Chile’s Lake District is the perfect region to experience lush landscapes, crystal clear lakes and endless outdoor activities. It is also a great option for those who would like a taste of Patagonia, but do not have the time or equipment to go further south to the more remote areas. This region was by far my favorite part of the trip, and I’m excited to share with you my top 5 must-sees of the Lake District!
Our time in the south was spent around Lago Llanquihue
We stumbled upon this restaurant by chance on our first day in the region, and it became a highlight of the trip. Weekends are the best times to go, when locals bring their families and children play outside. Situated on a hillside overlooking Lake Llanquihue the views are outstanding. Ask to sit on the deck to get the full experience!
Small farmhouse near the restaurant overlooking the lake and volcano
Rancho serves all you can eat meat and vegetables "a la parrilla" or grilled. The food is fresh and delicious with many local specialities, including regional beers!
Crispy pork, multigrain bread, fresh butter, homemade pickles, and in season artichokes and salads
At this restaurant and most we visited afterwards, herbal infusions were offered as an afternoon tea or post meal digestif. As someone who studies herbs, this was one of my favorite parts of Chilean culture and the most unexpected discoveries.
Post meal herbal infusion of dried eucalyptus leaves and fresh fennel
The Mapuche people of Southern Chile for centuries have used indigenous herbs and superfoods to create medicinal elixirs and tonics. These practices are still common in contemporary Chilean society. Typically when you see a tea infusion station at a hotel or restaurant it will include fresh and dried leaves of eucalyptus, fennel, coca, cinnamon, and local herbs such as melí and maquí. As well as miel de ulmo, which is honey made from bees who feed exclusively from the Ulmo tree.
After eating at Rancho Espantaparajos, don't forget to stop by their little store which sells a ton of local ingredients. I picked up a few herbs to make my own infusion, and added ChocoVivo Cacao Bitters for its digestive properties. Raw cacao can be mixed in with any of the herbs mentioned to give an antioxidant and flavonoid boost.
ChocoVivo Infusion with Cinnamon, Melí, and Miel de Ulmo
Another product they carry at the restaurant is Cochayuyo. Cochayuyo is a seaweed native to the icy cold southern Pacific ocean. It is sold dried and can be thrown into stir-fries and used as a protein, or it can be rehydrated and incorporated into a seaweed salad. The medicinal properties of this superfood include aiding in thyroid function, lowering cholesterol and increasing energy.
Trying a Cochayuyo seaweed salad
2. Drive the Lake Circuit
Set aside a full day to drive the lake circuit of Llanquihue and take in the incredible vistas. You will not be disappointed! The lake is surrounded by small towns built and settled by Germans in the late 1800s. With many of the original buildings still standing, it is worth getting out and exploring a few including Frutillar, Puerto Varas and Puerto Octay. In total the circuit will take between 5 and 7 hours.
Perfect road trip snack to keep me energized, a ChocoVivo Paleo Bar with Maqui super fruit juice
Manicured gardens and parks were in full bloom
Herbs for sale in a native market in Frutillar
3. National Park Vincente Perez Rosales
There is a reason this is one of the most visited national parks in Chile. On a sunny day, the landscape is a spectacular mix of snowcapped mountains, black volcanic soil and icy blue lagoons. The park has hiking trails to the volcano or waterfalls, fishing expeditions, kayak tours, and trips across the lake Todos Santos to Argentina.
View of jade colored lake Todos Santos
Hiking trail to the top of Volcano Osorno
4. Horseback Riding
Through our hotel we booked a sunset ride along the lake with Alanca Puerto Varas horse tour. This was one of the most magical experiences we had in Chile.
Bonding with our horses before the trail ride
The owners of Alanca, Cristian and Carolina spent the first part of the tour allowing us to get to know the horses, learn the Chilean saddle, and differences in riding styles. Then we were taken by Cristian on a two hour tour through the temperate forest down to the beachfront, where he explained the biodiversity of the region and identified many of the flora and fauna unique to Chile.
Sunset trail ride, during summer sunset happens in the south at 9pm or later!
The tour ended with "once", or snack, prepared by Carolina. Once is a Chilean custom of tea, local honey, jams, cheeses and homemade breads in the evening.
Bread similar to empanada dough with local farmer cheese
5. Carretera Austral
Beginning just south of Puerto Montt, the Carretera Austral is a long highway (770 mi) extending to the southern most tip of Chile. Mostly unpaved, this highway curves along the fjords and open beaches of Patagonia with vistas of untouched landscape. We saw only a tiny fraction of the highway on our drive to National Park Alerce Andino, but wished we could have driven more.
South of Puerto Montt the landscape begins to change
National Park Alerce Andino is home to a large swath of Chile's temperate rainforest. If you are interested in camping, this would be the spot!
Waterfall in National Park Alerce Andino
How to Get There:
Puerto Montt is a quick hour and forty five minute flight from Santiago and the closest airport to Lake Llanquihue. I highly recommend renting a car at the airport as you will need it to get to all the spots mentioned. Also look into getting a GPS and a 4 x 4 as many roads are unpaved.
Where to Stay:
What to Pack:
The weather during the summer months is significantly colder and wetter than Santiago. It can change within minutes, so it's best to be prepared!
- hiking boots
- water repellent pants
- plenty of socks
- bathing suit
- light layers, light puff jacket for the cold
Thanks for following my Chilean travel series! Next week we will be moving north to join Patricia on her Cacao Expedition in Nicaragua.