A land of remote fishing villages, heavily forested fjords, glacially sculpted lakes, and picture-perfect volcanic peaks, the Chilean Lake District is in many ways the New Zealand of Latin America. The scenery in the Chilean Lake District is beyond magnificent, with features ranging from off-the-beaten-path islands dotted with fishing villages and mussel farms to quaint German communities framed by stunning volcanoes reminiscent of Mt. Fuji. Considering the artistically inspiring beauty of the countryside, it is not surprising that many of Latin America’s finest authors and romantics hail from this region.
Located along a particularly seismic stretch of the Ring of Fire, the Chilean Lake District is a geothermal wonderland with geysers, hot springs, and plumes of smoke erupting from active volcanic peaks. The snow-capped Osorno and Villarica Volcanoes have become a symbolic representation of the region’s remarkable beauty, although there are more than 50 volcanoes in total strewn about the countryside. Several of these volcanoes are active, as we were reminded with the latest eruptions of the Villarica and Calbuco Volcanoes in early 2015.
Chile’s Lake Region has a rich cultural history dating back to the native Mapuche culture that inhabited the area prior to the arrival of the Europeans. During the 18th century, German, Austrian, and Swiss immigrants arrived in droves and established communities throughout the region. These European settlements continue to thrive in Frutillar, Valdivia, Osorno, Puerto Varas, and other smaller mountain communities. Even in the 21st century, German is still widely spoken in these areas, and European residents still exhibit strong cultural ties to their ancestral motherland.
Chilean Lake District Practical Information:Wedged between the rugged spine of the Southern Andes and the Pacific Ocean, the Chilean Lake District spans more than 250 miles from Temuco to the island of Chiloé. Though many consider Puerto Montt to represent the southern extent of the region, we include Chiloé and other destinations south of Puerto Montt to be a part of the region since they are often accessed via Puerto Montt or elsewhere in the Chilean Lake District.
The principal entry points to the Chilean Lake District are Temuco and Puerto Montt, with the majority of travelers arriving by plane in Puerto Montt from either Santiago or Punta Arenas. Due to the well-developed tourist and transportation infrastructure in the region, it is relatively easy to get about the area, and there are numerous border crossings to choose from for travelers seeking to cross the Andes into Argentina.
Sur Chico and the Chilean Lake District abound with adventure opportunities, and one could spend well more than a week exploring the area. However, considering the abundance of other spectacular sites in Patagonia, we usually advise travelers to spend three to five nights in the Chilean Lake District as part of an extended Patagonia trip. A popular option is to fly to Puerto Montt from Punta Arenas after visiting Torres del Paine National Park in the Far South. From here, travelers can head to Puerto Varas, Isla Chiloé, or one of the villages further north. The Chilean Lake District can also be a good option for travelers looking to combine a few nights in the mountains with a trip to Santiago, Valparaíso, San Pedro de Atacama, or the Chilean wine regions.