Puerto Varas, Chile: A Wonderland for Nature Lovers

On the shores of the magnificent Llanquihue Lake sits Puerto Varas, a charming, lively town in southern Chile. Settled by German immigrants in the late 19th century, the town is permeated by German architecture and a cultural mix of German and Chilean traditions.

Puerto Varas has earned the nickname “The City of Roses,” likely due to the strong scent of flowers that wafts over the city during the warmer seasons. This adds yet another layer of charm to the city and is a constant reminder of the nearness of nature.

From the edge of Llanquihue Lake, visitors to Puerto Varas have amazing views of Osorno Volcano, Mt. Calbuco, and Mt. Tronador. The city is surrounded by sublime scenery that includes mountains, forests, lakes, and rivers, lending the city its reputation as a key destination for those who enjoy outdoor activities.

Apart from its array of outdoor offerings, the city hosts the Museo Pablo Fierro, an eccentric museum full of a little bit of everything; the Sacred Heart Church with its three imposing red and white towers; and a whole host of restaurants, bars, and even a casino.

Puerto Varas is easily one of the most-visited cities in southern Chile. The city provides hotels and restaurants for any budget, as well as unmatched scenery and friendly people. The best months to visit are between October and February, which are considered the spring and summer months in Chile. Temperatures generally stay between 60 F and 70 F during these months, but between December and February temperatures can reach the 80s F.

Where is Puerto Varas?

Where is Puerto Varas
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Puerto Varas is located in the Los Lagos Region of southern Chile. It sits beside Llanquihue Lake and is a short drive from other popular cities, such as Puerto Montt, Llanquihue, and Frutillar. Day trips can take you to Osorno, the island of Chiloe, Peulla, and Valdivia. From Puerto Varas, it’s even possible to reach Bariloche, Argentina, through a spectacular series of lake crossings.

The closest airport is in Puerto Montt, which is a two-hour flight from Santiago. From Puerto Montt, it is a quick 30-minute drive to Puerto Varas.

Outdoor Activities in Puerto Varas

For nature lovers, Puerto Varas is an indomitable wonderland full of just about any outdoor activity you can think of. Sitting near lakes, rivers, mountains, and volcanoes, the city offers access to activities for people of every age, ability, and interest.

Hiking

Hiking-in-Puerto-Varas
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Vicente Perez Rosales National Park

The oldest national park in Chile, Vicente Perez Rosales National Park is located only 40 miles from Puerto Varas. The park is famous for its temperate rainforests and offers access to Osorno Volcano, Todos Los Santos Lake, and endless hiking trails. Two of the most popular trails are the Paso Desolación (recommended for experienced hikers), which extends over 12.5 miles, and the El Solitario Trail, a moderate hike covering around seven miles.

Osorno Volcano

Osorno Volcano offers an imposing hike for those who are more experienced. The main route starts at Teski Ski Club and moves toward a crevassed glacier. At this point, you will need technical equipment, and it is highly advised to use the services of a guide. There are several shorter, less demanding trails around the base of the volcano, as well.

Alerce Andino National Park

Alerce Andino National Park is classified as a biosphere. In fact, one in three species in the park’s forests is not found anywhere else on the planet, making this area fascinating for nature lovers. Granite walls, alerce trees, and stunning lagoons mark the park’s landscape. The park includes nine well-kept hiking trails, ranging from 0.4 miles to over 6 miles. Whether you’re a casual or experienced hiker, Alerce Andino National Park has a trail for everyone.

Petrohue Falls

Within the border of Vicente Perez Rosales National Park is Petrohue Falls, a chute-type waterfall in the Petrohue River. For the best view of Petrohue Falls, you’ll need to pay a small fee, which gains you access to several short hiking trails and endless photo opportunities. After your hike, you can visit the nearby Todos Los Santos Lake to relax and take in the beauty of Patagonia.

Philippi Hill

If you’re short on time during your trip to Puerto Varas, a quick walk from the center of the city will bring you to the base of a large hill that begins Philippi Park, named in honor of Bernardo Philippi, a German scientist and botanist. The park includes a well-maintained trail that leads to the summit, where you can see the Monumental Cross sculpture (visible from around the city) and take in stunning views of the surrounding mountains rimming Llanquihue Lake.

Kayaking

Kayaking in Puerto Varas
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La Poza Lagoon

Only eight miles from Puerto Varas sits the enchanting La Poza Lagoon. While there are boat services that will take you around the lagoon, exploring by kayak will allow you to go at your own pace and enjoy the sounds of chirping birds, flowing water, and rustling tree branches as you paddle over the lagoon’s clear surface.

Llanquihue Lake

The easiest place to have access to great kayaking opportunities is right on Puerto Varas’ doorstep in Llanquihue Lake. The lake covers around 330 square miles, plenty of space to spend a few hours or a whole day exploring by yourself or with a few friends.

Rafting

Rafting in Puerto Varas
©Felipe Oyarzún

Petrohue River

The Petrohue River, home to Petrohue Falls, is perfectly suited for a day of rafting. The river includes class III and IV rapids, so rafting here is considered white-water rafting and is best enjoyed by those with some basic rafting experience. If you do decide to take advantage of this adventure, you’ll be rewarded with endlessly impressive views of the surrounding forests and mountains.

Skiing

Skiing in Puerto Varas
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Osorno Volcano

Osorno Volcano is only an hour drive from Puerto Varas and is home to a ski center that offers access to ski trails for beginners, experts, and everyone in between. As a bonus, while on the lift, you’ll be able to enjoy unparalleled views of Lake Llanquihue (on clear days).

Mountain Biking

Mountain Biking in Puerto Varas
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Philippi Park

While many head to Philippi Park for its hiking opportunities, the park also includes two trails built specifically for mountain biking. You can head to the summit using the main road and make your way down using one of two trails. Not tired yet? Simply head back up and try the other trail.

Frutillar

For those who want to head outside the city for a bit, it’s possible to bike from Puerto Varas to nearby Frutillar, a small city imbued with German culture. Frutillar is famous for its gorgeous Lago Theater, which hosts world-renowned orchestras and artists every summer for a two-week festival. The city is lovely to visit any time of year though, with its black sand beach, rose gardens, and traditional wooden buildings.

Sport Fishing

Sport Fishing in Puerto Varas
©Felipe Oyarzún

Llanquihue Lake

Llanquihue Lake offers an ideal location for sport fishing. The most common species of fish found in the lake are salmon and trout. The fishing season extends from September to May, but you’ll find the best weather from December to February when rain becomes less common.

La Poza Lagoon

Apart from being a great place to kayak, La Poza Lagoon is also home to a plethora of fish that offer great opportunities for sport fishing. Take a boat into the middle of the lagoon or sit at the water’s edge and enjoy the relaxing sounds of nature as you wait for a fish to tug at the line.

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