"Heaven is in Patagonia!" patagoniapaul's Profile
Chilean Patagonia begins at the city of Temuco and runs all the way down to Cape Horn, the southernmost point of the continent of South America. It is one of the most beautiful regions on earth, but also one of the wettest, on the western, that is Chilean, side of the Andes.
I live in the city of Puerto Montt. In may countries I suppose Puerto Montt would not even be called a city, as it is more a kind of biggish town. It is a business centre, not really a tourist destination. Tourists travel through the town on their way to explore the beauty of the surrounding areas. As far as prices go, Puerto Montt is a lot cheaper than, for example, Puerto Varas, the neigbouring tourist town situated on Lago Llanquihue. The economy of Puerto Montt is based on the salmon industry and wood. Tourism is also a significant player. Agriculture around here mainly concentrates on dairy production.
Chile lies squashed between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes montains. It is seldom more than 200km wide but if stretched across Europe, it would cover the distance from Madrid to Moscow. On the northern border is the Atacama desert. The central part of the country consists of a fertile valley, with a mediterranean climate, and in the south is Patagonia.
Patagonia is a region that also includes a large part of Argentina. Although much of Argentinian Patagonia is the rather less interesting Pampas, a big part of Argentinian Patagonia along the Andes is almost as spectacular as the landscapes in Chile. I will, for now, concentrate on the Chilean side of the mountains.
Chilean Patagonia is one of the greenest places you can imagine. This is due to the high amount of rainfall in the area. Parque Nacional Alerce Andino just outside Puerto Montt receives 4m of rainfall per year. The further south you go, the wetter it gets.
In 2009 the dreaded El Niño struck and winter just would not leave. The previous year the weather had been much better. Either way, beware of the ozone hole - the sun is vicious here. Wear protective clothing and sunblock.
I will write about individual places around here in more detail in the sections that follow. I have several videos about the country on Youtube (my channel: pavanzyl) and we have hundreds of photographs on spaces.msn.com/paulandestelle. (remove the http) Feel free to visit the sites and comment as you please.
If you want more information about any of the places, please e-mail me!
Puerto Montt is situated on the Reloncaví - a stretch of sea including the Reloncaví Sound and Reloncaví Estuary. I will describe it as a daytrip from Puerto Montt along the Reloncaví.
From the city one drives along the sea in an easterly direction. After driving past the looming and still active vn Calbuco, (I will write more about it below) the area becomes more mountainous and less inhabited until the road runs into the sea - literarlly!
At Caleta Arena one boards a ferry as the terrain now becomes so mountainous that there is no road. (Caleta ia a local word meaning fishing village.) The ferry crosses the Reloncaví at the point where the estuary flows into the sound. The crossing takes about 40 minutes. To the west, Puerto Montt is just visible on the horizon.
The view to the east is stunning with the glaciated volcan Yate (just over 2000m) dominating the landscape.
At Caleta Puelche the ferry spits you out in a spot that seems impossible for a vessel that size to navigate - but somehow it manages. Here the road splits. South lies the Caretera Austral but that's a story for another day. We will take the turn to the left.
The road hugs the estuary which is a deep fjord carved by glacial action aeons ago. The views are stunningly beautiful. Over the water are the mountains of the Parque Nacional Alerce Andino. Ahead the skyline is dominated by the snow-covered peak of volcan Yate. All along the way there are fish farms in the sea. This is where some of the famous Chilean salmon come from.
Past Vn Yate the landscape opens up a little. The road goes past cerro Depsperado which looks unclimbable. Past Desperado one comes across Rio Puelo, a little village that is busy developing into a popular tourist destination. From here one can set off on some stunning hikes.
The road continues to follow the bank of the estuary. Cochamo is the next quaint, picturesque village along the way. It has a pretty church which is often featured on publicity pictures of the area.
Just before the road moves inland from the estuary, there is a turnoff to the starting point of a lovely hike which crosses the mountain, ending at Lago Todos los Santos.
At Raulun the road crosses the Petrohue river and heads inland towards Ensenada and back to Puerto Montt along Lago Llanquihue and past Puerto Varas.
Llanquihue is one of the largest lakes in South America. It lies only about 20km north-east of Puerto Montt. It is about 50km across and more or less circular is shape. It can be seen as the hub around which much of the tourist activities in ths area is centered.
It is dominated by two massive volcanoes. Directly to the east lies the beautiful symetric Osorno and south east of the lake is Calbuco. See below for more information.
The lake used to be much bigger, connected with lake Todos los Santos but volcanic activity from Calbuco and Osorno isolated Todos los Santos and changed the outfow to the Reloncaví.
The main towns bordering the lake are the following:
1: Puerto Varas.
This is the tourist capital of the region. It is beautiful with pleasant hotels and restaurants as well as lovely views across the lake. Here you can find tour operators for all kinds of activities from climbing the volcanoes to fly fishing or kayaking. Puerto Varas is certainly not to be missed.
About 50km from Puerto Varas along a paved road is the village of Ensenada. This place is almost completely dependent upon tourism. There are many cabañas and camp sites as well as restaurants. The road between Puerto Varas and ensenada is lovely with several places to stop for lunch of "kuchen" and coffee.
3: Puerto Octay.
Continue along the lake from Ensenada following a dirt road. The road is squeezed between the lake and the volcano and runs through lovely Valdivian forests. Puerto Octay is picturesque and less crowded than Pto Varas. Just past the village is a peninsula, Centinela. Do not miss this. At the end of the road is a lovely old hotel and cabañas. The view across the lake towards the volcanoes is stunning.
Frutillar consits of two parts - alto and bajo (upper and lower). Frutillar alto is not particularly interesting and apart form accommodation, has little to offer the tourist.
Frutillar bajo is a different story. The architecture reflects the German settler-influence. There are lovely restaurants and a cultural centre where all kinds of music is performed in the summer months. The open air museum here is one of the best in Chile.
This is an industrial town that does not offer the tourists much.
The town of Calbuco (not to be confused with the volcano) lies some 60km south of Puerto Montt. Although there is a paved road inland, we will describe the much more scenic coastal route.
This road is difficult to describe in words, pictures do it much more justice. The photograph at the top of this page was taken from this road, just south of Puerto Montt.
On a clear day the views are breathtaking. There are volcanoes as far as the eye can see. From Osorno and Calbuco to Yate, to Hornopiren and all the way to the horizon where the still erupting Chaiten can just be spotted. There are around 10 volcanoes lined up along this stretch of the Andes.
One passes small fishing hamlets and the ocasional holiday retreat of clearly more affluent people. This is a road to be savoured and not hurried.
The town of Calbuco is much older than Puerto Montt, in fact, almost 250 years older. It is today mainly based on the fishing industry.
Just outside Puerto Montt is this little gem. Within earshot of the airport one can wander among thousand year old alerce trees. This park is quite small with only one footpath which you can complete in about 20 minutes. Or you can spend hours here taking in the fragrance of the forest and listening to the birds. Here one can get an inkling of what this part of the country looked like before the greed of man destroyed it in the name of development.
About 7km from the city on the road to the airport is the turnoff at Lagunitas. This poorly maintained road passes some rather nice houses before getting to a gate that may or may not be closed. Just walk the 1,5km from there to the park, its not difficult. You cannot get lost as there is only one way from the gate to the park. If there is no warden at the gate, just deposit your entrance fee in the box provided. It is the kind of place that is run on an honour system.
One of the prettiest volcanoes in Chile is Vn osorno. It has a very symetric conical shape and its location beside two lovely lakes makes for stunning phtographs.
Although still active, Osorno last erupted in the 1830s. Charlea Darwin, who was on the Isle of Chiloe when it happened, described it in one of his journals.
Its permanently snowcapped summit is full of big glaciers. Reaching the summit of Osorno involves a technical climb and it should not be attempted without guides with good local knowledge. Crevasses abound and fatal accidents have occurred.
A little further south, across the Reloncaví, lies Vn Yate. This volcano has not erupted in human memory but in 1965 a non-volcanic landslide from this mountain reached lake Cabrero and caused a tsunami killing 27 people.
From Puerto Montt one can just make out vn Chaiten on the southern horison. This mountain has been erupting more or less constantly for almost 2 years now. On a clear day the volcanic plume can sometimes still be seen although not as clearly as a year ago.
Just south of the lake is Calbuco. Calbuco is also still active. In fact, it used to look a little like Osorno but in 1892, in the biggest eruption in human memory in Chile, its top was blown away completely. It has erupted intermittendly several times since then. Climbing it without a guide is not recommended.
Behind Osorno and clearly visible from Ensenada is the volcanic pipe of Puntiagudo. This amazing mountain appears almost unclimbable. It's last activity was at the same time of the last Osorno eruption around 1832. These mountains sit at the extremes of an ancient caldera that is several kilometers indiameter.
Across lake Todos los Santos lies the biggest volcano of the region, Tronador. This volcano is believed to be extinct. At about three and a half thousand meters it is the highest mountain in the region by quite a margin. It is covered by huge glaciers and the name referes to the thundering of ice falling from these glaciers.
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