Planning Your Time
Because the Chilean lake district is relatively compact, with excellent highways and secondary roads, and with frequent and comfortable public transportation, travel throughout the region is normally straightforward. Still, in the summer peak season, hotel and rental-car reservations are advisable, though accommodations are abundant enough that something’s usually available.
For visitors, the best bases are the Lago Villarrica resorts of Villarrica and Pucón to the north, and the Lago Llanquihue town of Puerto Varas or the mainland city of Puerto Montt to the south. For visitors with vehicles, staying at any of these locales keeps the driving to a minimum, but public transportation is good enough that a car is rarely necessary. For those staying outside town, though, it’s helpful to have one.
Seeing the main sights in either of these two clusters requires around a week. This would permit a day trip to Parque Nacional Conguillío and perhaps an overnight near the thermal-baths complex at Reserva Nacional Malalcahuello, or looping around the park from Temuco via the upper Biobío. In Villarrica or Pucón, there would be ample time for activities such as hiking in Parque Nacional Huerquehue, climbing Volcán Villarrica, rafting the Río Trancura, and simply relaxing on Lago Villarrica’s black-sand beaches.
From either Puerto Varas or Puerto Montt, attractions such as Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales, the wild Cochamó backcountry, the seafood port of Angelmó, and the island of Chiloé are almost equally accessible. Many visitors prefer to stay in Puerto Varas, which is quieter and more picturesque, and has better services in a more compact area (though Puerto Montt also has respectable hotels and restaurants, and other positive aspects).
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition