Solo Trip Guide to Puerto Varas in Chile
Puerto Varas is a small city at the shores of Lake Llanquihue (pronounced Yaan-kee-way) overlooking the beautiful Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes in Los Lagos region of Chile.
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The city is influenced by past German settlers and it is a popular spot in Chile. People come here to get a taste of German culture since most of them can’t afford to go to Europe but I have to be very honest here, it is not much like Germany and it is very cheeky of me to say but it is a good thing. It is a relatively carefree beautiful town blessed with a lot.
I was quite lucky to visit this gorgeous city for 3 days during my Patagonia trip, it’s was worth every minute!
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Getting to Puerto Varas
Getting to Puerto Varas is quite easy with the Puerto Montt airport quite close to the city as well as bus services from across the country as well as from the Chilean side.
If you are coming from Bariloche you will have to take a bus to Osorno and take another bus from there to Puerto Varas.
The best way to get to Puerto Varas is through the Andean Cruise from Bariloche which is what I did. It’s a day-long trip and consist of 4 bus and 3 ferry rides across 3 lakes. You can read about it here.
The bus station is at the back of the city and most of the big cities are easily accessible by bus. The best source for finding good tickets online for Chile is Busbud.
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Where to stay in Puerto Varas
Puerto Varas is quite a small town and it is quite easy to walk around on foot, taxis are also quite cheap. I got a hotel in the city on Del Salvador street which is the Main Street in Puerto Varas. If you are planning to rent a car, get a place on the lakeshore a bit further to take full advantage of the views. There’s plenty of options to satisfy all tastes.
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When to Visit Puerto Varas
Summer is the beat time to visit Puerto Varas, I arrived just after Christmas and got 3 days of amazing sunshine with beach weather. In spring it gets really wet as this is quite a heavy rainfall area, not sure I’d like the place much in winter. The city has amazing views of Calbuco and Osorno from its promenade which is just perfect on a clear day.
How many days for Puerto Varas
Puerto Varas has plenty to do and see but I think three days is the optimal time to see this gorgeous city. I think I have had a balanced trip with three days in Puerto Varas. One day to go around Lake Llanquihue and Osorno, second day for the city and a day to do other activities like cycling, kayaking or just being at the beach.
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Food in Puerto Varas
Food was slightly disappointing here. I found the restaurants in Puerto Varas close quite early both for lunch and dinner and the steakhouse I found 2 km outside the city was just alright. I did find some amazing empanadas in the city though.
Another thing is to look for Murta berries in March/April or their jam in other seasons.
Things to do In Puerto Varas
Most of the things in Puerto Varas are based around lakes ( I mean it is Los Lagos region after all) and two of the most beautiful lakes in Chile are based around Puerto Varas.
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Kayaking in Llanquihue
You can kayak around the shores of Puerto Varas quite easily on good days. Luckily I arrived with bright sunshine and all the summer activities were in full swing. You can rent kayaks at the beach right next to the Tourist information booth at Costanera de Puerto Varas.
The city centre and its main square (Plaza de Armas) are quite cute and full of roses. Puerto Varas is also called the city of roses and you can see why. The Main Street is called Del Salvador. A walk through the city centre at an easy pace will be no more than an hour at an easy pace.
Walk around the shores of Lake Llanquihue
A walk around the shore of Llanquihue is amazing in the evening and at the time of sunrise. It became my favourite place in the city the moment I came for my first walk. The views of Osorno and Calbuco from Costanera de Puerto Varas are so mesmerising especially at the time of sunset. Perfect for some meditation or just absorbing the beauty of surroundings.
Swim in Lake Llanquihue with a Beach Day
Yes, the water will be cold but when the sun is shining, I loved taking a dip followed by a nap on the beach. The beach near the city is a bit busy but it is still great, sandy and clean.
Hike to Cerró Phillipi
Cerró and Parque Phillipi are located within the city and are an easy 20-30 minutes hike from the city centre. I walked from the promenade from the statue of Princess Licarayén and arrived at the top to a beautiful view of Puerto Varas. The park is also host to the big cross which lights up in the night and can be seen in the evenings.
The road up is paved and then you have to go up via the dirt road. There’s also a lot of dogs on the way which seemed quite aggressive. Be watchful!
I arrived a bit before the sunset when the place was utterly calm and there were very few people there. Another beautiful place for some tea and meditation!
Fun Fact: The statue of Princess Licarayén is dedicated to a princess who’s heart was sacrificed to the angry gods who accepted the gift and returned the favour by adding snow to volcano tops to keep them calm. Poor girl!
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Visit Museum Pablo Fierro
Even if it is just from outside this is a unique place and deserves a visit. It was part of an easy walk from the Cosanera around 1 km from there. I didn’t bother going in because museums really bore me honestly but if that’s your thing it looked quite interesting.
Cycle to Llanquihue
I would never have done this on my own because no one mentioned it online but a local I met took me on an epic cycling trip to Llanquihue town, 6 km from Puerto Varas.
A small official city booth outside the tourism office at Costanera de Puerto Varas was free cycles for tourists (bloody amazing bikes), I got one and we started our adventure.
We cycled to Puntillo and then rode up all the way to the disused train tracks and continued next to the tracks.
After a little while, we saw a hike in the plant barricade on the right-hand side which lead us to a small private beach.
Now that’s what we call a pot of gold, who woulda thought I’d have a beach to myself at one of the best days of the summer in Puerto Varas!
A Private Beach
Splish splash and we were on the bikes again. The road was quite rough but it was quite fun. In about 20 minutes we arrived at Llanquihue town with its beautiful houses at the lake. It got quite hot by now and an ice cream and some water helped cool us down. The views made it an instant picnic!
The Town of Llanquehue
The town of Llanquihue is Chile at a very small scale. The houses at the lakeshore at gorgeous, pristine and perfect, cross the railway lines and the reality starts. The division is so stark it makes you wonder how is it possible these two sides have lived in peace till now!
The town has small cottages in different colours in that typical Chilean hearty spirit with flowers and lots of dogs, lots and lots of them.
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The Way Back
On the way back we took a different route and oh it was beautiful. We took a turn from the main road for Molino Viejo from the main Highway and went alongside some farms for cows and horses.
I met horsey the horse there who was so friendly and had two different coloured eyes, another first, how I wish I could bring him with me!
The rest of the way back was the same way along Camino Viejo a Llanquihue along train tracks.
It was an absolutely amazing trip and took some 2-3 hours at an easy pace.
Day Trip to Peulla and Lagos todos Los Santos
Peulla is a small town with 100 inhabitants at the border of Argentina and Chile on this side of Andes. This was my first arrival in the country and the scenery this town offers are incredible and unparalleled. You can do day trips from Puerto Varas to Peulla which include some interesting activities like horseback riding or even a helicopter adventure. It is located on the other side of Lago Todos Los Santos or All Saints Lake.
The town only has two restaurants with a limited supply of food, bring a packed lunch or foot a 19000 CLP buffet bill. (The food is quite alright with Salmon to die for).
The postcards you see of Patagonia with beautiful flower fields surrounded by green Andean mountains with snow covering their tops, that’s Peulla!
Sail through Lago Todos Los Santos
My favourite lake in Los Lagos! This lake is also called the Emerald Lake due to its beautiful blue waters. Leaving from Puerto Peulla the first part of the trip was the Andean mountains with their characteristic green colour, we turned and the scenery changed with Puntiagudio showing off its narrow crater with beautiful clouds floating around the top. I mistook it from Osorno but then Osorno showed up and without anyone telling me I got it! It has a presence of its own, a majesty, a sense of oneness but also a bit of loneliness. It is quite barren with snow splashed around its crater and not a cloud in sight.
The whole hour of sailing was a game of sizes between Puntagudio and Osorno and I realised how insignificant we all are and how many things we have to create around us to feel important. Mother Nature plays on a grand scale and we are nothing but small pawns in a big game…
A day driving around Lake Llanquihue
Tours or Car Rental?
Like I mentioned before most of the stuff in Puerto Varas revolves around Llanquihue Lake. You can easily drive around it in a day. I rented a car and ditched the tours because I wanted to go at my own pace and it was totally worth it. There are multiple car rentals around the city centre and I got a fantastic car from Sur Rent a Car who were very professional and helpful.
Road conditions in and around Puerto Varas are very good and driving is relatively stress-free, parking is also easy to find.
Note: Car Insurance is Chile is different to one in Europe and North America. For minor issues, you will be charged but in case of a big event like an accident your payout is capped and the rest is covered by the insurance company so make sure every mark and scratch is noted when you take the car.
The Petrohué waterfalls lie at the edge of Lago todos Los Santos in Petrohué at an easy drive from Puerto Varas. I took the car in the morning and headed to the Petrohué. The road was clear with no tourist buses in sight. I got some green tea at a viewpoint and some German bakery stuff.
Fun Fact: German is quite a popular language here and Germany is a huge influence on the culture here especially bakery which is called Kuchen. It is actually more delicious than the stuff in Germany itself and most Chileans come to Puerto Varas to get a taste of Europe at home.
The rest of the drive was easy and I arrived at the parking for Saltos Del Río Petrohué or the waterfalls of River Petrohué. The entrance was 6000 CLP with another 1000 CLP for parking.
I thought it would be a small viewpoint by this place is a bit of a maze. We turned towards our left first and arrived at the viewpoint for the actual waterfall which isn’t very high but the clear blue waters with true views of Volcanoes in the background. The place was full of tourists including young local families, everyone seemed very happy.
A bit of walk back and I turned towards the left side now which lead to some small ponds and an area of contemplation which turned out had the view of the third volcano. Hat trick done!
At the end was the chance to actually dip your feet (or yourself if you can brace glacial water and the flow). I could only take off my socks and shirt for this. The water was refreshing, felt it running through my body with the cold temperature!
It was time for some more tea and the cafeteria outside the complex had the best green tea I had in Chile! I think it was Patagonia blend and Mango Green tea blend, had two cups instead of one!
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The next stop was a small one without any ticket; The Green Lagoon. It’s is a small beautiful lagoon which is also open to kayaking. The viewpoint inside and outside at the lake were both beautiful. The lagoon is named after it’s beautiful clear green waters.
The next stop on my list was Osorno but I took a wrong turn and decided to continue on to Las Cascadas. The drive around the lake keeps getting more and more green with some farms and ranches around but most importantly the hide and seek of volcanoes which keep appearing on your left, right, front and back.
It was around 4 when I arrived at the town and headed straight to the waterfall. The road was very rough and got narrower by the minute. It got quite rough and I got a bit worried because I’m not the best of drivers and then my worst nightmare appeared, another car coming from the other side. I almost panicked but luckily the other guy was skilled, I gave him as much space as possible and things went smoothly.
Finally, I arrived at the parking spot finally with no parking spots, a 20 minutes wait finally got me a parking space and I headed to the waterfall on foot. I expected it to be closer but this was another adventure, crossing streams, seeing some small waterfalls on the way, I think it was almost a I’m when I finally arrived at this medium-sized beautiful roaring waterfall with its own rainbow.
The mist around the waterfall turns into a little dancing field for light and every movement shows a thousand small rainbows; the weird trek and annoying road till here was totally worth it!
I made my way out because I knew it was time for the big meet up with Osorno and it was getting late. The way back was the same narrow, gravel and stone road and I spotted a beach at the end of the road outside the city but there was no time for it.
I arrived at Ensenada, a small town sandwiched between Culbaco and Osorno and you cannot help but admire the tenacity of people who built their lives between these 2 giants. The last eruption was in 2015 and the town had to be evacuated.
The Way Up
A small road soon leads me towards Osorno, contrary to my expectations it was a green road with beautiful forest lining the road on both sides, at point becoming so intense it cuts out most light.
As we got higher, the trees disappeared and shrubs appeared and then arrived at the barrenness and with it quite steep road especially the last few km. I was a little terrified if I’m honest. After the recent accident in Jordan slopes made me incredibly nervous and smoking tyres didn’t put my mind to ease.
I was at the skiing centre at last which is the last point you can drive to. The sun was going down opposite Osorno and the chill welcomed me, I realised I hadn’t brought my jacket and that was a mistake.
This close-up Osorno almost seems like a grumpy grandpa or maybe because I was a bit tired by now or perhaps Osorno was also tired after a day of entertaining tourists of all sizes, shapes and colours, it can’t be easy.
I watched the sunset for a bit and then hurried down because I didn’t fancy going down these slips in dark at all. The drive down was even scarier with my mind constantly reminding me of the failed brakes in Jordan. I made it though! Apart from the last part of driving, it was a very pleasant and beautiful day, one I’d repeat anytime.
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Have you been to Puerto Varas? Do tell me what you think and what you did that made your stay memorable?