The center of Puerto Varas, in Chile’s lake district, offers beautiful views of Lago Llanquihue and Volcan Osorno. Travelers choose it as a more charming alternative to Puerto Montt, a larger city nearby that serves as a cruise port.
While in Puerto Varas, I was most excited to visit Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales, about 1.5 hours from the town center. It was easy to catch a public bus, and I passed out until we reached the stop for Saltos del Petrohue, a set of waterfalls in the park.
The waterfalls were so striking against the background of snow-capped Volcan Osorno.
My original plan was to walk from the waterfalls to Lago Todos los Santos, which was about 3.5 miles on the map. “No problem,” I thought. “It’s just a flat road, and I’ll get some exercise.”
I started regretting my decision a few minutes after I stepped onto the dusty road. The cars whizzing by weren’t nearly as much of a nuisance as the hordes of large horseflies buzzing around. These horseflies were The. Worst. Five or six relentlessly circled around my head, and some left stinging bites.
Other visitors had picked up branches and leaves to swat the flies away. After uselessly trying to shoo the flies by waving my hands around, I found a stick and started swinging. Most of the flies avoided my frantic batting attempts, but I managed to get a few hits. I won’t lie: it was hugely satisfying to hear the “thwack” of my stick crushing against a fly (come at me, PETA). It was pointless, though. After dropping to the ground, a battered horsefly would get back on its feet and begin flying within seconds. Demons.
After walking about 2 km, I reached a viewpoint where I could see – and hear – the roaring falls. I took a photo for a kind, middle-aged Dutch couple, and we all swatted more flies.
I dreaded returning to the road and resuming my all-out war with the horseflies. After I walked a few minutes from the viewpoint, the Dutch couple stopped in their rental car and asked if I wanted a ride to the lake. As a seasoned (OK, noob) hitchhiker, I gladly hopped into their air-conditioned car for the 10-minute trip.
Boat rides on the lake are available, but I chose to stick to the shore. I would have loved to have stayed at the lake for the rest of the day, but the horseflies refused to leave me alone.
Even with all my complaints about the flies, I would return to the park in a heartbeat. If I learned only one thing from my travels, it’s that I’m willing to suffer for magnificent mountain views (see, e.g., this and this).
My lovely hostel offered a map of a 30-km (~18.5-mi) bike ride to a German-inspired town called Frutillar. At my hostel in Pucon, I had met a middle-aged American who highly recommended visiting Frutillar for its concert hall. However, a Dutch traveler in Puerto Varas warned me about the bike ride, saying it took him more than two hours one way because he struggled over a number of hills. He couldn’t enjoy his stay in Frutillar since he was worried about biking back to the hostel before nightfall.
Now, the Dutch are born on bikes. If a Dutch guy had trouble with the ride to Frutillar, what made me think I could do it?
I didn’t claim I was smart. Figuring it couldn’t be that bad, I rented a bike from my hostel and took a copy of their map.
Uh, no. I was wrong, and Dutch traveler was so, so right. It was bad. The first couple of kilometers involved biking over rocks by a set of train tracks. I’m barely a competent biker on paved road, so it’s a mystery how I made it out of this part in one piece. The path got so narrow and rocky that I fell a couple of times – once into a spiky tree.
The road eventually widened, and the rocks disappeared, but I fell again since the road was unpaved. I was deliriously happy when I hit pavement after about 8 km. It was sweet, glorious flat road for about 4 km.
Then…the hills. If I had been driving, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed them. But, on a bike? Please. No amount of standing climbs in spinning would have helped me. Since I’m a weakling, I got off my bike and walked as soon as I sensed a one-degree incline.
Oh, and if you’ve done the math, you would have realized that I hadn’t even reached the halfway point of the ride. Joy.
After a lot of walking and not so much biking, I finally reached Frutillar in three hours. I saw the exterior of the much-hyped concert hall but was too dumb (dazed?) to remember to take a photo. Instead, I took photos of Volcan Osorno across the lake.
If you ask for a snack in Frutillar, you’re going to get a recommendation for kuchen. I went to Kuchenladen for a raspberry version.
My original plan was to bike back to my hostel (plans – why we do we make them?), but my tshirt and backpack were still soaked with sweat from the ride to Frutillar. Luckily, my hostel had a system where we could leave the bike at the concert hall as long as we texted a photo. A staff member would later pick up the bike. Smart, huh? I suspect my hostel must have seen its fair share of overconfident backpackers who couldn’t make the return trip.
I hopped onto a public bus headed to Puerto Varas. When I returned to my hostel, I paid it forward (thanks, Dutch traveler; I owe you one) and warned other guests about the bike ride. An Australian couple tried the bike ride a couple of days later and reported that it was as difficult as I had described. It was reaffirming to know it wasn’t all in my head.
Another Dutch traveler was hesitant to try the bike ride since she had an injured tailbone. She ended up doing it and reported it was “easy” (direct quote). Of course. Born on bikes, like I said.