I spent three days in Puerto Varas with my friend Beth exploring the area around Lago Llanquihue and admiring and experiencing Volcan Osorno from every angle. Beth arrived from Costa Rica on the morning of January 6 and we went rafting on Rio Petrohue with the cool folks at Ko’Kayak that afternoon. The Ko’Kayak guys picked us up at 2:45 in a little white Mitsubishi mini-bus and we piled in alongside three Brazilians, two Belgians, and a German. Beth rode in the back and yucked it up with two of the Brazilians.
Ira and Nele, the friendly women from Ghent, were just beginning an 8-month adventure traveling South America. The 19 year old girl from Germany had 9 months left of her year and a half in South America. The Europeans do it right! Everyone was full of positive energy and excited to hit the water.
After gearing up at Ko’Kayak’s well-appointed base camp in Ensenada, we headed to the river clad in wetsuits and dry tops. The hordes of biting horse flies (tabano) were larger than anything we had seen anywhere else in the world, but we were covered practically head to toe, limiting their possible attack surface. Beth and I shared a raft with the Belgian women, the German girl, and another young German woman who was completing her studies in Santiago before heading home. Matias served as our excellent guide, and two other rafts full of Brazilians completed our river party. After some quick in-river practice (paddle forward, paddle back, get inside the boat, etc), we headed into the first rapids. The river was flowing nicely and had several fun Class III rapids, largely consisting of big waves. This video (not of us; still waiting for Ko’Kayak to send us the GoPro footage) gives you an idea:
It took less than five minutes to get a huge wave of cold river water in the face — it felt great! The water was so clear you could see the bottom most of the time, even though it was fairly deep in parts. We could see Volcan Osorno looming around most of the bends in the river. After tackling a couple of rapids, we pulled the rafts into a bank and climbed up on a rock to jump about ten feet down into the river for a short swim back to the boats. Some of the Brazilians went for rotating backflips, producing some epic bellyflops. We headed back down river, accompanied by the hordes of horseflies, hit a few more rapids, high-centered the raft on a big rock and had to pile everyone into the very front of the raft to free it, and swam an easy rapid. After a short stretch of flat water, we pulled the rafts out, shed our gear, and headed back to Ko’Kayak’s base for Pisco Sours, some snacks, and good kinship with our river mates.
We arrived back at our beautiful hotel at 8, which meant we were already late for our dinner reservation at La Marca. After rapid showers, we dashed across Puerto Varas (doesn’t take long) and were greeted with the sights and smells of a proper carnivore establishment — a wood burning grill cooking delicious meat. We over-ordered and over-ate piles of excellent meat, paired with a tasty Chilean Carmenere. Beth had been eating vegetarian for the past week at her yoga retreat in Costa Rica, so she particularly appreciated the meal.
The next morning we set out towards Ensenada on bikes along the lake. We found one stretch of accessible beach down a steep road just past this little church:
After huffing and puffing back up the hill, we pedaled back to Puerto Varas past many happy looking cows and lovely pastoral scenes.
We explored the Puerto Varas lake-front promenade, and then headed back to our hotel. Details of the ride are on Strava.
After our ride we decided to drive to the base of Volcan Osorno and take the lift to the top of the ski area. The drive to Volcan Osorno from Puerto Varas couldn’t be prettier. The road hugs the shores of Laho Llanquihue for much of the way, before turning off and snaking its way up the approaches the mountain.
We arrived at the base of the ski area in time to catch two lifts closer to the summit, where we found some clouds playing on the edges of the volcano.
The contrast between the dark volcanic rock and ash, the deep blue sky, and the wisps of blowing white clouds created memorable scenes everywhere we looked.
You can see Beth in the photo above and the one below to give you an idea of the scale of the mountain.
We hiked up as far as we could without proper climbing equipment (basically, the snow/glacier line).
We soaked in the views for a while before walking back to the top of the lifts and riding back down and heading to dinner at the super cute and excellent La Gringa.
The food was delicious. If you’re visiting Puerto Varas, you need to go to La Gringa!