opted to hang out on the big boat during the excursions.

Seemed like everyone in town had a fire going.

Our second day in the fjord area was crisp, cold and sunny. 

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.

Since it is early spring here there are lots of baby sheep, cows and horses dotting the landscape.

Pastoral scenes like this one greeted us along the road (at least two volcanoes visible in this one).

Gypsy-like wagons and old tractors were a common sight.

We were fascinated by these large old homes that seemed to be made out of corrugated metal. They had a dreamy quality to them.

Saltos del Petrohue…the turquoise water 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.

The obscured backside of the Volcano Osorno. We had driven up the other side of it on our previous day’s outing.

My view from the catamaran boat we took across the lake (not quite 2 hours, each way).

A glimpse of the snow-covered Volcano Tronador, which is shared with Argentina. In the foreground you can see a boatman coming out to meet our catamaran to pick up some local residents that live on one of islands. Can you imagine living in such beauty?!?

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.

Once in the village of Peulla we took a little tour in this funky looking 4X4 vehicle. Although we were trapped with a bunch of other tourists (mostly Brazilian, with a few from China) it was worth it to have a chance to see more of this remote area.

Glare from the sun was blinding at times. It eventually gave Glenn a good sized headache…but I couldn’t get enough of the view. 

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.

These trees take thousands of years to reach this size. This one (now dead) was estimated to be over 2,600 years old.

Many of the trails had these wooden walkways, which was a nice alternative to the slippery mud.

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.

These were some Jurassic Park sized ferns!

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?

Mystery piles of dirt…and these were the small ones!

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.

I can’t imagine ash this thick and heavy raining down on my home.

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.

2 comments on “Chile’s Lake District left quite an impression

  1. Pingback: Farewell to Middle Earth (New Zealand, Part 4: North Island) | A Life More Extraordinary

  2. Oh my gosh! Now Chili is on my “bucket list.” I had no idea about the German immigration. There are huge numbers of German immigrants in the U.S. too, which are hardly talked about. All four of my grandparents were born there but none of us celebrate that heritage. Hard to even find a German restaurant. Enjoy, you wonderful people! Such an amazing adventure.

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