By Joe Yogerst
Chile’s drop-dead gorgeous Lake District centers around a dozen large freshwater lakes along the western edge of the Andes north of Puerto Montt. With snowcapped peaks, waterfalls, and thick evergreen forests, the region is often compared to Switzerland or Austria. Adding to the vibe is a history of settlement by German-speaking immigrants from central Europe, who brought their Alpine architecture, language, and many other customs to this corner of the southern hemisphere.
Puerto Varas, about half an hour’s drive north of Puerto Montt’s small but modern airport, is the jumping off point for self-drive adventures and guided trips into the Lake District. Among its many hotels is the hilltop Patagónico (56-65/201-000; hotelpatagonico.cl; doubles from US$132) with sweeping views across the vast Lago Llanquihue to Mount Osorno, a 2,652-meter volcano rising on the far shore.
Highway 225 meanders along the southern edge of the lake into Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales. A pristine mosaic of water, wood, and rock, Chile’s oldest national park (it was founded 1926) easily rivals better-known preserves such as Yosemite and Banff National Park in North America. The highway ends in lakeside Petrohue, near a spectacular waterfall of the same name where jade-green liquid plunges through narrow lava gullies.
Travelers can venture even deeper into the Andes by hopping a ferry that chugs daily across Lago Todos Los Santos to an “island” of Chilean territory between the lakeshore and the Argentine border. The historic Hotel Peulla (56-65/972-288; hotelpeulla.cl; doubles from US$145) offers mountain- and lake-view rooms in its new wing, as well as numerous outdoor activities including river trips, horseback riding, and zip-lining. There are also dozens of hiking trails in this area, as well as mountaineering and snow sports come winter.
Buses run between Peulla and the resort city of Bariloche on the Argentine side of the Lake District. Alternatively, you can make the trans-Andes passage in a single day on a combined bus and ferry service offered by Cruce Andino (cruceandino.cl) between Puerto Varas and Bariloche.
Read more about Chile in the August/September 2013 issue of DestinAsian magazine