Famous for its glacial lakes, ominous volcanoes and evergreen wild forest, Chile’s Lake District is a nature-wonderland bursting with activities and jaw-dropping scenery. With its countless national parks, outdoor adventure and deep-rooted folklore and traditions, the Lake District is a major highlight of Chile and a captivating region to explore.
Chile’s Lake District is a land of remarkable beauty and offers limitless opportunities to explore its wild and rugged terrain. Likened to Switzerland for its Alpine essence and awe-inspiring scenery, the area is also rich in history and is home to the Mapuche tribe, who defended the land against the Spanish conquistadors and still maintain their strong cultural heritage today. Stretching along the Pacific Coast, bordering the Andes Mountain range, this district can be split into several different regions, which are unique in experience, topography and personality.
Tucked away in the north of the Lake District, is the pretty and lively town of Pucón. Nestled on the shores of Lago Villarrica and overlooking the snow-capped Villarrica Volcano, Pucón serves as an excellent base to explore the great outdoors and offers a plethora of adventure activities. White-water rafting along rushing rapids, horse-riding through the Andes and hiking through the untouched trails of Huerquehue National Park, are just a few of the activities that can be enjoyed here. Climbing to the top of Volcano Villarrica rewards you with blissful panoramas, soaking in the volcanic hot springs offers rejuvenation after a day’s exploring and marvelling at the craftsmanship of the Mapuche indigenous people provides a glimpse into their ancient past.
In the south of the Lake District you’ll find the port city of Puerto Montt, a commercial hub and starting point for a range of cruises that sail through the fjords and hanging valleys of the glacial Chilean coastline. North of Puerto Montt lays the quaint town of Puerto Varas. Perched on the shores of Lake Llanquihue, Puerto Varas is guarded by the looming snow-capped volcanoes of Osorno and Calbuco. Home to a number of German settlers, the town is rich in Germanic style architecture and is well-known for abundance of roses that colour the streets between the months of December and March. Like Pucón, it serves as a base to explore the surrounding area and offers a variety of excursions, which include fly-fishing in an array of beautiful lakes and rivers, to climbing the Osorno Volcano and marvelling at the icy-blue Petrohue falls.
A popular day trip from Puerto Varas is to visit the archipelago of Chiloé. Lush green and culturally rich, Chiloé is the perfect destination for those looking to get off the beaten track. Whilst a day trip is possible, we strongly recommend staying a few nights on the island to really appreciate its magnetism. Rich in ethnic and folkloric traditions, the island oozes a unique mythology of witchcraft and ghost ships and reveals a very spiritual culture. Distinctive in style, Chiloé is also known for its unique architecture, where colourful houses (Palafitos) perch on stilts along the water’s edge and a number of colonial-era wooden churches, recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site can be found dotted around the island. Adding to the island’s allure is its rugged and wild terrain. Made up of dense forests, undulating hills, lakes, inlets and coves, this varied terrain is fertile ground for outdoor adventures to hike, kayak, horse-ride, and in the months of September to March, explore its wetland in search of penguin colonies as well as an abundance of other bird species.
With an extensive and good road network, exploration of the Lake District is stress-free and one of the best ways to get under its skin is on a self-drive. Speckled with an array of charming and authentic boutique hotels and luxury lodges, the Lake District is the perfect holiday destination. When you have traversed the length of Chile’s Lake District, crossings into Argentina’s Lake District by land or lake is the perfect way to combine the two and offers an unrivalled experience.