Friday, January 18, 2013


Frutillar is widely believed to be the Lake District's loveliest town. It is on the western shore of Lago Llanquihue and was founded by German settlers in 1856. The charming little town has beautiful views over the lake of the famous Volcán Osorno, and the sandy shores of the lake are lined with a mix of hotels, craft markets, restaurants and old German architecture.

Teatro del Lago: home to the famous week-long music festival featuring opera, jazz and classical music

The lakeside waterfront with the volcano in the background

The Colonial German Museum

The sapphire blue waters of the Lago Llanquihue and the conical Volcán Osorno

A selection of Frutillar's charm: German architecture, churches, craft shops and lakeside vistas

Our hotel in Frutillar - especially wonderful after a long time on the road!


The archipelago of Chiloé lies south of Chile's Lake District and comprises one large island and several smaller ones. It is famous for its myths and folklore, but fortunately we didn't encounter the evil 'Trauco' (abducts and impregnates virgins) or the 'Basilisco' (snake with a rooster's red crest) or the 'Pincoya' (woman of incomparable beauty)! We visited Isla Grande and only encountered some small fishing villages, a few Jesuit churches and, of course, Chiloé's famous penguins.

Palafitos in Castro: traditional wooden houses built on stilts and painted in vibrant colours

The street entrance to some palafitos

Iglesia San Francisco: a UNESCO-protected building constructed entirely from native woods

We drove past the picturesque fishing village of Ancud to Monumento Natural Islotes de Puñihuil on the northwestern coast of Chiloé. Here, three rocky islets of volcanic origin serve as breeding grounds to colonies of Humboldt and Magellanic penguins every year. We hopped on a small boat and cruised around the islands, where we saw both species of penguins, red-legged cormorants, flightless steamer ducks, sea lions and a little aquatic beaver (a rare sighting!).

The rocky island refuge of the penguins
Bahía Puñihuil

Some young penguins hidden among the rocks

A little coipo (beaver) coming out for a snack

Parque Pumalín: El Volcán

Our last stop in the park was at Camping El Volcán. Again we had a cute little campsite just to ourselves and we had a great view of Volcán Michinmahuida, which has a sprawling glacier on top. We walked along a short interpretative trail and learnt about indigenous Chilean trees and plants, and later on we were treated to a gorgeous little humming bird who came to hum outside our tent, and even perched on top of it for a while!

Our private 'fogon'

Stunning glacier on Volcán Michinmahuida

The volcano and glacier in the soft evening light: a perfect backdrop for our last night in the park

Parque Pumalín: Cascadas Escondidas

We headed further into Parque Pumalín to the Hidden Falls campground. We set up our tent in a private 'fogon' (individual campsite) and set off along another forest trail to some more pretty waterfalls. While very beautiful, this trail was not as overwhelming as the last one and allowed us some time to catch our breath and stop for a picnic along the way.

Swing bridge over the river to start the trail

Beautiful forest trails

Cascadas Bajas - the first falls on the trail

Cascadas Altas - the falls at the top of the trail

Parque Pumalín: Río Gonzalo

Our first stop in Parque Pumalín was at Camping Río Gonzalo. We were immediately struck at how welcoming the park was for campers; the facilities are top class and the attention to detail is excellent. The path from the car park to the campground was lined with fairy lights, for example. Our high expectations were certainly exceeded.

The bridge linking the parking to the campsite

Beautiful soft grassy areas to set up camp

One of the more impressive hiking trails in the park leaves from this camping spot. It is a walk through a forest to a waterfall. Sounds sweet, right? To be honest, it was the best hike of my life! The forest we walked through was vibrant and alive and everything in it was straight out of a storybook. The trees were massive, with gnarled roots covered in moss; there were boardwalks and wooden bridges and step ladders and stepping stones; we saw birds and toadstools and ferns lining the trail; we walked past pools with crystal clear water and little streams trickling along beside us. And this continued for a good five hours!

Little bridge and steps next to a little waterfall

Boardwalks in the "fairy forest"

Stepping stones! (made from tree trunks)

Moss-covered steps through the forest

More dinky little steps

We had to climb up this ladder (using a rope), and then scramble across the boulder using ropes and chains to hang on

Then we had go down this ladder and slide along the log in the foreground

And then scramble over these slippery rocks

To see this spectacular waterfall!

What an incredible adventure! We spent most of the time with our mouths open, marvelling that the forest was actually real; it was almost too perfect to be true. This was definitely one of the top highlights of all our travels so far.

Parque Pumalín

Parque Pumalín is the world's largest, privately-owned nature reserve. It covers over 3000 square kilometres of temperate rain forest in an area of rugged mountains rising out of deep fjords. The park is notoriously difficult to get to as it requires driving on gravel roads, including the Caraterra Austral, and three ferry crossings. It is well off the beaten track, but that adds to its attraction.

Our second ferry: a four-hour journey

Ferry crossings: on our trips across the seas, we encountered several strange cargos on board, including a 'Rotel Tours' bus -  gigantic hotel on wheels - and lorries transporting cows

The challenging journey, however, is well worth it. Parque Pumalín has many beautiful trails that wind through its lush landscapes of alerce forests, cascading waterfalls and pristine fjords.

Saltos de Petrohué

Another beautiful natural feature of the Lago Llanquihue area (South America's third largest natural lake) are the Saltos de Petrohué. These waterfalls gush out from a where a lava field splits the river. The water is a greeny-blue colour with white water rapids over the rocks, and the backdrop of Volcán Osorno makes this a truly stunning place to visit.

Sendero Los Enamorados

Volcán Osorno

Volcán Osorno lies about 45km east of Puerto Varas in the Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales. We drove up to Estación Base, where the ski lifts begin, but the snow didn't quite reach down to where we were! We were treated to some amazing views of Lago Llanquihue and a close-up of the picture-book, cone-shaped, 'frosted-icing-snow-on-top' volcano.

Skiing base camp

The very blue waters of Lago Llanquihue

Vanessa in front of the lake

Impressive Volcán Osorno

Puerto Varas

Puerto Varas is the biggest town on Lago Llanquihue, located on the southern shores of the lake. It has spectacular views across the lake of Volcán Osorno and Volcán Calbuco. The Mapuche believed this lake to be a realm of monsters and evil spirits, but the holiday-makers were out in force on the black beaches and in the balmy waters! We walked up Cerro Philippi for a bird's eye view of the town - very pretty!

Puerto Varas pier and Volcán Osorno

Lago Llanquihue and Volcán Osorno

Walk up Cerro Philippi

View of Puerto Varas from Cerro Philippi

Puerto Varas was founded in 1854 by German immigrants, and the German influence on the town is evident in its architecture and culture. We stayed in a charming little cabaña (Cabaña Tirol) which captured the spirit of the town. The town's most famous Teutonic building is the Iglesia Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, which is a to-scale replica of a church in Germany's Black Forest. It is made entirely of wood.

Cabaña Tirol - our home in Puerto Varas

The famous German-style church

Puerto Varas - a quaint town across the lake