South; Araucaria, Lakes & Volcanoes

The summits of volcanoes pepper the mountain range here. Towards the coast, the Lanalhue and Lleulleu Lakes herald the beginning of the Región de los Lagos (Lake District), an area moulded by raging volcanoes and crushing glaciers into concentration of beautiful sights rarely found in other parts of the world.

Temuco, one of the most modern and prosperous cities in the south, is at the heart of this territory. Its newer parts reside together with its old traditions. With plenty of tourist infrastructure, Temuco is not only the entry gate to the Region de los Lagos, but also the starting point of many interesting excursions. There are haciendas offering "rural tourism", including river baths, horse rides, cattle drives and milking cows. And toward the Andes, between wheat-sown fields and prairies, the road leads to Conguillío National Park, the site of the Llaima volcano and its ski slopes. Going up to the national park, among emerald lagoons, dense vegetation and lava fields (that attest to the volcano's frequent eruptions), one reaches a spectacular forest of araucarias ('the monkey puzzle tree'), an endemic chilean conifer that dates back 60 million years. With its original umbrella-like shape, it is the country's second most long-lived tree, after the alerce (larch). Some araucarias live to be a thousand years old and their felling has been prohibited since they were declared a National Monument of Chile.

A series of lakes of varying size begin south of Temuco and create an unforgettable landscape with of majestic volcanoes being reflected in their blue waters. Pucón, nestling at the foot of the Villarrica volcano on the shores of Lake Villarrica , is a focus for the fascinating adventures which can be enjoyed in this region. First created as a military settlement in 1883, Pucon has become one of the country's primary tourist centers. It is a charming place with its wooden architecture, excellent hotels, shops, casino, restaurants and lakeside beaches. On its wild rivers rafting takes place and its rough landscape is ideal for excursions on horse, bicycle or foot. A visitor needing time out can sink into the thermal waters that spring from the heart of this volcanic area many situated with in stunning scenery.

Two national parks and a private reserve protect the ancient forest habitat. The region's numerous rivers as well as the lake itself will fully satisfy those looking to fish, swim or practice water sports. As to the Villarrica volcano itself, you can ski its snow-covered slopes in the winter and climb to its summit in the summer to peer into its active crater (which is responsible for the characteristic plumes of smoke that crown the summit).

The road that links Pucón and the town of Villarrica borders the lake and passes a string of chalets, camp sites and condos whose gardens reach down to the water. Pucón is also the gateway to visit the Caburga, Calafquén, Panguipulli and Riñihue Lakes, each of which has its own towns and beaches.

Further south, the city of Valdivia -one of Chile's most beautiful- is located on several rivers and is well worth a visit. Founded by Pedro de Valdivia in 1552, the city's waterside atmosphere in combined with a european style inherited from the german colonists that arrived to the area in the 1800s, and with the hispanic style of its forts (17th and 18th centuries) located at the mouths of its rivers.


The rivers are among the few that can be navigated in Chile's rugged territory, and the old mansions, hotels, residential neighbourhoods, gardens, restaurants and colourful marketplace all look towards them.

Travelling from Valdivia through its picturesque outskirts you can visit an area framed by beautiful lakes, of these Lake Ranco with its excellent fishing and tourist centers is well worth seeing. Further south, the city of Osorno (founded in 1553) like Valdivia shows the influence of german colonists in its gastronomy and architecture. This influence is particularly clear in Mackenna Street where there are six 19th century houses with roofed galleries that open to the street. These six houses have been declared National Monuments. More towards the mountains is Puyehue National Park -one of the country's best organised - and a lake of the same name where there are thermal baths and good places to stay over. There are also some excellent ski centers in this area.

Like Osorno, Puerto Montt, at the edge of the Seno del Reloncaví, is also a starting point to continue exploring the Lake District. From here it is possible to cross to the Chiloé archipelago or board a ship to the Laguna San Rafael - to venture into the sea channels and fjords. As a meeting place for remote fishing communities, Angelmó's marketplace is one of the best places to buy local handcrafts and enjoy the wide variety of seafood and fish that make up the local cuisine.

Less than 20 kilometers away, Lake Llanquihue offers a spectacular tour of beaches and towns like Puerto Varas, Puerto Octay and Frutillar, of which the latter is famous for its annual festival of classical music which is held during the summer. The influence of german colonists is visible in all of these towns in the architecture of the churches, the wooden houses and the balconies filled with tulips. All this in the shadow of the Osorno volcano's perfect cone.

Bordering the lake, Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park has more than 253.000 hectares of coigüe, lenga, ferns and mock privet forests, all dominated by the presence of the Osorno and Puntiagudo volcanoes. Inside the park, the Saltos del Petrohué waterfalls cascade spectacularly down a river-cut canyon amid mountains and virgin forests. Equally spectacular is Lago de Todos los Santos (All Saints Lake) with its emerald waters, flanked by vegetation-covered cliffs. It is possible to cross the Andes and reach Bariloche in Argentina by taking just one extraordinary journey on this mountain lake.

Also near Puerto Montt, it is possible to visit the stunning Alerce Andino National Park which has almost 20.000 hectares of magnificent larch forests, and which was declared a Natural Monument in 1976. After this begins Chile's loony geography of small islands and straits, which were formed by the flooding of the central valleys and the lower parts of the coastal mountain range. At this point the landscape of lakes and volcanoes, dense forests and green hills, gives way to the Patagonian landscape. The journey so far through the temperate rain forest (the world's second largest) has been through the habitat of the pudú, the world's smallest deer. A visitor to this region will not be surprised to learn that salmon farming in the waters around Puerto Montt and Chiloé has turned Chile into the second world exporter of this fish after Norway. Additionally the sight of numerous trucks filled with logs is a sign of the importance the timber industry has in this area.

All the towns and cities in the Lake District have good hotels, restaurants, shops and transportation services that make its attractions accessible to people of all ages and preferences: fishing in excellent rivers, skiing down the slopes of volcanoes, rafting down whitewater rivers, birdwatching in the forests or climbing up to the craters of the volcanoes themselves.

Copyright © 2005, Embassy of Chile, Washington, DC and GlobeScope, Inc.