With its verdant green forests of araucaria and alerce, the Lake District, Chile makes a striking visual contrast with the drier parts of the north of the country. But the tenth region of Chile isn’t just defined by its beauty: it’s also a prime destination for hiking and outdoor activities.
Full of national parks and other private protected zones, the Lake District is best explored by foot. A series of towns make excellent bases from which to traverse the countryside and access a large selection of trails crossing scenic, pristine nature.
Situated in the north of the Lake District, Chile, Puerto Varas is a picturesque town perched on the edge of Lago Llanquihue, the second largest lake in the country.
While Puerto Varas itself makes for an excellent place to kick back and relax while enjoying the town’s restaurants and German-inspired desserts, its most impressive attractions lie a little further afield.
- Saltos de Petrohué: At the foot of Volcán Osorno, these waterfalls swirl and plunge over volcanic rock, making this a sensational place for a photograph. Trek the short distance from the visitor’s center to admire the falls.
- Volcán Osorno: Hikers can spend an afternoon following the path that passes around the very base of this cloud-topped volcano, while more adventurous souls can attempt an ascent of its 8,714-ft. (2,656m) peak with a local tour guide.
Castro, Chiloé Island
The capital of the Chiloé Archipelago, Castro is a lively city where fishermen shout their wares from the main market and the colorfully-painted fronts of the palafitos (houses on stilts) that line the main harbors gleam in the sunshine.
With your own vehicle or using the local buses, explore the myriad places of natural beauty found on this unique island.
- Parque Nacional Chiloé: 32-miles (52km) from Castro, Parque Nacional Chiloé stretches along the western edge of the island. Various short treks and longer, multi-day hikes allow visitors to see the rich landscapes of Chiloé and the remote, unvisited beaches that line her shores. Horse-riding and kayaking tours are also available.
Ancud, Chiloé Island
Situated in the north of the island, Ancud is a smaller, quieter town than the Chilote capital, but one that’s only a stone’s throw for other outdoor delights on the island.
- Monumento Natural Islotes de Puñihuil: These three islands, located 16-miles (25km) north of Ancud, are the breeding ground of colonies of Magellanic and Humboldt penguins. Visit with a boat tour between the months of September and March.
Destroyed by the eruption of nearby Volcán Chaitén in 2008, Chaitén has since risen from the ashes. Although it’s hardly a pretty town, it’s the best location from which to visit one of the Lake District’s most developed private reserves.
- Parque Pumalín: The brainchild of Tompkins Conservation, Parque Pumalín consists of twelve trails of varying degrees of difficulty set over a space of 715,000-acres (289,350-hectares). Camping and other accommodations are also available, meaning trekkers can spend days hiking through the rare Valdivian temperate rainforest protected within the park.
Tiny Futaleufú, tucked into the mountains on the Argentine border, has far more to offer than first meets the eye. Lauded as one of the top places on the planet for rafting, it’s an important spot on any itinerary in the Lake District, Chile.
- Rafting along Río Futaleufú: Everything from Class III to V rapids await on a rafting tour of the swirling, turquoise waters of Río Futaleufú.
- Hiking in Reserva Nacional Futaleufú: While there are plenty of trails to take directly from the center of town, the nearby Reserva Nacional Futaleufú has a selection of day-hikes to keep you busy. Expect an abundance of breathtaking views of snowcapped mountains and deep, river-filled valleys.
Getting to and from the Lake District, Chile
- Most visitors arrive in the region by plane on one of the nine flights per day from Santiago, landing at Puerto Montt Airport.
- Transport to the towns mentioned in this article is easily arranged from the main bus terminal in Puerto Montt, meaning a trip to the Lake District can be added to a vacation package in the Chilean capital.