The Lake District in Chile is an amazing area where an unbelievable amount of active volcanoes tower over the many, many lakes that scatter the region. It stretches 339km from Temuco in the north to Puerto Montt in the south, with the popular towns of Pucon and Puerto Varas, being hubs for tourists and adventure activities.
The first thing i will say before going any further is that some planning is absolutely essential in order to make the most of your time in the Lakes district and not waste time and MONEY! A rough, researched itinerary is a must.
We hired a car in Puerto Montt with the plan of driving the Carratera Austral, an amazing stretch of road, that runs through Patagonian’s untouched wilderness. However as we had done virtually no research, not all went to plan… so this is not a blog about the Carrater Austral, but rather a two week roadie around the Lakes District.
Here’s an interactive map to help you on your own road trip! Click on a plane for more information!
We arrived in Puerto Montt via bus from Pucon (a 6 hour trip) with the idea of easily, and quickly, hiring a car from the city centre. We eventually realised, after 5 hours of research, that hiring a car in the city wasn’t going to be an option. We hadn’t booked a car, and it wasn’t possible to book online for the same day pick up. We had no choice but to get a bus to the airport and hope that one of the companies there had a car available.
You can easily get a bus from the main bus station in town, for 1500 pesos, or if you’re a group of 3-4 you can get a share taxi for almost the same price individually. Both options are found at the main bus station.
Once you get to the airport there are about 15 companies, making bartering for a price quite easy and achievable – even in english.
*** Just go straight to the airport OR book online prior to arriving in Puerto Montt (especially if you aren’t arriving via plane or have a tight schedule)***
10 Day Itinerary
Below is our itinerary. I’ll tell you the road we decided to take, and then suggest the few adjustments that i wish we had made**.
Day 1: Puerto Montt to Colaco
Colaco is just before the fairy terminal that takes you to the small island of Chiole. Theres an amazing camp ground in this tiny town which, although VERY basic, has amazing views and is right on the beach.
**Try and arrive early afternoon so you can actually enjoy this tiny little beach side town!**
Cost: 2000 pesos [$]
Day 2: Colaco to Chepu
- Cross the fairy (12000p for a car) and arrive in the Island of Chiole. This tiny island is famous for its national parks and its amazing wooden churches.
- Drive to Pinguineras (in Punihuuil), aka Penguin beach. Take a boat ride out to see the tiny penguins, or alternately walk up to the look out and just admire the vastness of the ocean.
- Then drive 20km to Chepu, one of the most beautiful places on the Island; home to 8 rivers and right beside the beach. With just 250 people, its got an interesting vibe and is famous for its eerie, magical mornings where mist fills the water ways. Canoeing at sunrise is a popular activity here, although its bloody cold (and quiet pricey at 5000 pesos per hour)!!!
- Stay at one of the camp grounds as you enter the town
Cost: $4000 pesos [$$]
Day 3: Chepu
to Castro to Puerto Varus
**I would NOT recommend doing this drive or even visiting Castro. Its just a large town and there isn’t anything special about it. We drove there because originally we thought we would be able to get a Fairy to the main land and then drive the Carretera Austral. However as it turns out after some very basic research, the Carretera Austral is an amazingly remote and poorly maintained stretch of road, that is only accessible with 4WD and radio communication for emergencies. So that wasn’t an option for our little hatchback. **
Instead spend another day up north of the island exploring the beach and the many rivers, or head back to the main land and go north! That night we drove back up to Puerto Varas and stayed in an amazing camp ground right on the lake, for 7000pp.
Day 4: Puerto Varas to Entre Lagos (
via Bahai Mansa)**
We got up early and drove west to Bahai Mansa, supposedly the biggest of three beach towns on Chile’s west cost. Lonely Planet had these three beach towns as the top ‘undiscovered place’ in the lakes district, however they were really not worth the 3+ hour drive from Puerto Varas.
The drive was amazing, past waterfalls, forrest and farmland and the beaches were beautiful too, but the camp ground had been abandoned and vandalised, all the shops in town were boarded up and there was nothing to do here. It was bazzar. Maybe in summer the town comes alive, or maybe once-upon-a-time they were busy fishing towns, but when we went in November 2017, they were nothing but disappointing. The disappointment also meant that we had to drive another 3 hours to find a camp ground, as the 4 options in town were all out of action. Enter Lagos, which is directly east, was an amazing alternative however, and we scored a awesome little family run camp ground right on the river, with wifi ad HOT showers.
Day 5: Entre Lagos Day trip
We stayed two nights at this campsite and went up to the national park for a day hike. There’s alot of options for hikes, from 1km to 25km. As soon as you arrive in the park, right on the highway, is national park information. Its in the same location as the indoor and outdoor hot springs. You might read on some websites/blogs that there are free hot springs 100m away from the paid ones. This is 100% true, however the free ‘pools’ are quite literally puddles of hot mud. One person can hardly sit in them, so they are nothing like the free, natural hot pools in New Zealand, so don’t go in with the idea that the are actually ‘pools’
Day 6: Entre Lagos to Puerto Varas
Its only a short drive from Entre Lagos to Puerto Varas, so we left mid morning after a relaxing morning, going for a run, having a swim and eating breakfast. As we had already stayed in Puerto Varas, we went back to the same camp ground with the plan of staying a few nights, to explore the area.
Day 7 & 8: Puerto Varas
Exploring Puerto Varas itself can be a whole day activity. Theres a walk up to a look out, lots of stalls selling fresh berries and you can ride around the whole lake, or parts of it, with an amazing bike path that circumnavigates the lake. Theres also Volcano Orsono a 30 minute drive away where in summer you can walk and in winter you can ski. Either way its amazing, with views that stretch forever.
Day 9: Puerto Varas to Puerto Montt
Leave late morning or in the afternoon if you want to spend another day in this gorgeous town. Puerto Montt is nothing special, but unfortunately is a transport hub for most destinations north or south, so going back is mostly unavoidable. Accomodation is expensive, so Airbnbs, deals of the day on Booking.com and Couch surfing is a good idea here! Also if you need to get around use Uber, not taxis!!
Day 10: Depart Puerto Montt
We had an early morning flight to Puerto Natales in Patagonia, so caught a bus from the main bus terminal to the airport, with plenty of time to spare!
Hope this helps with your planning. I couldn’t find anything similar when i was trying to plan, so even if this helps one budget conscious traveller then my jobs done!!