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Chilean Lake District
Travel Guide

Plan for the Chilean Lake District with Local Expertise

Chilean Lake District at a glance

Before Chilean territory officially becomes the mythical land of Patagonia lies the beautiful Lake District. This 600m long sliver of mountainous terrain at the foothills of the Andes boasts numerous lakes that are laid out in a line heading south between the mountain range and the sea. This area of Chile astounds visitors with its snow-capped volcanic peaks, forest-rimmed lakes, and rustic charm, as well as the wealth of adventure sports and outdoor activities that can be enjoyed in the region. The Chilean Lake District lies in Chile Zona Sur, an area which stretches between Temuco in the north and Puerto Montt in the south. The region itself is called Sur Chico, or Little South, by locals, and is the gateway to Patagonia, with natives fiercely proud of their identity as the gateway to the famous Patagonian wilderness, including Torres del Paine National Park. This area attracts visitors who value a slower, more relaxed pace of discovery, where the lakes and their surroundings can be explored independently, away from the crowds and tourist traps of southern Patagonia, to give you that desired feeling of pure isolation in nature. The lakeside town of Puerto Varas is, in many ways, emblematic of the development of large parts of this region in South America known as the Southern Cone.


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What not to miss

Known as “The City of Roses,” Puerto Varas is enviably located in Chile’s Sur Chico region, which enjoys a proliferation of beautiful lakes and almost cartoonish volcanoes. This is also the gateway to Chilean Patagonia but has its own distinct identity. Puerto Varas is a quaint Alpine-esque town that abounds with floral gardens, idyllic lakeside beaches, luxury resorts and an array of adventure sports that can be indulged in in the immediate surrounding region. Fans of the outdoors will delight in the river rafting, zip-lining, hiking, trekking and salmon fishing offered by the Petrohué River and Lake Todos Los Santos, located nearby. Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park is a destination favored by hikers and walkers, and there are numerous pleasant experiences to be enjoyed in the town itself. Take a stroll down by the waterfront after dark and take in the glittering blanket of stars that emerge from the night sky. Or take a short flight in a light aircraft over the region, enjoying the aerial views of this charming enclave of Chile. If you are a fan of adventures on two wheels, rent a bike and ride to the Petrohué falls, a relaxed yet rewarding trip. Puerto Varas is not as touristy as some other sites in Chile, and often you will be able to enjoy this charming town without the presence of large crowds.

Penguin Colonies at Chiloe Top

This exciting excursion begins sailing through the Chacao Channel to Chiloe Island, look out for sea wolves, pelicans and seabirds all native to the area. Stroll around the seaside towns to admire the beautiful houses made from Alerce wood, the stunning churches and stop by the Caulin beach, famous for its delicious oysters and diverse marine wildlife. Later at the city of Ancud, built in the 18th century and that is one of the last Spanish forts to be made in Chile, we visit the local museum, Main Square, and Central Market that offers a wide selection of delicious traditional dishes. In the afternoon boarding a boat to Puñihuil beach, home of the adorable Magallan Penguins and majestic Humboldt Penguins. Both species of penguins use the island as a nesting ground due to its abundance of food and have coexisted peacefully for generations. The tour guide will give an in-depth explanation of the birds’ lifestyles, feeding habits, and mating calls. After observing and learning more about the penguins that live on Puñihuil, which has become a National Heritage Site due to its ecological significance.

Osorno Volcano & Petrohue River Top

This fantastic tour begins in Puerto Varas, or “The City of the Roses,” and driving along the lakeside to Osorno volcano, experiencing spectacular views of the Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes. Arriving at Ensenanda, we start our ascent to the Osorno Centro de Ski & Mountain, where we stay for an hour to enjoy the exceptional landscapes of snowcapped Calbuco, the sparkling Lake Llanquihue, and the endless Pacific Ocean. Once on the summit, you may want to take the lift to ascend to the Primavera at 1450 meters (4757 feet) high, or the Station Glacier at 1750 meters (5741 feet), to enjoy breathtaking views of Lake Llanquihue. After descending from Osorno, we drive to Petrohue that borders the beautiful Todos Santos Lake, surrounded by evergreen forests that contrast against the turquoise blue of the Petrohue River, visiting Vicente Perez Rosales National Park, where we can enjoy one of the most stunning views of the country that will take hold of your senses, the draw-dropping Petrohue River Falls. The waterfall is supported by basaltic lava that originates from the Osorno Volcano, that stands proudly in the background of the gorgeous waterfalls.

Lake Crossing from Chile to Argentina Top

Make the stunning lake crossing from Chile to Argentina for a more original and entertaining way of crossing the border. After hotel pickup in Puerto Varas, the lakeside drive to our destination promises spectacular views of the Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes. Our first stop will be the Vicente Perez Rosales National Park, where you will enjoy one of the most stunning views of the country that will take hold of your senses and a draw-dropping view of Petrohue River Falls. The river flows and jumps across huge mounds of crystallized lava, creating bright blue waterfalls set against a background of snow-capped mountains. Next, you’ll set sail across Todos Los Santos Lake to Peulla, where you can grab a bite to eat and explore the ecological village. In the afternoon by bus to Puerto Frias where you’ll pass through customs leaving Chile and entering Argentina. From here, you’ll cross Lago Frias by boat towards Puerto Alegre, where we’ll board another bus to Puerto Blest. In the evening you’ll begin to sail through Lake Nahuel Huapi to Puerto Pañuelo, where you catch the bus to Bariloche arriving in the late evening.

The Road to Frutillar Top

This magical tour begins at the highest point of Puerto Montt city with a splendid view of the sprawling city and the dazzling ocean with the outline of the Tenglo Island in the background. Visiting the Main Square and admire the Cathedral, and continues to the charming area of Angelmo, famous for its handmade crafts gift shops and the bustling Central City Market. The Market is a fantastic place to try out some traditional Chilean dishes, later driving along the Pan-American arriving to Puerto Varas, also known as the City of Roses, to admire the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an exact replica of a Church located deep in the Black Forest in Germany. In the afternoon explore the beautiful shores of Lake Llanquihue with stunning backdrops of the Osorno volcano. As we enter the Frutillar, our first stop is the city of Llanquihue, this historical city came to life in 1856 as a boarding pier and was soon filled with German tanneries, mills, and breweries. We continue along Lake Llanquihue to the charming city of Frutillar, strolling the streets, admiring the beautiful architecture, beautiful parks and the stunning views of the Osorno and Puntiagudo volcanoes.

Walking City Tour & Navigation Top

This exciting excursion begins with ferry ride sailing through the Chacao Channel to Chiloe Island. Spotting sea wolves, pelicans and seabirds all native to the area. As the ferry arrives at the Chacao pier, we will stroll around the seaside towns to admire the beautiful homes made from Alerce wood, stunning churches, and stop by the Caulin beach famous for its delicious oysters and diverse marine wildlife. The tour continues into the city of Ancud, home to the San Antonio Fort constructed in the late 18th century, one of the last Spanish forts to be built in the country. We will visit the local museum, the Main Square and the Central Market that offers a wide selection of delicious traditional dishes. After a wander around Ancud, we will board a boat to Puñihuil beach, home to the adorable Magallanes Penguins and majestic Humboldt Penguins. Both species of penguins use the island as a nesting ground due to its abundance of food and have coexisted peacefully for generations. The tour guide will give an in-depth explanation of the birds’ lifestyles, feeding habits, and mating calls. After observing and learning more about the penguins that live on Puñihuil, which has become a National Heritage Site due to its ecological significance, the group will stop for lunch on Chiloe before returning back to the mainland.

Rafting in Trancura River Top

Adrenaline addicts from the world over come to Pucón to raft the upper section of the torrential Trancura River. After safety instructions and some warm-up paddling, your whitewater rafting adventure begins where you will take on some serious waves and descents that will have your heart pounding. This rafting adventure is definitely a mixture of obstacles, advanced and expert class IV and V rapids come during the latter half of the excursions, our licensed and experienced rafting guides will make this a fun and safe trip. If you are an adventurer up for a fast-paced whitewater experience, keep in mind you can complete this trip with or without previous rafting experience. This service is with a professional certified rafting guide with a raft with the capacity of maximum 8 people, followed by a security kayak as well as adventure tourism insurance, wetsuit, neoprene boots, life jacket, helmet and of course all our equipment and gear.

Adventure Hike to Villarica Volcano Top

We set out on an early to the Pucón Ski Resort located at the base of the volcano at 1,400 meters / 4,593 feet. Ascending the active Villarrica Volcano is without a doubt a once in a lifetime experience, the climb is not technical, but you need to be in good shape to reach the summit. Upon arrival we jump on the chairlift tickets that will take us to some of the highest vantage points at 0.800 meters / 5.906 feet, saving us 1 hour of climbing… The views from the top are absolutely mind-blowing, overlooking five lakes and several volcanoes in the distance such as Llaima and Lanín. The descent is quite fun, especially when we can slide down the snow. We’ll return to the base around 5 pm and immediately head off to Pucón, where we hand back the gear. We include in this excursion a highly experienced mountain guide, all transportation, waterproof gore-tex trekking boots, the entrance to Villarrica National Park, crampons, gaiters, ice ax, gloves, helmet, and quality windbreaker and wind pants…now that’s packed for adventure!

Eco Hike to Mini-Volcanoes at Villarrica Top

Set off on a half-day group eco-hiking tour to the mini volcanoes at the feet of active Volcano Villarrica, for splendid views and incredible nature immersion. This is an easy trek, suitable for all ages! To begin, you’ll be collected from your hotel and transferred to the entrance of National Park Villarrica at 1,175 meters above sea level. During a pleasant 1½ hour walk uphill (4 km), over old lava fields and through the seemingly enchanted native forest, at different viewpoints, you can enjoy the mind-boggling views of the ancient cauldron of Volcano Villarrica, Lake Carburgua and the Volcanoes Villarrica, Quetropillan and Lanin. Perched at 1,430 meters, you reach a lava field with a row of five to ten meter wide miniature craters. You’ll hike alongside these partially intact and eroded lava structures and then down a dried up lava river, during approximately one hour, accompanied by your English-speaking tour guide, who will give you all kinds of local insights along the way. With a little luck, you’ll come across fauna in their native habitat. On the way back through downtown Pucón, your guide can recommend nice places for lunch and dinner, as well as local sights and markets.

Cultural Encounter at Ruka Top

Our 3-hour cultural tour offers a unique opportunity to meet and interact with Chile’s largest indigenous group, the Mapuche. The name is derived from Mapundungun from the native Mapuche language, meaning “people of the earth.” This three-hour culture tour will allow you to gain insight into these fascinating people’s heritage, history, and culture. With careful consideration of their traditions and our “ñuke mapu” (mother earth), we will set off to an indigenous reserve, where we visit a local Mapuche family, just 15 minutes outside of Pucón. The lamnien “brothers and sisters”, will proudly share their traditions and show their Ruka, a “house, made of wood and straw.” You learn about the structure of the Ruka, the ancestral arts, the meaning of the Mapuche flag, as well as the typical family structure and their spiritual life. We can also see their traditional artifacts, such as musical instruments, jewelry, attire, etc. If the witran, “visitor” is interested, we can discover more about their indigenous worldview, who these people who have already been around 12.000 years ago and preserve their customs until today are. We will then enjoy a traditional Mapuche meal, while listening to the wisdom and legends of these first people. Between laughter and hugs, we will say Peukayall!, See you again someday!


This section is a quick overview to help in planning your trip to Puerto Varas.

When to go

Given its proximity to Patagonia, the Chilean Lake District shares many climatic qualities with this region. The weather in Patagonia can often be unpredictable, raining one moment and sunny the next. Depending at what elevation and where you the terrain, the weather can also vary, so make sure you bring adequate clothing for rain, sun, heat, cold and even snow. Spring and summer are the driest seasons, and it is best to visit between November and April. It can get extremely cold between May and October, and these are also the wettest months. Given the precarious climate, there is often flooding in the region, so this may affect your travel plans.

Puerto Varas is best visited in the warmer months, so from late spring to early fall between November and March. January and February are South American summer holidays, so the town is bustling during these months with large volumes of tourists coming to enjoy the city and the surrounding area. You may want to consider the months of November and March/April, which are the best times to come with great weather and fewer tourists. Because of its location on the shores of the lake, it has an oceanic climate, meaning that it rains a lot during the year, especially in the winter months from June to September. However, this is also when locals celebrate the Rain Festival, so if you don’t mind getting wet, come during this period to check out this famous native celebration.

How to get there

The easiest way to access the Chilean Lake District is to fly to Puerto Montt, which is serviced by flights from Santiago or Punta Arenas. If you are coming from another destination inside Chile, flights arrive from Santiago, Punta Arenas and some other airports to El Tepual Airport, located 30km away. If you are coming from Argentina, there is a border crossing in San Carlos de Bariloche which will take you gliding across the lakes. This is one of the most scenic ways to get to Puerto Varas, and is also an excellent opportunity to visit Bariloche is you are already in the area. Puerto Varas is best explored on foot, but there are also small buses that bring tourists to the most popular destinations and attractions both within the city and just outside it. Alternatively, we can arrange car hire or private transport for you, speak to one of our travel experts and they can advise you.


There are plenty of high-end resorts and hotels to stay in in the Lake District, as well as private cabins that offer a more rustic and authentic experience. As many of the highlights are spread out, they are accessed by road, but the infrastructure in the area is highly developed. This area has long been home to the Mapuche Indians, and you will find lots of their handicrafts for sale in the small markets and boutique shops that are dotted around the little villages. Food lovers will rejoice in the many delicious fish options that are available in this area, as well as hearty stews and the activity of taking high tea in the afternoon. Keep an eye out for the many German bakeries that proliferate in this area, given its heritage as a region of German immigration and settlement.

Puerto Varas has lots of attractions for tourists, and as such the tourism infrastructure that has developed around this is sophisticated. There are plenty of places to stay, with accommodations to suit the needs of every different type of traveler. Puerto Varas is also known for the German influences in its food, so make sure to try some of the traditional German cakes, or kuchen, and chocolates, that are on offer. Seafood also features high on the list of must-try foods, and salmon from Puerto Montt is particularly popular. Meat dishes are also available on most menus, and sometimes you will see deer or boar popping up, so carnivores will be in their element. While there are ATMs in Puerto Varas, if you are planning on visiting towns and enclaves outside the city, it is recommended that you bring cash, as it is not always easy to find in more rural areas.

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