Best Things to Do in Puerto Varas, Chile
Here is our travel guide on Puerto Varas, Chile - best things to do, must-visit places, top attractions, where to stay, how to get there, and safety tips.
Puerto Varas is a small, quintessential town sitting on the shore of Llanquihue Lake. Normally, this picturesque setting would have been photogenic in itself, but the German-influenced town has yet another ace up in its sleeve - two snow-covered volcanoes looming behind the lake, volcano Osorno and volcano Calbuco.
Thanks to its laidback atmosphere, cute architecture, beautiful nature and the fact that Puerto Varas is a destination where there are plenty of things to see and do all year round, the town is quite touristy, when we take into account its small size.
The waterfront is filled with hotels and upscale restaurants, you can find here bakeries and European bars with draft beer, but as we stayed a bit further from the lake and spent most of our days outside doing outdoor activities, we did not have any negative experience, and Puerto Varas definitely did not feel as many small over touristy towns, and we are not afraid to say we've seen quite a lot of them.
Puerto Varas is a destination for every type of traveler - families with kids, outdoor lovers, couples looking for a romantic getaway or anyone who likes to enjoy picture-perfect views with a glass of Chilean wine in hand.
We traveled to Puerto Varas from nearby Pucon, a quite similar town, often nicknamed Chile's outdoor capital, but Puerto Varas for sure doesn't lag behind when it comes to volcano climbing, adventure activities and outdoor things to do.
Here's a list of the best things to do in Puerto Varas at any time of the year.
EXPLORE PUERTO VARAS TOWN
You cannot be in Puerto Varas, nicknamed the city of the roses, and not walk around.
The town does not boast with must-see things and it is so small you definitely do not need an extra day or a guide to see it all, but because of its history, you'll find here a couple of interesting points worth noticing.
Puerto Varas was found in the 1850s by German immigrants who settled on the shore of Lake Llanquihue, and thanks to it until today there is a strong European influence. When walking around the city, you might notice straight away that the architecture is a bit different than anywhere in Chile or generally in South America. Puerto Varas is exceptional for its traditional German architecture, houses built from wood reminding us houses in European mountains.
One of the best examples of the German architecture is Sacred Heart of Jesus Church located on a small hill, but you can find other houses every now and then when aimlessly walking around the town.
Llanquihue lake is Chile's second-largest lake, and when standing on its shore, when the weather is clear, you can admire two cone-shaped volcanos, Volcan Osorno and Volcan Calbuco. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon that both peaks are shrouded in the clouds, but hopefully, you'll see them in full glory at least once during your stay in Puerto Varas.
Except for walking around the lake (best thing to do for all budget travelers), you can do on the lake many water activities such as kayaking or paddleboarding, and if you want to enjoy more views of the lake, you can take a tour.
There are many restaurants on the waterfront where you can enjoy splendid views of the lake during dinner (make your reservation for a table near the window), or you can buy own picnic and eat it on a small beach (dress warmly).
VOLCAN OSORNO & VOLCAN CALBUCO
Puerto Varas would have been half that picturesque hadn't it been for two over 2000 meters high volcanoes on the horizon. Volcan Osorno is the more famous one as it is possible to climb its slopes, but Volcan Calbuco is the more active one - the last eruption happened in 2015.
Although you can admire those two snow-capped iconic volcanoes from distance, no adventurer should miss the opportunity to climb volcano Osorno for better panoramic views. In the area, there is one other similarly popular activity, climbing Villarrica Volcano in Pucon.
You can check out the guided tour here.
Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales is one of the oldest protected areas in Chile, and for all nature lovers, it is the must-visit place near Puerto Varas.
One of the highlights inside the national park are Petrohue Falls, and good news, it is not physically challenging to reach them at all as it does not require any serious hiking. Petrohue Waterfalls alias Saltos de Petrohue is a powerful fall which would have been the must-visit attraction anyway, but it is famous more for Osorno Volcano in the distance as the combination of the rushing water, and the volcano creates a perfect photo opportunity. At the moment there are not many hiking trails in Vicente Perez Rosales National Park, and it took us approximately two hours to see all of the open trails. It is not hard to get to the national park independently.
You need to catch a bus on Del Salvador Street - the drive takes about 45 minutes, and the driver will drop you off by the entrance to the park. The bus cost CLP 2000 one way, and the entrance fee to the park was CLP 4000 for foreigners which we found pretty steep.
You can take a tour from Puerto Varas to Petruhoe falls which also include the visit to Peulla Village if you are looking for a full-day program.
If you are looking only for an easy activity in Puerto Varas to stretch your legs, you can walk to the top of Philippi Hill - you can find the trail on the northern side of the town. Although the views from the Cerro are not somehow splendid, it is yet another thing to do in Puerto Varas.
Although the town itself is considered safe, it is not recommended to do the short hike after dark.
Puerto Varas is not only a summer destination but thanks to the slopes around the town the place is heavily-visited also during winter as ski and snowboard enthusiasts flock here to enjoy a ride or two from Volcan Osorno.
For sure Chile is not a traditional ski destination for foreigners as flight tickets and rental fees come pretty expensive, and for this reason, you can meet in Puerto Varas mostly Chileans during winter, but if you happen to be in the area during this time of the year (winter in Chile is from June to September), skiing down the volcano should be one of the most unforgettable experiences from South America you might get.
TRIP TO CHILOE ISLAND
Unless you want to travel to Chiloe Island on own and spend there a couple of nights, it is also possible (and definitely more comfortable) to take a one-day trip from Puerto Varas to the island with a tour so you won't have to take care about transport via land and getting across Chacao Strait.
Chiloe Island is known for its moody weather, English-like countryside, and many wooden churches when most of them are UNESCO listed.
START YOUR PATAGONIA ADVENTURE IN PUERTO VARAS
If you are heading down south to Patagonia via Chile's Carretera Austral, congratulations!
You can use Puerto Varas as a starting point for your Patagonia adventure. Although the town is small, because it is touristy, you can find here two large grocery shops where you can stock up with food for much better prices than on Carretera Austral, and it is also one of the last places where you have a larger selection of fresh products.
Another advantage of staying in Puerto Varas before the journey south is that you can rent a car here or buy warm clothes in case you did not arrive in Chile well-equipped.
WHERE TO STAY IN PUERTO VARAS
Puerto Varas is a small town, but thanks to its beautiful setting, it is a sought-after and premier destination for holiday-makers from all around the world, that's why you can find here expensive hotels on the lake's shore, and the budget options are not that extensive.
We've handpicked three best hotels for every budget.
Budget | Hostal Casa Margouya - Rustic and clean hostel is one of the best options for budget travelers in Puerto Varas. You can sleep in either private rooms and dormitories.
Mid-range | Hotel Puelche - Reasonably priced hotel offers spacious rooms decorated in mountain-style, complimentary breakfast, spa, and sauna.
Luxury | Hotel Dreams de los Volcanes - Lakeside location, breathtaking views, modern rooms, indoor pool, sauna, fitness center, and tasty breakfast - you cannot find a better hotel in Puerto Varas.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
WHAT TO PACK FOR VISITING PUERTO VARAS
Puerto Varas is quite close to Chilean Patagonia, and the weather is similar here.
You can expect warm summers during the day, but it gets chilly early in the morning or when the sun goes down. Winters from June to September are cold, and it can snow here as well.
If you plan on doing outdoor activities, you should always pack warm layers as clouds can roll in any time, and the weather can change four times a day.
Fleece Jacket for Him & for Her | Although days during the summer were warm, we found fleece jacket useful in the morning or later in the afternoon, and you will for sure need it when traveling in Chile outside summer months.
Rain Poncho | It can rain anytime in Puerto Varas, so no matter if you go hiking or biking, always pack a rain poncho.
Sunscreen | Sun is strong in Puerto Varas, do not underestimate it and protect yourself against sunburnt.
Kindle | Puerto Varas is one of those places where you can sit on the lake's shore and read your book.
Canon M50 | You can take wonderful photos in Puerto Varas, and we would not underestimate the camera gear in case you will be heading after to Patagonia.
HOW TO GET TO PUERTO VARAS
Puerto Varas despite its size is a well-known Chilean destination often visited by foreigners on the way to Patagonia (you can rent a car here and carry on down south) and by locals as well, who appreciate the small-town vibe, beautiful views over the lake and many options on things to see and do around the town.
You can get to Puerto Varas from the capital Santiago de Chile by an overnight bus or from Pucon which can compete in beauty with Puerto Varas.
Puerto Montt is only 16 kilometers from Puerto Varas, so there is no need to buy a ticket, simply jump on a regular colectivo in the center on Avenue Del Salvador. Puerto Varas does not have an airport, but Puerto Montt has, so you can take a flight from Santiago here in case you want to save some time.
When looking for flight tickets you can search Skyscanner to find the best price.
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