Discovering the best of the Lake District, Puerto Varas, Osorno, Petrohue Falls and Chiloe Island. Tours, food, hotels and more
Patagonia Chile had been on my husbands bucket list for a while and since we were going to Chile it was a must-see. The Lake District in Patagonia Chile is one of the most scenic places we’ve been to and I’m so glad we decided to go and stay in Puerto Varas. Obviously there were a few must do’s like Osorno, Petrohue Falls and visiting the penguins on Chiloe Island but we also found a few other spectacular things to do during our time at Lake Llanquique.
The best things to see and do in Patagonia Chile
We always try and see as much of a country as possible when we go to check it off properly. My husband really wanted to go snowboarding further South in Patagonia Chile. But he’s the only one who snowboards and it would have been a packing nightmare, as it’s so cold there versus how hot it was in Santiago and Colchagua Valley and we didn’t have the space for it.
Plus, it would’ve meant more travel time and my Mum and I don’t love the cold (it was a Christmas family trip). So the Lake District, Patagonia Chile was a compromise, as he also really wanted to see the penguins on Chiloe Island (more about that later).
Why go to The Lake District in Patagonia, Chile
Besides going to see the penguins on Chiloe Island, we thought spending New Year’s Eve in Puerto Varas on Lake Llanquique would be beautiful. We also wanted to:
- Explore Osorno volcano and views from the top
- See the beautiful Petrohue waterfalls
- Visit Chiloe Island to see the penguins
- See another side of Chile. It’s such a diverse country with hot, dry desert in the North, a cold damp climate in Patagonia in the South, beaches to the West and Andes Mountain range to the East.
When’s the best time to go to the Lake District, Chile?
Going to the Lake District Chile in December is one of the best times to go as it’s one of the warmest months as they’re South of the equator and it’s one of the best months to see the penguins.
How to get to the Lake District, Patagonia, Chile
From Colchagua Valley where we’d been before (more about that in this blog) we drove back to Santiago to catch a flight down to Puerto Montt. We could have driven but that would’ve taken 9.5 hours and there didn’t look like there was much to see en route so flying seemed easiest. We took the LATAM flight at 2:20pm which landed at 4pm, so super quick and easy.
With sunset being so late, that gave us plenty of time to pick up the hire car. We tend to like to self drive to give us freedom, stock up the room if we’re staying a few days, explore in our own time, and get to the hotel before dark. It’s only a 20 minute drive from the small airport in Patagonia Chile to the hotel in Puerto Varas on Lake Llanquique.
Best things to do in the Lake District, Patagonia Chile
Chiloe Island Penguin Watching, Patagonia, Chile
We love wildlife and penguins so as soon as my husband said penguins I was in. Chiloe Island is the only place in the world where you can see both Magallanes and Humboldt penguins in the same place in the wild. Chiloe Island is only about 30-40 minutes from the mainland by ferry to get to.
You could get to see the penguins in Patagonia by yourself by taking the ferry and then a bus or taxi to Puñihuil beach and then getting a ticket on one of the boats to the national park. However, it’s way easier to do via a tour, especially as they’re so reasonably priced (under $60 pp on a private tour).
The tour boats to see the penguins run from about October to March. The national park doesn’t allow tours the rest of the year so if you’re planning to go to see the penguins, make sure there are tours going while you’re there.
Other things to see on Chiloe Island Patagonia Chile
If you’ve seen photos of Chiloe Island in Patagonia Chile, you’ve probably seen the colorful in the town of Castro. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see them as they’re a 2 hour drive each way from the port and apparently that’s all there is to see in that area and it wouldn’t have left enough time to see the penguins. If you’re more into horses than penguins you can also do Horseback riding through Chiloe National Park.
I’d have been quite happy just seeing the penguins and skipping the rest as it was a bit nondescript but our tour went to a couple of other places:
Catedral de Ancud – a church in their town square. It’s hard for me to call it a town square as it’s smaller than most villages. You could also pick up a souvenir from one of their market stalls or small shops.
Fuerte San Antonio- a historical fort overlooking the bay. There’s not much to see here except a few ruins and canons.
I’d still recommend the tour for convenience and getting to learn things you wouldn’t by going on your own.
The Chiloe Island tour also included
- Complimentary hotel pickup and drop off
- The ferry across Chacao Canal to Isla Grande de Chiloe
- S stop at Islotes de Punihuil where they’d scheduled the boat that took us to the islets to see the Magellanic Penguin and the Humboldt (ticket not included), and Lunch (not included).
Everywhere but one hotel restaurant on Chiloe island was shut as it was New Year’s Eve so we didn’t get to see how the typical “Curanto al Hoyo” is made!
Chiloe Island Tour recommendation: Puerto Montt to Chiloe Island Private Full-Day Penguin Tour (starts at $58 pp).
Penguin Colony Chiloe Island Patagonia Chile. Wrap warmly! It maybe Summer but it’s a lot cooler on Chiloe Island!
Chiloe Island Myths
Another thing Chiloe Island is famous for is it’s myths which seem to favor the men’s promiscuity! El Trauco (the troll) was supposed to be irresistible to young virgin girls who were led into the woods and promptly impregnated. El Trauco was often blamed for unwanted pregnancies but today that excuse doesn’t fly so well!
Things to do on Lago Llaquihue Patagonia from Puerto Varas, Chile
Osorno Volcano and Petrohue Falls
You can easily do both the Osorno Volcano and Petrohue falls on the same day if you’re driving yourself or doing a tour.
It’s about an 60-75 minute drive to Osorno volcano but it goes so quickly as it’s scenic (you can see both Osorno and Calbuco volcano). The tour bus stopped for us to take photos and see the cute and very friendly Llamas (more to do with wanting to be fed than liking us).
The parking for the volanco is at the Osorno Ski Mountain center at 1.240 meters so it takes you a good part of the way up. You could just stay here and have coffee but we took the 2 chair lifts all the way to the top.
TIP: When you’re getting your chair lift ticket make sure you get Tram 1 y 2 not Solo tram 1. Otherwise you’ll have to get off after the 1st chairlift (1450 meters at the Primavera Station) and not be able to the 2nd chair lift which takes you much higher up (1750 meters at Glacier Station).
Osorno Volcano Day Trip Lake District, Patagonia, Chile.
Layer up, it’s hot in the sun and cold in the shade. It was still warm at the summit in December and a windbreaker was enough even if you feel the cold. My husband was fine in a short sleeve t-shirt.
Wow! The views in every direction from the chair lifts and from the summit were incredible. You can see Llanquihue Lake, valleys, Calbuco volcano, mountain ranges, vast blue skies and you’re high enough up to be in the snow.
We all agreed that this was one of the highlights of our trip and the best tour was the day trip to Osorno Volcano and the Petrohue waterfalls.
What color not to wear in Patagonia Chile
TIP: Do NOT wear black like we did! They have bugs here called Coliguachos, a large black horse fly with a red spot. They’re around from mid-Dec to mid-Jan in the Lake District and there’s LOTS of them on the volcano, at the Falls and at Lake Esmeralda (we didn’t see them anywhere else).
They seriously go for anything black so avoid wearing it at all costs and use a little bug spray. You’ll be a lot more comfortable and so will the people around you as their bites are painful!
Petrohué Waterfalls, Patagonia, Chile
After Osorno volcano and a stop for lunch we were driven to Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales which is where Petrohué River Falls are. They’re some of the most scenic waterfalls I’ve seen with the Osorno volcano in the background and the clear turquoise water. The waterfalls are a quick, easy walk to get to and there’s also a short evergreen forest walk you can take.
Petrohue Falls, Patagonia Lake District Chile. Just breathtaking! You can go here as part of a day tour or go by yourselves. Definitely worth the trip!
The last stop was Lago Todos Los Santos (also named Emerald Lake, Lake Esmeralda/Lago Esmeralda just to confuse us). It’s only about 5 km from the slopes of Osorno Volcano and Petrohue where we sailed through Todos los Santos lake. Surrounded by evergreen forests, green water, mountains and the volcanoes, which form a romantic natural setting.
It’s a really full but fabulous day and you have enough time in each place to enjoy them and not feel rushed.
Frutillar, Lake District, Patagonia, Chile
Frutillar is close to Puerto Varas on Lake Llanquique. It was recommended to us by our Chiloe Island tour guide for it’s pretty colorful houses and cake. Ok, she had us at cake, so we went. In reality, it was disappointing.
The houses looked like they might once have been pretty, 30 years ago, but are now tired, faded and the gardens overgrown. The beach is crowded and reminded us of a tacky seaside town. I can’t even speak highly of the cake shop recommended to us as we skipped it after seeing it in person.
Puerto Varas, Patagonia, Chile
We stayed in this cute little town on the southern shore known as the ‘City of Roses’. It’s easy and safe to walk around, take a stroll along the boardwalk, take photos of the lake and volcanoes, and grab dinner with a view.
It’s location is great for catching tours to the volcano and Petrohue Falls as well as being close to the airport.
We had 3 great meals in Puerto Varas: 1 on New Year’s Eve at our hotel, 1 on a balcony at a cafe I don’t remember the name of but it’s just past the pier. You can’t miss it as it’s the only restaurant with red umbrellas on their upstairs patio. The 3rd dinner was at Casavaldes, one of the more elegant settings. Where we had the most fantastic risotto, ravioli and salmon just steps from the hotel.
Where to Stay: Puerto Varas, Chile
We stayed in the town of Puerto Varas on Llanquique Patagonia as it was so scenic and well located.
We looked at a few hotels here that fitted our criteria and choose Hotel Cabanas because of it’s panoramic views of Puerto Varas, Llanquique, Osorno volcano and it’s size. We tend to prefer larger hotels to small boutique hotels as the facilities tend to be better.
Hotel Cabañas del Lago Puerto Varas also has a swimming pool (we planned on not doing much on New Year’s Day), fitness center (which I didn’t use-shhh!) and is a short walk into the main part of town and all of the restaurants.
The hotel’s made up of a main hotel complex and then separate cabanas (Club Suite Rooms).
Hotel Cabañas del Lago Puerto Varas Club Suite Rooms
It’s worth paying for the Club Suite/Club Superior Room (which is their cabanas) as the rooms are substantially larger. They also have a living room, dining room, fully-equipped kitchen and the views are better than from the hotel as you can see both volcanoes.
If you’re on the ground floor, you’ll have direct access to the garden and if you’re upstairs you’ll have a small balcony perfect for morning coffee or evening drinks (use mosquito repellent).
We stayed in room 47 and I’d recommend requesting this room as it’s at the end of the row of cabanas and upstairs. Which means that you don’t have people walking around above you and can see the incredible views over the trees. There’s no air conditioning so get your windows open and shades down early.
A complimentary buffet breakfast is served daily. The eggs are a little undercooked but everything else was good and fueled us up for the day.
We didn’t use the swimming pool but there are 2 hot tubs. One by the swimming pool and the other is more secludedvat the end of the cabanas and garden hidden behind a trellis. You need to book to use it at the spa and then collect towels from the front desk. There’s also a spa, sauna , bikes available to rent and free parking. If you’re staying in the club suites, you can park right outside your apartment.
Hotel Cabana Del Lago, Puerto Varas, Region Los Lagos. Average $227 per night (free cancellation).
Where to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Patagonia | Puerto Varas Chile
We couldn’t have chosen a better spot to celebrate New Years Eve in Patagonia than at this hotel in Puerto Varas in the Lake District! We’d booked the restaurant at our hotel (Hotel Cabañas del Lago Puerto Varas) because it looked the best place to eat, celebrate on the Lake and also for convenience.
We got so lucky with our table as we had the corner table right by the windows overlooking the lake which meant prime view for the fireworks. After pre dinner bubbles on our balcony, we headed to the restaurant where we had the table for the whole evening. They don’t rush you through as they’re not trying to get in 2 seatings like many places do.
Pro Tip: Call their golf cart to come and get you, not to be lazy, but so you don’t break your ankles on the stones in your heels.
I never expect much when it comes to buffets but this one was brilliant, as was the service. I highly recommend the tuna tartare, ceviche, chocolate mousse and caramel pecan tart. The men preferred the steak on the flame grill the restaurant had going constantly.
Best Place to See Fireworks New Years Eve, Lake District, Chile
The fireworks on Lake Llaquihue were way better than we were expecting from a remote place and went on for about 20 minutes. We had a prime spot as Hotel Cabañas del Lago Puerto Varas is elevated. We were able to watch from the warmth of our table but they had warm ponchos if you wanted to watch from their terrace.
Food, fireworks, and wine obviously led to a restaurant full of happy people of all ages dancing, celebrating and having the best time.
What’s the weather like in Patagonia Chile?
Puerto Varas is a great place to go when it’s winter in the Northern hemisphere. The summers (December-late February) are comfortable and the skies clearer versus the cold, wet, cloudy winter. There are beaches but the water’s always cold so only for the brave, even in Summer!
The temperature typically varies from 38°F – 68°F and is rarely below 29°F or above 76°F. We got really lucky the 3 days we were there with it being over 70°F everyday.
Next Stop in Chile: San Pedro De Atacama
Our next stop was San Pedro De Atacama in the Atacama Desert. It’s pretty straight forward to get to via an early flight to Santiago to catch a connecting flight to Calama (Atacama Desert). More about that in the Atacama Desert Highlights Blog.
Shop the Post
More about Hotel Cabana Del Lago and the clothes I’m glad I packed.
Follow for more luxury travel tips and itineraries.