puerto varas: long weekend down south

Let me just start off by saying that the US has a lot to improve upon when it comes to bus travel.  Seriously, Greyhound is a piece of junk compared to even the cheapest bus ticket on a TurBus in Chile.  And when you pay for the SalonCama seats that nearly recline horizontal and provide spacious leg and arm room, it’s like getting away with murder.  For 60 bucks and with almost 10 hours of sleep in either direction, Mike and I ran off to the south of Chile, nearly 14 hours away from home on a super comfortable overnight bus.

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Hangry and a little antsy to breath fresh air, we arrived at our hostel, Marguya Patagonia, in the picturesque German village of Puerto Varas, on the edge of Lake Llanquihue at the base of two snow-capped volcanoes.

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We quickly devoured sandwiches made with local smoked salmon and pounded back some espresso before renting bikes and heading out on the trail,

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A “great” half-day activity for budget travelers to the south is to bike over 32K to the neighboring town of Frutillar, famous for its beautiful wooden theater on the lake and the incredible view of Volcan Osorno and Volcan Cabuco across the wide and dazzlingly blue lake. Tip: Buses will let you bring your bikes on-board for the ride back to Puerto Varas to spare your butt the return trip on the bumpy road and your thighs the work of climbing some VERY steep hills.

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Through our hostel we booked a full day tour for the following morning.  Over the next 12 hours we would cross a fjord on ferry, drive alongside rivers and lakes, hike through a secluded valley, swim in a glacier-fed stream, see 18th century German colonial churches, tear down the scenic Carretera Austral, and hike across the volcanic ash-covered side of Volcan Osorno.

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The trip is well worth the $45 price-tag is definitely the cheapest you would find in town.  However, it is capped at 7 people, runs only once a week and is only offered to hostel guests.

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Throughout the day we split apple empandas, sampled Southern beer and saved a few bucks by bringing sandwiches instead of buying lunch.

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Our driver humored my incessant need to photograph everything and stopped alongside rivers and at incredible view points where we could see salmon and shellfish fisheries in the incredibly blue water.

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The fjord is overlooked by snow-capped volcanoes and mountains, surrounded by Jurassic forest and changed from the deepest and darkest of blues to a crystal color that ripples in the sunlight.

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We were blessed with incredibly sunny weather nearly all weekend in a region of Chile where rain can fall at any minute in a torrential downpour.

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The trip included access to the rather remote Cochamo Valley and a quick hike to a crystal clear stream.

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We ended the day on the dry and windy top of Volcano Osorno covered in the ashen gray sand of neighboring Volcan Cabulco that erupted only 7 months previously (this spring!) and that still smokes.

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With new friends the next two days were filled with adventures, good drinks, heartening conversation and delicious food.

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The Saltos de Petrohue, often described as waterfalls but resembling more like rapids, are easily accessible by a bus that leaves every 30 min from Puerto Varas and runs all the way to Petrohue.

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Slightly disappointed by the lack of hiking available at the Saltos, we elected to walk the 6K to Petrohue on the edge of Lago Todos Los Santos.

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We asked the bus driver on our way back to town to stop at a Ceveceria or brewery pouring 3 delicious varieties of brew and serving passable pizzas.  Tip: The Strong Brew at Ceveceria Malta Chocolate is by far the best.  Buses stop running at 6:30 from Petrohue and the last bus you can catch from the brewery is before 8 pm.  We hitched a ride in the back of a pickup the last few kilometers back to Puerto Varas.

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It’s pretty common to hitchhike in the South and we proceeded to exploit the good graces of kind Chileans the next day, catching a combination of rides to some waterfalls in the Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales, the national park where most of our weekend’s activities were based.

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To reach Las Cascadas, take the bus to Ensenada and walk up the road towards Las  Cascadas past the park entrance to the small visitor’s center where you can wait to catch a ride.  Piling 5 gringos into the back seat of some pretty small cars we managed to get a ride there and later a ride all the way back to Puerto Varas in the rear seat of a Yaris.  Definitely not the most comfortable but definitely the cheapest and most memorable ride!

Las Cascadas are a breathtaking waterfall off the main road and about 20 minutes of hiking from the parking lot.  Well worth it to feel the cold mist on your face and hear the roar take over all other forest noises.

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Specs: Hostel Marguya Patagonia is well-deserving of their reputation as the best hostel in the area.  Clean, spacious and quiet rooms in a large historic wooden home provide comfortable refuge.  The communal kitchen is large but often crowded as cooking among residents is very popular.  There is comfortable sitting room with many movies and a cozy wooden stove with two squishy armchairs.  One can always find a cheery and chatty traveler or employee to strike up a lively conversation or share a good drink.

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For affordable eats we had a breakfast of sandwiches and coffee for about 7 mil each at Mewen Cafe overlooking Lake Llanquihue.  Dinners can be expensive but we found some of the best (aka most flavorful) Chilean food yet at a food truck gathering.  Salmon sandwiches and tacos were devoured too quickly to snag a photo but are a must eat in Puerto Varas.

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Nightlife is focused mainly around Barista Cafe, a classy establishment with local beer on tap, Garage, a popular bar across the street, and Orquidea, a bar/club that has some of the only dancing in town at night and hugely international crowd.

Special thanks to our adopted North American family for the weekend.  Alex and Ghen, enjoy your time in Chile and Ecuador.  You are some special souls who made our time that much more fun and lively.  Don’t ever stop gathering stories to tell.

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Shout out to Annie for the motivation to get our sorry butts out of the hostel and hitchhike to one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen.  Well worth it.

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