Did I end up in some strange American western movie? That will be your initial thought when entering the lakeside town of Puerto Varas, with its many beautiful old wooden houses. Mainly built by German ancestors by the way instead of by Americans.
This is often seen as the smaller and better version of Pucon, a couple of hundred kilometres more north. And the much better alternative to Puerto Montt, the ugly industrial gateway to Patagonia nearby.
Let there be no misunderstanding: Puerto Varas is touristy. There are plenty of nice restaurants and cafes to cater for your gastronomic needs, even Anthony Bourdain was here. But it is also relatively quiet: no huge clubs or late-night drinking. People come here to enjoy the nature.
The biggest draw in that respect is of course nearby volcano Osorno, towering over the lake. Don’t underestimate the power of Calbuco, the other volcano, which sprang into action around 2014 and caused significant upheaval including an evacuation.
Food and drinks
No need to complain here. The German ancestry guarantees some small breweries around and some hearty fare. Cafe Danes is on the main street and has take-away Apfelstrudel and much more for example.
The probably best espresso in town is in Cafe El Barista, which is not cheap but has excellent lunches and dinner. Casa Mawen also has views of the lake and is cheaper. La Bruja and Lo Spuntino are two smaller coffee and lunch options around the corner by the way.
For dinner, El Castillo opposite the huge Lider supermarket is a good choice for some real Chilean food. Puelche is in a hotel a ten minute walk from the center. It does two things really well: burgers and beer.
For meateaters La Marca is apparently the best, didn’t test it personally. Same goes for the Chester Beer Brewing company: it is an eight kilometre walk/drive from Puerto Varas and offers excellent burgers and beer and live coverage of footy matches.
Activities / things to do
- visiting Osorno volcano is on everyone’s list here. There are basically two ways of doing this: with an organised tour, which will take you towards Ensenada village and to the nearby lift that you can take up the volcano. It doesn’t go all the way to the crater of course, there are various adrenaline sports to do there. The quieter version is to take a public bus (they leave in front of the big shopping mall at least every 30 minutes) to Petrohue village. From there you can make the hike to the mirador (four hour round-trip) or continue even further. It is a well-marked trail which should cost 7-8 hours, but is quite hard because of the loose sand in several places
- you can combine Petrohue with a boat tour on Lago Todo los Santos. Five kilometres before Petrohue you will find the Saltos del Rio Petrohue, waterfalls that will be included if you do an organized tour to the volcano
- don’t forget to enjoy Puerto Varas by stumbling along the waterside. Up the hill is a small art garden (Kunstgarten) near the five-star Enjoy Puerto Varas hotel
- in the harbour is also a catamaran that sails around in weekends (friday-sunday late afternoon) including a drink, reservations through WhatsApp. And on La Puntilla, an artwork on the northern side of the beach, are several food trucks in summer
Getting to Puerto Varas and getting around
- the airport: is located in Puerto Montt, but that is only thirty minutes away
- bus: from the Puerto Montt bus terminal (along the waterside, you can’t miss it, where the Ibis hotel is) are minibuses going all the time. In Puerto Varas they leave from the Lider supermarket. Long-distance buses also serve the village of course, amongst them TurBus and JAC. The Puerto Varas bus terminal is at the edge of town, a fifteen minute walk from the waterfront. Long-distance buses go to Temuco and Santiago amongst others. If there is no convenient connection, take a bus to Osorno which is a massive transport hub and will offer you many more options
- within the city: walking is the way to go, but when you feel tired, collective taxis drive along predefined routes
- Weather: unstable to say the least. Even summer nights can get chilly, but when the sun is out it is great and you can even enjoy the beach. In winter it is just wet, wet, wet. No snow though in Varas, but up higher on the volcanoes