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Chile Lakes Region Passions and Activities

by Larry  Larsen

Petrohue's FallsThe Lakes Region of Chile is perhaps the most beautiful area in the world. The town of Puerto Montt is the access point to this wonderful countryside and Lago Llanquihue, pronounced, "Yan Kee Way", is the centerpiece to this "artwork". Llanquihue, a native word meaning "submerged place," is the second (or third largest, depending who you talk you) natural lake in South America, and it's impressive. Small towns, many of which incorporate the word "Puerto" in their names, surround it. For the outdoors lover, there is plenty to do here.

In 1854, efforts by the Chilean government to promote colonization resulted in German families moving to one of the most recognized towns in Chile, Puerto Varas. Architecture and food still reflect that influence in this area. In the years thereafter, additional small towns sprung up around natural ports, using the lake as the only means of transportation in the area.

The beauty of the lake and its surroundings is immediately obvious.  It's easy to imagine what the early day colonists must have felt in their small boats as we look at the forested shore line and contemplate their thoughts as they moved across the expanse of this lake using oars, the wind and, ultimately, steam for propulsion . From every part of the lake you can see the impressive cone peak of the Osorno Volcano.  The lush native vegetation covers the many lava fingers that fan out, reaching out into the lake, creating a series of small coves along the ragged shoreline.

Salmon Farm on LlanquihueDepending on the day and the season, you may spot local wildlife along the lake's wooded shoreline. The waters are clean and clear, so one may see through the water to depths of over 30 feet, to the lake bottom.  During the fall, you may have the opportunity to spot salmon and trout that use the fine bottom sands and underwater springs for their spawning grounds. The lake is also home to salmon farming, one of Chile's largest exports. Naturally, sport fishing is also very popular here.

Our base of operations, the Yan Kee Way Lodge resort, was very central to all the area activities.  The most difficult decision was which area activities to enjoy! 

Osorno Volcano

top of Osorno VolcanoA visit to this beautiful volcano is required in order to truly appreciate the beauty of this area.  No matter what time of the year, you can drive to the visitors' center where you can find a restaurant and a small gift shop. Ski lifts on the snow cap remain open year round at the top. During the winter season (June through August) skiing is the popular activity. Several runs are available for skiers of all levels, and there's even a training area for novices. Snowboarding is also possible. 

At any other time, taking the lift up to the top will give visitors the most beautiful scenic view of Llanquihue and the entire lakeshore. It can rain here, but just wait a while and the clouds may

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dissipate. The view is absolutely breathtaking.  Hikers are often taken to the top and then hike down to the bottom, enjoying the changing scenery from snow-covered trails at the top to the rich black volcanic soil halfway down to black volcanic sand at the edge of the lake.

Vicente Perez Rosales National Park

Osorno is a focal highlight of Chile's oldest national park, created in 1926.  Another highlight of this area are the Petrohue Falls. This river flows from the highest glaciers and through Lake Todos Los Santos, Llanquihue and several others. The flow of the river can change each year as it travels through ancient geological formations before eventually reaching the ocean. 

Calbuco trekkingThe view of the Osorno and Calbuco Volcanoes from the walkway is spectacular, even if it's raining. Visitors can walk along a well-marked path and catwalk that crosses over several small cascades and ravines. Photo opportunities here are excellent. This area is also the beginning of several very well marked hiking trails which we highly recommend.  While the larger groups of tourists are taking in the scenic view of the volcanoes, you can take a quiet back-country walk which offers a closer look at the roaring river.  Quiet lagoons and small waterfalls will surprise and inspire you along the way.

In fact, trekking is the most popular activity in this national park. Numerous trails of varying lengths and difficulty are available, from as short as a few minutes to as much as four hours each way.  Several camping sites are also available. Educational trails highlight the flora and fauna, and this forest is well known as the home of the Alerce trees, the second longest living trees in the world.

Horseback Riding

Horseback Guide in local attireIf you prefer to explore on horseback, it's definitely possible. Just a 15 minute drive from Yan Kee Way Lodge is Quinta del Lago Horse Excursions. While the lodge package includes a half day ride, the facility also offers a 5-hour horse excursion to the Calbuco Volcano and a tour in a traditional oxen-pulled cart through orchards and pastures with sheep and alpacas.

Our 3-hour horseback ride was breathtaking. This is not your typical nose-to-tail trail ride that most are accustomed to in the United States. This is truly an excursion. Riders are paired with the horse according to each person's ability, and everyone is free to ride across the pastures at their own pace. Accompanied by a couple of guides, we walked, trotted, galloped and even raced across beautiful pastures. This is a working ranch where sheep, llamas and alpacas quietly grazed and watched us as we rode by.  Orchards of apples, pears, cherries, plums and other fruits were blooming. At a few points along the way, we stopped to view the beautiful Osorno Volcano and the Llanquihue Lake below us. As we continued to climb the hills, we stopped at Scenic view from abovedifferent scenic spots to take photos and simply take in the clear skies and beautiful mountain scenery.

This was a very easy ride for anyone with experience riding a horse, yet it was enjoyable because these athletic horses were not programmed to follow each other.  In fact, the horses are a Chilean Criollo breed, specifically bred for their ability to work cattle as well as their easy temperament. The enjoyment of the excursion was not only the beautiful scenery and the freedom to ride, but also the opportunity to create a (short) relationship with a unique horse breed which is endemic only to Chile. For details on the horseback rides see www.quintadellago.com

Canopy Zip Line

Canopy Zip LineHow many ways can you enjoy scenery?  On foot, on horseback, on the water…and suspended in mid-air! 

At the foot of Osorno Volcano is Canopy Tours, which is certainly a unique adventure.  The sensation of hanging in mid air from a cable while sliding through the forest is at first, a bit scary, and then a high like you can't imagine.  We arrived in the early afternoon after a serious rain, but the drizzle and muddy trails to our first departure point did not dissuade us from enjoying the experience.

After a brief orientation on how to grasp the cable with our gloved hand to apply the "break", we took off on four-wheel drive vehicles to the top of the mountain and the first of 14 "zip stations".  The guides were very informative and carefully inspected everyone's gear each time we zipped from one station to another. They leapfrogged ahead of us so that there would always be a guide waiting ahead at the next station, and one behind at the previous station until all visitors had slid down the line. 

Zip line demonstrationThe highlight of the zip experience was flying on the wire several hundred yards about 600 feet above a deep canyon bottom…twice!  The first time, you could catch a glimpse of the crevasse below and the lake beyond.  The second time, a full 1-minute zip, gave us sufficient time to really look around and enjoy the "flight" above the trees and canyon far below.  It was truly spectacular and an experience that we would do again!

Needless to say, our short visit to the Lakes Region of Chile left us yearning for more. While it was our second trip to the area, we still have much more there to experience. We will return!


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