A stone’s throw from Puerto Montt and at the gateway to the northern portion of Patagonia, Puerto Varas is a city in Southern Chile worth losing yourself in for a few days.
Founded by German immigrants in the 19th century, as evidenced by the architectural influence of the residential areas, and situated on Lake Llanquihue with stellar views of the Osorno Volcano across the water, this town epitomizes Lake District charm.
You really should give yourself the gift of at least 2-3 days Puerto Varas, but if you can’t muster more than 24 hours, here are the highlights!
Start Your Morning
Coffee at Cafe Apie
Start your day with a stroll along the lakefront, but stop first for a cappuccino-to-go from the Cafe Apie coffee cart just off the main square, Plaza de Armas. You can get all of your coffee favorites, including great espresso and cappuccinos.
Listen to Amerikantu Music
If it’s an extra nice day and you’re lucky, Amerikantu will already be playing their Andean-inspired tunes to the crowds. If they’re not there yet, be sure to return later in the day for a listen.
A four-man, multi-instrumental band, Amerikantu plays classic Latin American folklore music using the Andean quena (flute), mandolin, and pan flutes of various sizes, among several other instruments. They are a delightful soundtrack to people-watching and sipping coffee in the square.
Shopping at Feria Artesanal
Some of the best shopping in Puerto Varas faces the Plaza as well, from international outdoor retailers to Chilean handicrafts.
The Feria Artesanal, just to the south of the square, has all manner of Chilean tourist items including lapis lazuli jewelry and all things llama and alpaca. However, other shops nearby, include Mawen Puerto Varas, feel a bit more authentic.
Take A Walk Along The Lakeside Path
Next, starting at the lakefront opposite the big casino, wander the lakeside path in either direction, south or north, and be sure to take in the various statues that integrate seemingly incongruous recycled materials like car parts, propane canisters, and oil drums.
The hawkers along the waterfront near the tourist office specialize in all manner of handicraft, from stamped leather to macrame jewelry.
Learn at Karun
For an unexpectedly interesting exhibit on conservation and craftsmanship, head to the Karun building up on the hill overlooking the lake, to the north of the city center.
From marine and lake waste harvested by locals, such as fishing nets, this conservation-minded company crafts high fashion (and high priced) sunglasses with a mission.
Karun, whose name means “to be nature” in the local Mapuche language, is worth a visit regardless of whether or not you plan to shop: they have an informative display about their manufacturing process, and you can even check out their creation and design studios on the first floor.
Take A Break For A Morning Snack
Daruma Tea House
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, grab a bite and a breath at Daruma Tea House, where an avocado toast or arepa sandwich with a barista-made coffee drink or one of their several tea selections will energize you to head back out into the clean lakeside air for more exploring. Head through their sunny front seating room to the back of the restaurant for a cozier, more studious vibe.
Swing by Dominique Chocolates to pick up a 63% cacao bar with toasted local hazelnuts (called avellanas), or one of their many other handcrafted and beautiful treats, to snack on throughout the day.
A Belgian-style chocolaterie, they specialize in combining West African chocolate with South American (and specifically Chilean) accents, and the pleasure they take in their craft is clear: from the service you’ll receive in their intimate shop to the beautiful artwork on their chocolate wrappers and boxes.
Before resuming your walk, stop by the free (and clean) public restroom around the corner near the municipal building – a rare treat in South America!
Head To The Beach
If you’re feeling like a beach day, walk south along the lakefront, stopping by the kooky and amusing Museo Pablo Fierro, where you’re likely to see the artist himself selling postcards and signing autographs. This mish-mash of a house contains all manner of flotsam and jetsam and gives a real sense of what it’s like to be an artistic hoarder.
Be sure to take a look at the signs in the first-floor main room to get a feel for the meaning behind the movement, which includes (translated from Spanish) “beauty is in simplicity” and “in order to fly, one must know their soul”. The view from the ship mast is one of the best in Puerto Varas.
Next, find a sandy beach spot with a volcano view to sun yourself, stopping to take a look at the iconic and quaint yellow Lutheran Church, just across the lakeshore ring road from the water.
When you get hungry, swing by Casa Leon – a from scratch, an on-site bakery that takes impeccable service and baked goods seriously. Their lovely gardens are a great place for a relaxed mini-meal, and their seeded crackers and brownie a la mode is top-notch.
If you’re hankering for a bit more movement, walk north past the Mesa Tropera restaurant jutting out into the water (a good but very busy place for an afternoon beer), and follow the paths into Cerro Philippi to the viewpoint at the top.
As you wander, scavenger hunt for each of the native tree types listed on the signposted at the bottom of the main trail, as well as the unique carved trees at the top.
If you’ve still got some energy in you, head back down to the water, and rent a paddleboard for an hour near the tourist center at the lakeside to gain a different perspective on the town.
Try Some Empanadas
Grab a late lunch back in the downtown area. Want something traditional no matter the calories? Head to Enjundia Empanadas where you can grab a couple of the cheese, salmon, or meat-filled dough pillows and dip them in the home-made spicy, oily sauce for a bit of zing.
Feeling like something a bit healthier and less fried? Head to the Bless Yuz vegan food truck, stationed just outside the Mall Paseo Puerto Varas, and indulge in a delicious and good-for-you falafel bowl or wrap as you watch the shoppers pass by.
Visit The 19th Century Houses
Pick up a ‘Patrimonial’ map from the tourist office of the Plaza de Armas, and spend your afternoon leisurely seeking out the oldest German houses in town.
Many of the late nineteenth century houses have been restored or preserved, and the map (or a quick Google search) will tell you about their histories as well as how they’re being used today.
While you’re at it, check out the Sacred Heart church, arguably the most prominent building in all of Puerto Varas, and a National Monument. It was inspired by a specific church found in the Black Forest region of Germany.
Explore The Kunstgarten Arts And Cultural Center
Make your way to the Kunstgarten arts and cultural center where you can explore the rotating art exhibit in the main gallery space and around the grounds. Take in the view from the beautiful gardens overlooking Lake Llanqihue, one of the best views in town.
Drinks and Dinner
Snap some photos of the mosaics on the stairs heading down away from Kunstgarten, and dip into No Sé for a glass of wine at the bar. The more upscale sister restaurant to Mesa Tropera on the water, they make a tortilla española appetizer that will keep you coming back.
Though it may be tempting to stay for dinner, do yourself a favor and walk the 10 minutes to El Humedal (reservations recommended) for a truly epic meal with beautiful views, a homey, farmhouse ambiance, and stunning lake views. Of special note are their homemade pasta dishes and stunning dessert display.
En route to your hotel, stop back by No Sé for a chocolate crêpe and late-night people-watching of the bar crowd, and consider extending your stay in Puerto Varas for at least one more night.
Stay The Night In Puerto Varas
You can’t beat the views and amenities at Hotel Cumbres and Hotel Borde Lago if you’ve got a bit more cash to spend, though Casa Container, a surprisingly roomy space built inside shipping containers, will certainly provide a more memorable experience.
If you are on a tighter budget, check out Lenga Hostel. While it won’t win any awards for modernism or flair, it does have a very good homemade breakfast included in the rate, complete most days with the classic German “kuchen” cake specific to this area of Chile, and an extremely nice mother/son ownership team. Ask for one of the two rooms with lake views.
Other Things To Do In Puerto Varas
Take a load off with a manicure or pedicure at Aloe (reservations required); a relaxing place to practice your Spanish with the staff, or simply sit back and enjoy the pampering.
Chile has some of the best thrift shops, and THC (Trading. History. Clothes.) is the cream of the crop. Whether you’re looking for a cocktail dress for your night out in PV, or a funky memento of your trip, you can spend hours sifting the well-stocked racks here.
Want to compare and contrast the best chocolates in town? Be sure to stop by the fancy La Fête, right downtown, for a box of truffles or a beautifully stamped 73% cacao bar.
Also be sure to make the trek up to Vicki Johnson Chocolates, which shares a building with a cozy coffee shop, a boutique clothing store, and a handful of other bespoke businesses.
Looking for a boat tour to remember? Check out the Karut. This high-speed boat has a unique glass bottom and bubble front viewing windows, and you can choose from hourlong or half-day tours (complete with lunch)!
Rent a car and circle the lake to visit the towns of Frutillar and Puerto Octay, making nature viewing pitstops along the way including the drive up to the Osorno ski area and several waterfall hikes, including those at Petrohue.
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to visit Puerto Varas, Chile. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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