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While there are minibuses that can take you from town to town for just CLP$600 (about US$1), they don’t make a full loop around the lake. Renting a car provides an affordable (starting at CLP$25,000 (about US$37) per day) and satisfaction guaranteed day trip – if you know how to drive stick shift (the majority of the cars are manual, so if you don’t feel comfortable be sure to specify you want an automatic). Renting the night before will save you time on the day, and make for more sightseeing. Consider renting from Varas Car Tour or Hunter Rent a Car, both conveniently located and reliable.
Hunter Rent a Car, San Jose 130, Puerto Varas, X Region, Chile, +56 65 223 7950
Before heading out on your day around the lake, stop by Café Mawen, as early as 7.30am, for scrambled eggs, hearty toast with avocado and hot coffee or tea. If you prefer to start the morning with something sweet, there are muffins, croissants granola and yogurt, too. After fueling up, hit the road, with the map of the lake (ask your hostel) in hand.
Café Mawen, Santa Rosa 218, Puerto Varas, X Region, Chile, +56 65 223 6971
Saltos de Petrohue
45 minutes east of Puerto Varas, inside of Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park, you’ll find los Saltos de Petrohue, a chute-type waterfall at the top of Petrohué River. The water is clear with a hint of green and splashes high off of the balsaltic lava and rocks. In the background, you’ll see Volcan Osorno, magnificent and tall. Plan to spend 45 min – 1.5 hrs here.
A visit to Volcan Osorno is a great option year-round. In the winter, you can ski, snowboard, tube or trek. In the summer, you can also trek, take the chair lift for panoramic views, or zip line. During either season, just driving up the volcano is spectacular, so even if money is tight or time is short, enjoying one of Chile’s most active volcanoes is possible; the options are endless and guaranteed fun. Plan to spend 2 hrs – full day here.
Time for lunch! In Puerto Octay you’ll find Rancho Espantapajaros, a buffet-style German restaurant with a killer lakeside view. Complete with a gift shop of local goods, a play area, farm animals and a panoramic view of Lake Llanquihue, Espantapajaros is a great spot for a lunchtime destination. Come hungry, as the buffet is full of savory meats, roasted vegetables and other German-Chilean dishes, and stay as long as you like.
Just 25 minutes from Rancho Espantapajaros is Frutillar, divided into two areas: Alto (high) and Bajo (low). Head to Frutillar Bajo for a lakeside stroll and a different view of Volcan Osorno. After walking around and checking out Teatro del Lago (Lake Theater), one of the most popular cultural centers in the southern cone, pop into KuchenLaden, a cozy German café for afternoon Kuchen, a delicious German dessert, and an espresso. Plan on spending 1 – 1.5 hrs here.
KunchenLaden, Av. Thinnl 1155, Frutillar, X Región, Chile, +56 65 242 2917
What a day – after you’ve taken in everything from volcanoes and pastures, to quaint German farms and a quiet town, head back to Puerto Varas, where you’ll likely catch the sunset along the shore of the lake. Afterwards, go get a refreshing drink – German beer, Chilean wine or maybe Chile’s pisco sour – and a good dinner. Restaurants line the coastal street here, from craft beer joints to pizza places and high end seafood restaurants, and you’ll find a little bit of everything on Costa Vicente Pérez Rosales, which eventually runs into Santa Rosa.