Chile is a wild country; it’s extremely long and narrow, home to deserts and glaciers and prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Mother Nature sure had fun here and we were treated to a birds-eye view of the landscape as we took a flight from Santiago to the Los Lagos region (the Lake District of Chile) for just $25. It was a beautiful journey flying over the snow capped Andes and numerous volcanoes.
As we approached Puerto Montt the mountains were replaced with lakes and lush green fields. I was a little disappointed actually, I didn’t expect it to be so flat. A convenient shuttle took us from the airport to Puerto Varas, a lake side village where we checked into a wonderful hostel. It was set in a beautifully restored wooden house and had a roaring fire, tv room and board games. The town wasn’t what I expected it to be either, it wasn’t an authentic place it was just built for wealthy tourists and the streets were lined with brand name outdoor stores.
Puerto Varas sits on the shores of Lago Llanquihue and has a perfect volcano backdrop. We wandered down to the lake but cloud hung along the horizon and there wasn’t a volcano in sight. In fact we didn’t even know which direction it would be so we headed off and hoped for better weather in the coming days. The village, along with others in the area have a German history and it was a picture of a German style church with the volcano in the background that really drew me to the area…but no matter how many different roads we wandered along we couldn’t work out where that picture was taken from, probably a damn drone.
Luckily good weather did come and we set off on a bus to Parque Nacional Vincente Pérez Rosales to do a hike up the slopes of Osorno Volcano. On the drive we got our first glimpse of Calbuco Volcano, looking more like a dramatic snow-covered mountain than a volcano. It blew its top a few years back in an almighty eruption and is considered to be one of the three most active volcanos in Chile. There were still clouds floating around when we arrived at the park but we were so excited to get outside and actually do our first activity in Chile. We were still yet to see the elusive Osorno Volcano but as I looked left the clouds dispersed and the volcano loomed over us. I said to Craig “oh my god, LOOK!” and he peered into a bush, following the sound of tweeting birds “no look up!!” and then he saw it too and his jaw dropped.
It was the most perfect volcano, a totally symmetrical cone, like the classic drawing a kid does of a volcano. We were in awe. The cloud swooped in and out over the next hour until we had beautiful crisp blues. Most people hike the loop trail through the forest and then along the beaches but we enquired about the trail up to Desolation Pass. The ranger said there was too much snow on the trail so it was easy to get lost, but we could go up to the first mirador, so that’s exactly what we did.
On our way up a huge black dog appeared. He was a nice chunky boy and looked like he had some Rottweiler in him…so a tad intimidating had it not been for his frantically wagging tail. He didn’t want any strokes, he just wanted to keep us company so if we stopped he’d lie down and as soon as we got up he’d run ahead. From the first viewpoint we had a lovely view across the lake which was surrounded by snowy peaks. We decided the best views will be on this route so we opted to continue on the trail to the pass and turn back if the route became difficult to follow.
The volcano was standing tall to our left the whole way, and the further we walked up the more detail we could see on it’s slopes. There were huge slabs of snow and ice, maybe 10 meters tall and forming huge crevices. We heard some strange yelping up ahead and our black dog ran off. It was teaming up with another dog (that appeared out of nowhere) and they were hunting rabbits together. I guess it explained why they were roaming so far away from the village.
The snow thickened on the trail until it was a few inches deep and we were met with a wall of cloud coming our way so we decided it was a good time to head back. We followed a dry river bed, or maybe it was an old lava flow until it led us out onto a black sand beach. The new dog managed to kill a mouse and quickly buried it in the volcanic sand. But the big black one went straight over to the site, dug up the mouse and made an awful slurping sound as it ate the mouse in one go.
The beach was windy with clear water lapping the shore and red volcanic rocks visible through the water. We had more beautiful views of the volcano along the beach and then made our way back to the bus stop in Petrohué. That area of the national park was free to visit but there was a waterfall nearby at Saltos de Petrohué where we were charged a whopping 6000 Chilean Pesos (about $8!) per person for a thirty minute stroll. We had to pay double the local entrance fee and the place was heaving with families. The trails led us to an overlook across the Petrohué river where the emerald water dropped down in waterfalls with Osorno Volcano as a backdrop. It was very pretty but way too expensive.
As soon as we got back to our hostel we had a speedy dinner and rushed out to catch the sunset. We finally had a clear view across the lake to see the two volcanoes and the low sun was beaming on them like performers standing under a spotlight. Then the most beautiful pink hue covered the snowy peaks and filled the sky behind. Even once the sun had gone the candy pink sky remained, slowly turning into a deep mauve as kayakers paddled across the tranquil water.
The following day we took a bus up to Fruitilla, another lake side town but with a different view of the volcanoes. From Fruitilla there was a third volcano visible with a very unusual, jagged shape to it. The town had a much more authentic feel than touristy Puerto Varas. A walkway led alongside the lake and a pretty promenade jutted out into the water. Some folks were braving the cold lake for a little swim but it was way too windy for us.
We left the area for a few days to explore Chiloé island to the south (which I’ll write about in my next post) and afterwards the weather turned bad, leaving us the option of travelling to a new destination where we’d hike in torrential rain or return to Puerto Varas to the cosiest of hostels while we awaited our flight further south. We opted for the latter, a little reluctantly as we wanted to see some new places but the distances and prices are huge in Chile so it didn’t seem worth the effort and we knew we had a nice place to relax and research the next locations of our trip.
We did manage a hike before the weather turned, although it wasn’t the most riveting. We headed up the slopes of the active Calbuco Volcano. It’s not a common route but Craig found a blog describing a way up. I guess it was a blog from before the volcano erupted because the meadows with cows were now just volcanic rocks. We needed permission to enter the land so we did so with a lovely french man who owned a hostel up the slopes. Calbuco remained in a cloud but we got some nice glimpses of Osorno and any hiking we do now is good training for our treks coming up in Patagonia.