When I read that Puerto Varas was set on beautiful Lake Llanquihue with views of not one but two snow capped volcanoes, I knew it had to be a stop on our Chile itinerary. My visit to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala a few years ago had convinced me that the lake and volcano combination is a hard one to beat.
Puero Varas is one of the pretty lakeside towns in Chile’s Lakes District and while a lot busier than Chiloe, where we travelled from, it’s less of a tourist mecca than Pucon which has become a hugely popular centre for outdoor activities. Puerto Varas has plenty of access to activities too, but its also perfect for a relaxed couple of days which is just what we wanted before our trekking adventures in Patagonia.
We stayed at Hotel Solace which was an uphill but easy walk from the lakefront and just across from the Catholic church, Iglesia de Sagrado Corazon. Being on a hill, the church is quite a striking sight, not least because of its German architecture.
Puerto Varas was very different to the other parts of Chile we’d visited so far because of its distinctly European feel. As well as the church the town has a collection of very well maintained German colonial homes which make up the Paseo Patrimonial walking tour. We’d read you could pick up a map of it from the tourist office, but when one wasn’t forthcoming we improvised and used the standard tourist map and a photograph of an illustrated map of the Barrio that was on the wall.
Our DIY walking tour was a really nice way to spend a couple of hours exploring the streets away from the lakeside and shops. The houses of interest all have signs outside to help you spot them and the owners that were at home didn’t seem to mind us stopping to admire them and take photos.
As mentioned there are quite a few shopping streets in the centre of Puerto Varas with some nice boutique style shops selling artisan chocolates, textiles and jewellery, as well was the inevitable outdoor clothing and equipment stores. There’s also a great cafe, El Barrista, which is a coffeehouse by day and bar by night. Perfect when two of us like to finish the evening with a cocktail and the other a latte!
As with Chiloe there are lots of local crafts for sale in Puerto Varas and there was an artisan market at the lakeside with a range of fairly inexpensive textiles and gifts. The town also has a small municipal market which we ventured into to find Donde El Gordito, a recommended fish restaurant. We loved its quirky look so immediately booked a table for dinner later that evening.
When we went back it wasn’t long before we knew we’d make the right choice. The food was fab, the staff were brilliant and the decor is totally unique. The place is covered in bits of paper with messages written by diners and attached with mini pegs.
Needless to say we added our message and spent a very enjoyable evening eating super fresh fish, drinking Chilean wine and Pisco Sours and watching Gordito himself make the drinks in a tiny bar area. The glasses appeared to be stored inside the wall and how he manoeuvred them out was clearly a well practiced art.
The other man who played a big part in making our Puerto Varas visit special was Capitan Hasse. As you might imagine there are a variety of boat trips on offer to cruise around Lago Llanquihue, but we liked the look of Capitan Hasse’s traditional sail boat.
It was a good choice and we had a lovely and very relaxing time admiring the lake’s glacial waters and the views of Volcan Osorno and Volcan Calbuco. Osorno is the higher one with the more pointed snow covered peak which reminded me a lot of Mount Fuji in Japan.
Just across the road from Capitan Hasse’s landing stage is La Jardinera, where we booked to have dinner on our second night in Puerto Varas. And what a dinner. There are plenty of eating options in the town, but this is one not to miss. I had the pistachio crusted salmon on prawn risotto which was totally delicious and the desserts were way too good to resist too.
Better yet the restaurant has huge plate glass windows overlooking the lake. So when we arrived we were able to watch the sun set against a backdrop of Volcano Calbuco and with our lovely Capitan Hasse boat anchored in front. The perfect way to end our stay in picture perfect Puerto Varas.
Click on an image to scroll through more photos in the gallery and visit the Chile section of my blog for posts about the other parts of the country that I visited. And if you want to see another beautiful lake surrounded by volcanoes check out my post about Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.