One of the most picturesque parts of Chile, the magnificent Lake District is an absolutely gorgeous region to travel around. Sparkling lakes and gushing rivers lie beneath snow-capped volcanoes and mighty mountains, with charming villages and towns thrown in for good measure.
Due to the incredible landscapes on show, the region’s awe-inspiring national parks make for some fantastic exploring, and visitors have a wealth of great outdoor activities to choose from.
Whether it’s skiing on the slopes of Volcano Villarrica, horseback riding through Cochamo Valley, or hiking through Conguillío National Park, the Chilean Lake District certainly packs a punch with all that it has to offer.
Map of the Lake District in Chile
Lying on the shores of Lake Llanquihue, the largest lake in the country, the town of Frutillar is actually divided in two, with an upper and lower part. Founded by German settlers all the way back in 1856, there is still a very Germanic feel about the place, with lots of lovely architecture to discover.
Its setting on the lakeshore with the snow-capped Osorno Volcano looking out across the water is absolutely stunning. Now known as ‘the City of Music’ due to its world-class theater that hosts a two-week-long music festival, Frutillar is a charming place that is well worth checking out when in the Lake District.
Breathtakingly beautiful to behold, the remote Cochamo Valley is well worth the journey to get there. Once you arrive, you’ll be blown away by the majestic mountains, jagged cliffs, and verdant rainforests that line the U-shaped valley.
Often compared to Yosemite Valley in the States, the landscapes in Cochamo are no less arresting; it really is one of the most unspoiled and untouched parts of Chile. Carved out of rock millions of years ago by glaciers, sparkling waterfalls and gurgling streams still course through the valley’s forests from amongst the granite peaks.
While the historic Cochamo Trail and the beautiful Gaucho Trail are well worth hiking along for the stunning scenery, it’s also a good idea to go horseback riding and rock climbing to see yet other parts of the valley.
Located at one end of the brilliantly blue lake of the same name, Villarrica is set in a delightful spot, with forest-coated mountains and the snow-capped Villarrica Volcano rising impressively in the distance. As the latter is home to a fantastic ski resort, lots of people come here in the winter to go skiing or snowboarding on its slopes, or to enjoy watersports on the lake in the summer.
A much more peaceful and authentic place to stay than its more popular neighbor Pucon, Villarrica also has some wonderful hot springs for you to wallow in. With river rafting and fishing also available, and horse trekking and hiking popular pastimes, the town is ideal for people who love the great outdoors.
Chile’s first national park, Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park will delight nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Located almost entirely within the Andes, the park is very mountainous, with lakes, rivers, and waterfalls found here and there amongst its many valleys.
As such, there is loads of gorgeous scenery to enjoy. Hiking or horseback riding through the park is a beautiful way to explore its many landscapes, and highlights include Osorno Volcano, Petrohue Falls, and Todos los Santos Lake.
Although it may not have the sights, sounds, and scenery of some of Chile’s other cities, Temuco is a perfectly pleasant place to spend some time. Many people stop off here as it acts as a transport hub for the south of the country.
While organizing your onward travel to any of the many valleys, lakes, and mountains that lie nearby, it is well worth wandering around the leafy center of town and getting to learn a bit about the rich history and cultural heritage of the Mapuche – an indigenous group who come from the surrounding region.
One of the main cities in the country, Temuco is also famed for having once been the home of the nation’s most famous poet, Pablo Neruda, and Gabriela Mistral, another Nobel laureate.
Located just to the north of Chiloe Island in the south of the country, the port city of Puerto Montt boasts excellent views out over the Pacific Ocean, while the towering Andes can also be spotted off in the distance. While its scenic setting is delightful, most people only stop off briefly in Puerto Montt before continuing on to the awe-inspiring mountain-filled and glacier riddled national parks that lie in the south.
Although the city does have a slightly run-down feel to it due to years of economic malaise, there are some nice seafood restaurants for you to try out, while the blend of Chiloe and Germanic cultures makes for a fascinating mix.
Encompassing everything from volcanoes and valleys to forests, rivers, hot springs, and more, the breathtaking scenery means that Puyehue is the most visited national park in the whole of Chile. Lying entirely within the Andes and dominated by the Puyehue and Cordon Caulle volcanoes that lie within it, the park is divided into three different zones, with each boasting their own natural attractions and recreational trails.
With hiking, horseback riding, and rock climbing available in the summer months, and skiing and snowboarding in the wintertime, Puyehue National Park has loads of great activities for you to try out. Regardless of what you do, wherever you go, you’ll be surrounded by astoundingly beautiful nature.
Lying at the point where the Calle-Calle, Cau-Cau, and Valdivia rivers meet, this lively university town in the south of Chile has a very different history and culture from the rest of the country and certainly warrants a visit. As it was colonized first by the Spanish and later by the Germans, it has a very different look, feel, and identity, as is evidenced by its cuisine, architecture, and cultural landmarks.
As there is water all around it, it should come as no surprise that there are loads of great boat trips that you can take – to ruined 17th-century Spanish forts or the Pacific Ocean. With a vibrant and youthful feel to its streets, a flourishing arts and culture scene, and lots of great craft-beers for you to try, Valdivia has something for everyone to enjoy.
Although it should not be confused with the volcano of the same name, the city of Osorno, which is otherwise surrounded by farms and fields, lies within sight of the snow-capped peak that rears up impressively in the distance.
Despite often being overlooked by visitors to the country, who mainly use it as a transport hub, the busy commercial city has some great restaurants, bars, and cafes should you feel the need to stay longer. In addition to this, there is also an intriguing mix of different cultures for you to delve into; German, Huilliche, and Spanish influences helped shaped the city’s identity.
Throughout the year, there are some great local festivals for you to check out. Due to its proximity to Puyehue National Park, the Pacific Coast, and innumerable lakes and mountains, it is well worth stopping off at Osorno as you explore the rest of the country.
Declared a national park all the way back in 1950, Conguillío is made up of some of the most beautiful parts of the country, with the towering, snow-capped Volcan Llaima its undoubted crown jewel. As it has erupted numerous times over the last 50 years alone, the area around the volcano is scarred by lava flow, which appears in stark contrast to the expansive monkey puzzle tree forests found throughout the park.
As it is also home to some beautiful alpine lakes, gorges, and canyons, the national park has many different sides to it. Hiking through its diverse landscapes is a treat as the scenery changes so dramatically before your eyes.
In addition, visitors can go fishing, swimming, or rowing in the Lonquimay and Biobio rivers that meander through Conguillío National Park.
Also known as ‘the city of roses,’ Puerto Varas is a top-rated tourist destination amongst both locals and foreigners alike, and it is very easy to see why. Set in a beautiful location on the shores of Lake Llanquihue, with both the Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes looming ominously in the distance, the town certainly paints a pretty picture. Its Germanic heritage shines through in terms of both its architecture and cuisine.
As it lies on the lake with numerous mountains nearby, Puerto Varas has a wealth of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy, with kayaking and fishing in the lake, hiking and mountain biking in the woods, and skiing on the slopes of Osorno Volcano all popular pastimes.
With so many amazing natural wonders nearby, such as those of Puyehue National Park, Vicente Perez Rosales National Park, and Todos los Santos Lake, one could easily spend a week or more in Puerto Varas while using the town as a base to explore the region.
Located right in the heart of the Lake District, Pucon is the adventure capital of Chile. It offers everything from hiking and rock climbing to kayaking and skiing and much more besides. As such, it attracts hordes of visitors, whatever the season. While some people may find the town a bit too touristy, Pucon certainly has some of the best hotels, restaurants, and bars in the region, with some great nightlife to boot.
Pucon also has lots of tour operators, who can take you to climb Volcano Quetrupillan, ski on the slopes of Volcano Villarrica, horseback ride through Huerquehue National Park, or raft along Trancura River. With so much to see and do, no visit to the Lake District can ever be complete with stopping by Pucon. Its scenic setting on the shores of Lake Villarrica really just is the tip of the iceberg in terms of what it has to offer.