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Lakes, Volcanos and Delicacies

Chile’s southern lake region is the gateway to Patagonia – and a very special zone, because around 1850 German settlers began to settle down in this once inaccessible wilderness. Many were disappointed by the German revolution of 1848 and attracted by promises made by the Chilean government. Hundreds of artisan and peasant families came to the region to seek a better life. Their traces are still present everywhere today.
At the same time you will find some of the most pristine and beautiful landscapes of Chile there. The region is also famous for its delicious food – try exquisite salmon, seafood, grilled and sweet dishes, only to name a few…
With your own rental car you are flexible to discover all the amazing attractions of this picturesque and wild land – an unforgettable experience!
Well planned with the right partner, a rental car trip to Southern Chile is safe and uncomplicated.

Our sample itinerary offers a good balance between cultural experiences and natural highlights, relaxation and adventure, there is an experience for every taste. Depending on your interests, you can change the focus and create either a more active or a more easy going trip.
It’s best to plan your trip in Chile with your own rental vehicle in stages and to cover the long distances with domestic flights. Car-Rental-Chile makes it possible: We will be happy to advise you on domestic flights and assist you with the booking process.

First of all, a few tips on trips with a rental car to Southern Chile:
This region is beautiful and green – because it rains a lot. You should definitely expect some rainy days, even in summer. However, when the sun shines, the radiation is quite high, even if the temperatures are not, so one might be tempted to seek the sun. So, in addition to rain gear, you should always have sunscreen in your equipment.
Some roads are remote gravel roads where you rarely see other vehicles. There may be poor cell phone reception, so in case of a breakdown you should be well prepared. In order to make sure you do not have to worry about emergencies, Car-Rental-Chile offers additional accessories such as emergency kits, extra spare tires, and tools.
Please be aware, that many remote roads are made of gravel, sand or stones, so we recommend careful driving. Keep in mind that, on gravel roads you can only go about half as fast as on asphalt.

Our sample itinerary only includes two base stations, Puerto Varas and Castro. We recommend to explore the region from there via day trips, so there is no need for packing bags daily.

The accommodations in Puerto Varas and Castro range from simple hostels and holiday homes to extravagant luxury hotels and boutique hotels. There is something for every budget and every need! With your own rental car you are flexible and can adapt to weather.

There are wild pumas living in the area. However, they generally avoid people. In case you should encounter one, please stay calm and create the impression to be a very large animal by staying close together and holding your backpacks over your head.

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Sample Itinerary for a Rental Car Trip to the Southern Chilean Lakes Region:

Puerto Montt – Puerto Varas
Pick up your rental car at the airport in Puerto Montt. Please have your driving license and a credit card ready, since a copy of the card must be deposited as a guarantee. The copy will be erased upon return of the car, if there is no damage.

From Puerto Montt Airport, follow the signs to Puerto Varas. Before you reach Ruta 5, take a detour to the “Monumento Natural Lahuen Ñadi”. There you can see how the landscape in the whole region looked like before the German colonization around 1850. Due to excessive forest clearance, these wonderful Alerce forests exist today only in protected areas such as national parks – fortunately, there are quite many of them.

After the walk of about an hour at Lahuen Ñadi, drive to Puerto Varas. Spend the rest of the day exploring this pretty town at the shore of Lago Llanquihue and try your first local delicacies.

Overnight stay in Puerto Varas. Distance covered: about 35 km on asphalt.
There is a wide range of excellent gastronomy in Puerto Varas, some with lake views. The offer ranges from grill restaurants to fish specialties, great cafes, international cuisine and locally inspired burger and pizza adaptations, among others. For fish lovers, we recommend the restaurant “La Olla” (expect waiting times) with a large selection of local specialties and generous portions.

Volcano Osorno and Petrohue Waterfalls
After a delicious breakfast, go on a daytrip to the beautiful surroundings of Puerto Varas. Drive along the lakeshore towards Ensenada. First stop of the day is by the wild ‘Saltos de Petrohue’, rapids and waterfalls that seem to dance over the lava rocks that have their origins in former outbreaks of the nearby volcanoes. The waters have been shaping these impressive rocks for thousands of years. If the weather permits it, you can see the majestic volcano Osorno rising behind the rapids – like in a picture postcard! Follow the road a bit further until you reach the shore of Lago Todos los Santos. There is a small museum about the pioneers of tourism in the area and you may have a great view of the volcano Puntiagudo, the “peaked volcano”.

Go back to Ensenada and continue your tour driving up the perfeclty shaped Osorno volcano (2,660m). The road ends at 1,200m. Enjoy the unforgettable views of the mighty towering heights of the Osorno and the neighbouring volcanoes of Calbuco, Antillanca, Tronador, as well as to Lago Llanquihue, which lays below. Hike across the volcano’s immense lava fields, the panoramic views will improve with every step. Weather permitting, enjoy a ride by chairlift.

Overnight stay in Puerto Varas. Distance covered: about 150 km, mostly on asphalt.
Tip: On your way back, stop at the café “Onces Bellavista” and enjoy what in Southern Chile is called “Once Alemana” – the portions are huge and the home-made breads and cakes are delicious. Spectacular view of the lake and volcano round the experience up.

On the Traces of the German Settlers
By this day, you surely have discovered many traces of German immigrants and their descendants in the region, be it names, dishes or the construction method. Approximately 10 km west of Puerto Varas, behind the village of “Nueva Braunau”, lies the small, family-run “Museo Antonio Felmer”. Here, the grandson of a settler family leads guests through a well-sorted collection in a nicely restored old barn. A visit to this museum helps to understand the harsh living conditions the settlers faced upon arrival and during the first generations.
Afterwards, go on to the lovely town of Frutillar, located a little further north on the lake shore. The beautifully restored houses are so picturesque next to the modern and impressing concert hall “Teatro del Lago”. It can be visited with a guided tour.
The open-air museum in Frutillar awaits you with several restored houses from the early German settlement phase and a small cementery.
Everywhere in town you will find German cakes and tartes. Relax on the sandy beach next to the theater or in one of the many lakeside cafés with view of the Osorno Volcano.

Overnight stay in Puerto Varas. Distance covered: about 85 km on asphalt.
Tip: Drive along the lakeshore on your way back. This route takes a bit longer, but is very beautiful.

Alerce Andino National Park
or Reloncaví Fjord
Get up early today for a wonderful tour: The Alerce Andino National Park located on the first kilometers of the famous Carretera Austral, just south of Puerto Montt, offers a fairy tale landscape:
The forest is very dense, but where it opens, you will find crystal-clear rivers, waterfalls and secluded quiet lakes, surrounded by steep cliffs. There are some of the last millennia-old Alerce trees, that seem to reach directly into the sky. Hiking trails of different lengths and difficulties start from each of the entrances.
Probably the most beautiful hiking tour goes from the Lenca-entrance to the spectacular “Laguna Triangulo”. Depending on the fitness of the hikers and length of the break you take at the lagoon, this hike takes a total of 6-9 hours.

If you prefer not to hike, we recommend a panoramic drive from Puerto Varas along the idyllic Reloncaví Fjord to the villages of Cochamó and Puelo. When reaching the Fjord at Puelche, take the ferry to Caleta La Arena and try some of the region’s tastiest empanadas at “Donde la Pola”! From there, head north on the Carretera Austral to Puerto Montt and from there, after a stop at the Angelmó fish market, return to Puerto Varas. If the weather is fine you will have a great view of several volcanoes and the surrounding cold rainforest on this route.

Overnight stay in Puerto Varas. Distance covered:
Alerce Andino about 120 km, including about 15 km on a gravel road / Reloncaví Fjord about 260 km, including about 85 km on a gravel road.
If you would like to do both trips, or go rafting on Rio Petrohue, or do a sea kayaking excursion, stay for one or more extra days in Puerto Varas.

Puerto Varas – Puñihuil – Castro
After breakfast, leave Puerto Varas heading southwest and transfer to the island of Chiloé by ferry in Pargua. The island is full of myths, legends, ancient customs and interesting people with their own pace of life – you’ll feel like you’re out of time there!
Drive to the northwest corner oft he island, to Puñihuil Beach. Weather permitting, local fishermen will take you with their small wooden boats to see penguins that live off Chiloé on rocks in the sea. This is one of the few penguin colonies where Magellan and Humboldt penguins live together.

After meeting the cute penguins, drive via Ancud to Ruta 5 in the direction of Castro, the island‘s capital. You may visit the fortress dating back to the struggle for independance and an interesting museum with models and plans of Chiloé´s typical wooden churches. In this rural area you will find many „Chilotes“, as people of Chiloé are called, who offer tourists “Curanto”, a delicious traditional dish made with potatoes, cabbage, meat and seafood cooked in an earth oven (book in advance).

Overnight stay in Castro or surroundings. Distance covered: about 240 km on asphalt.

World Heritage Wooden Churches of Chiloé
Start your day exploring Castro with the central square the Plaza de Armas and its cathedral painted in daring lilac and orange. Castro is famous for its ‘palafitos’, houses built on stilts above the water. Today many of them are hostels or restaurants but some are still owned by fihermen, wo „park“ their wooden boats in front oft he house as you park you car. The island’s largest craft market is located near the harbour.

Then drive to the fishing village of Dalcahue, with its lovely wooden church. Dalcahue is a regional hub and provides good insight into the traditional way of life on Chiloé.
Take a ferry from Dalcahue to the Island of Quinchao to visit the local wooden churches. The wooden churches of Chiloé were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2000 and are among Chile’s most valuable cultural treasures. They were built in the 18th century by Jesuit monks with the help of skilled local carpenters, entirely made of wood, without using a single nail!
Try a tasty seafood soup, seafood empanadas, crab casserole or freshly caught fish in many variations at one of the local restaurants or food stalls!

Overnight stay in Castro or surroundings. Distance covered: about 240 km, mostly on asphalt.

Castro – Puerto Montt
Drop off your rental car in Puerto Montt and take your return flight.
Distance covered: about 170 km on asphalt.