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Puerto Varas

Puerto Varas

We’re one week into our trip, and I’ve decided that I like our lack of bookings and detailed plans. It’s not that we don’t have a general direction (south) or an ultimate destination (the deep, deep south), but it’s been quite liberating to play it by ear along the way – not least because that’s made it possible for us to extend our stay in Bariloche, and hence actually get around to posting this.

Our first stop was Puerto Varas, a lovely lakeside city roughly 1,000km from Santiago. We set off in the dark on Sunday morning and spent a while simply enjoying the fact that, three months after our wedding, we were finally off on our honeymoon! The added bonus was that we were going towards parts of South America that neither of us had visited before, which meant new sights and tastes and sounds.

It was a long drive and I dozed on and off because Bruno’s a good sport about not requiring a conscious copilot. That said, it was a pleasant drive – our car was spacious, the highways were well-maintained (if slightly expensive, with around $50 AUD worth of tolls), the service station bathrooms were surprisingly clean, and the sight of volcano after volcano rising in the distance was simply exhilarating.

Packing our bags and hitting the road

Packing our bags and hitting the road, taking happy snaps from the car window

By the early afternoon, we were making such good time that we detoured to Valdivia for lunch. It turned out to be a good call. We pulled up at a waterfront restaurant named “Parrilla de Thor”, and although there was no Mjölnir in sight, we very much enjoyed both the food and the views. Bruno was very happy with his bife de chorizo, a quintessentially Argentinian cut of steak that turned out to be delicious, and I fell in love with the starters – fresh, piping hot sopaipillas (deep-fried quick bread) that I stuffed full of pebre (a mix of tomatoes, onion, cilantro, chilli, lemon juice and oil) and promptly devoured.

Lunch in Valdivia

Lunch in Valdivia

Afterwards, it was only a couple more hours until Puerto Varas. We found our way to a cozy cabin rented by Bruno’s friend, Coti, who kindly offered to host us for a few nights and cooked us German-style barbecue meat for dinner (yum). Her family, like many others in the area, had migrated from Europe some generations ago and chosen to settle there. If you walk around, you’ll notice many signs of German influence, from the restaurants and bakeries to the architecture.

The next day was a bit drizzly so we drove around town for a while, then headed to some local towns: Llanquihue, Frutillar and Puerto Octay. The drive was scenic as usual, and we went on a bit of a shopping spree at a random cheese shop en-route to Puerto Octay. There was a two-year trovero whose texture actually reminded us of the four-year comté we tried at Caprice in Hong Kong, though slightly less crumbly and with far less subtlety in flavour.

Meandering around Puerto Varas and Puerto Octay

Meandering around Puerto Varas and Puerto Octay

That night, we were invited to dinner by Coti’s lovely parents and had the chance to sample some of the famous seafood from the area. There was baked salmon, abalone that was perfectly complemented by a homemade sauce, and all sorts of other delights, culminating in tequila shots and fresh herbal tea.

With weather forecasts promising sunshine for the next day – the only clear day on the charts that week – we set out fairly early towards a nearby national park, known in Spanish as Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales. It was a gorgeous drive, with the road winding along the shore and offering views of Volcán Osorno one side, Volcán Calbuco on the other side, plus other mountains in the area.

Volcán Osorno

Volcán Osorno

Our first stop was a lookout on Volcán Osorno, partway up the volcano and the starting point for ski lifts in the winter months. From there, we had panoramic views of Lago Llanquihue against a backdrop of snowy peaks and blue skies.

Panoramic views from Volcán Osorno

Panoramic views from Volcán Osorno

We then headed over to some hiking trails near Lago Todo los Santos, and did a 12km-ish circuit that took us towards Paso Desolación, passing several scenic lookouts with views of the lake, volcanoes and mountains, and finished up with a stroll along the lakeside beach. (If anyone wants to visit the area, keep in mind that parking and entry are free but that you do need to register and obtain passes at the park office.)

Hiking towards lookout

Hiking towards lookout

My favourite part of the day was when we found a shaded patch on the beach and just sat there enjoying the scenery for a while – it was low season so there were barely any other hikers in the area, so it was like having the entire place to ourselves. We joked that “long walks by the beach” could be ticked off our honeymoon bucket list.

Views of Lago Todo los Santos

Views of Lago Todo los Santos

Our last stop of the day was Saltos del Petrohué with its spectacular waterfalls. The waterfalls themselves weren’t huge, but the rapids were an incredible shade of turquoise and they crashed and swirled around us in a wild dance while Volcán Osorno towered majestically in the distance.

Saltos del Petrohué

Saltos del Petrohué

The walk to the footbridges and lookouts is quite short, and you can make the return trip in ten minutes or so, but we found ourselves admiring the view for almost an hour. We finished the day with a slightly disappointing dinner at Bravo Cabrera – don’t eat steak there unless you like sandpaper – and had an early night.

The next day would be our last one in Puerto Varas – we’d originally planned on an extra day, but given that the weather was expected to be rainy, we decided to move on and cross the border into Argentina on a Thursday instead of a Friday, which would hopefully mean shorter queues.

We slept in because it was grey and a bit miserable, then took the scenic route to Puerto Octay (as opposed to the highway, which we took last time) for a buffet lunch at Rancho Espantapajaros with Coti. There was quite a selection for a very reasonable price – roughly $25 AUD per person, with wine and beer included. I particularly enjoyed the salmon ceviche and the manjar cream dessert.

Kids playing at Rancho Espantapajaros

Kids playing at Rancho Espantapajaros

There was a birthday party or something similar in one of the private rooms, so there were plenty of kids running around outside. It was quite amusing the watch because every time the rain started, they would sprint towards the shelter of the buildings, but whenever the rain stopped for a second, they’d be out and prancing again. I wonder if the llamas and goats were as amused as we were.

After that, it was back to the cabin to hang out for a while and pack. Time to head to Bariloche!

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