On Llanquihue’s southwestern shore, Puerto Varas (population 24,309) is 996 kilometers south of Santiago , 20 kilometers north of Puerto Montt , and a short distance east of Ruta 5, the Panamericana.
North of Puerto Montt , picturesque Puerto Varas appeals to conventional tourists who loll on Lago Llanquihue’s beaches, admire its century-old mansions, sup in some of Chile’s best restaurants, and follow the bus-boat crossing to the Argentine resort of Bariloche via Lago Todos los Santos.
Increasing numbers of more adventurous visitors, though, also appreciate its access to the Río Petrohué’s white-water rafting, Volcán Osorno ’s snow-clad slopes, Cochamó ’s wild backcountry, and other outdoor attractions. To the southeast, beyond Cochamó, a new bridge over the Río Puelo also provides an alternate route to Hornopirén  and the Carretera Austral.
Varas’s architectural heritage, stemming from its German colonization as a 19th-century lake port, lends it its character. While a recent building boom has resulted in nondescript housing developments on the outskirts, it’s also brought more stylish infill downtown; many visitors prefer Varas to nearby Puerto Montt , and not just as a base for excursions.
By Air: Puerto Varas is close enough to the area’s principal airport has good regional and long-distance bus connections, and is also on the popular bus-boat route to Argentina. LAN/LanExpress (Av. Gramado 560, tel. 065/234799) flies out of Puerto Montt .
By Bus: Rather than a central terminal, both regional and long-distance bus companies use their own (sometimes shared) offices near the Plaza de Armas. Some long-distance carriers from Puerto Montt  pick up northbound passengers here; some regional carriers have no fixed offices but pick up and drop off passengers en route through the city.
Santiago  carriers Pullman Bus (Walker Martínez 317, tel. 065/341140) and Cruz del Sur (Walker Martinez 239-B, tel. 065/231925; terminal at San Francisco 1317, tel. 065/236969) share offices with Buses Norte Internacional, which goes daily to San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina (US$21, six hours). Buses Jac and Cóndor Bus (both at Walker Martínez 227, tel. 065/237255) also go to Santiago.
Puerto Montt –based Thaebus shuttles frequently to [Puerto Varas, stopping at the corner of San Bernardo and Walker Martínez. It also goes at 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. daily to Petrohué , on Lago Todos los Santos (US$2.50), returning at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Expresos Puerto Varas (tel. 065/232253) also goes frequently to Puerto Montt ; it is commonly known as “Mitsubishi” for its minibus fleet.
By Bus-Boat: Puerto Varas is one of the intermediate points on the bus-boat shuttle from Puerto Montt  to Bariloche (Argentina) via Lago Todos los Santos, so it’s possible to purchase tickets and board the bus to Petrohué here. Most of the year, buses leave Puerto Montt at 8 a.m. daily for Petrohué , returning at 6 p.m.; April–mid-September, though, they run Wednesday–Sunday only, leaving Puerto Montt at 9 a.m. and returning at 5 p.m. For details, contact Turismo Peulla (San Juan 430, 2nd floor, tel. 065/236150, www.turismopeulla.cl ).