Welcome to Southern Chile: the Lakes District and Chiloé Archipelago! This region is known for its spectacular scenery featuring lakes and volcanoes! Less visited than the Atacama Desert or Torres del Paine Park, the Chile Lakes District is ideal for travelers looking for authenticity and lush vegetation. That’s why we decided to promote this unique region, which is not typically part of regular travel packages in Chile.
The Lakes District is adored by Chileans, who travel there to rediscover the scent of the forest and wetlands, and where the locals are always warm and welcoming. The unique beauty of the landscape and the vibrance of the local traditions will provide you with unforgettable memories. Even the rain, which quickly fades into blue sky, lends a special atmosphere to the region.
In addition to these extraordinary landscapes between lakes and volcanoes, this is where you will find the roots of Mapuche culture. It is also an opportunity to experience the rush of adrenaline with adventure sports such as rafting, kayaking, hiking, horseback riding, climbing volcanoes… However, if a relaxing vacation is more your speed, don’t worry. The area is also known for the best natural hot springs in the country. Have we convinced you yet? Let’s take a closer look at the region.
First of all, we think it is important to visualize the location of the Lakes District of Chile, also called Sur Chico (the “small” Chilean South). Some guides refer to it as Northern Patagonia. However, Patagonia actually begins south of Puerto Montt and marks the beginning of the Carretera Austral.
In this guide, we will also cover Chiloé Archipelago, the Rivers Region (Los Rios), as well as Araucania. These 3 regions are ideal to add to your trip in the Lakes District (Los Lagos). Be aware that there is also a Lakes District in Argentina, on the other side of the Andes Mountain range, around Bariloche. The Lakes District of Chile should not be confused with this circuit, often referred to as the “7 Lakes Route,” which connects Bariloche to San Martin de los Andes, on the Argentinian side.
Now let’s discover all the region’s points of interest on our interactive map.
Araucania is attracting more and more international travelers. And for a good reason! The main regional city of Araucania is Temuco. The city itself is not of great interest, but it allows flight connections to the capital, Santiago de Chile. It is also a great location to rent a car and start exploring the surrounding area. We recommend that travelers on a small budget consider an overnight bus ride, as they are very comfortable and safe, rather than a flight.
Let’s start by talking about the Parque Nacional Conguillo, with its 2 impressive volcanoes named Llaima and Sierra Nevada. The colors of the snow-capped peaks are contrasted by striking black lava. This park features the native forests of Araucaria and Nothofagus, which are enhanced by the monumental Llaima volcano in the background. The park is an excellent destination for hiking enthusiasts. The park’s most beautiful hike is Sierra Nevada.
The most seasoned hikers will not miss this tour that is 100% off the beaten track: summiting the Sollipulli glacier. At the top, you will enjoy a stunning view on a crater covered with ice. On a clear day, you will have a view of all of the region’s volcanoes: Llaima, Lonquimay, Copahue, Sierra Nevada and Lanon. For an even more unique experience, we offer crossing the glacier in three days. Camping on the glacier, crossing rivers, swimming, and hiking with crampons and ice axes are some highlights of this trip. This tour is reserved for confident hikers.
Pucón is a good base camp, located near Villarica Lake (and the volcano that shares the same name). This destination attracts many tourists because it is a subtle blend of beautiful scenery, authentic culture thanks to the Mapuche, and adventure activities. Foodies will be thrilled by the variety of quality restaurants in the city center, many offering cosmopolitan cuisine.
The National Park Villarica is one of the region’s most popular attractions. Located near Pucón, the park is perfect for climbing your first volcano. Volcano Villarica is situated at 9340 feet and is definitely accessible for beginners. It is also one of the most active volcanoes on the continent. Your reward for taking on the challenge of climbing Villarica with your crampons will be a stunning panoramic view. A bonus is the downhill sledding or skiing, which guarantees an adrenaline rush!
Huerhuque Park is ideal for a day trip since it is not far from Pucon. It provides beautiful views of Lake Tinquilco and Villarrica volcano, and it is a dream destination for hikers. There are many trails whose peaks give a great panorama of the area. Family groups will enjoy the easier trails, which offer access to waterfalls.
The area around Pucon is worth a visit for a half-day excursion. You can take a tour of the following places:
Who doesn’t dream of a few hours of relaxation in natural hot springs, surrounded by nature? Well, Pucón is the place to be! Truly, the Araucania around Pucon offers plenty of thermal centers (more or less rustic) that will add a moment of wellness to your stay. It is said that being in contact with nature and savoring moments of relaxation contribute to spiritual and physical well-being. We promise that after a few hours in these hot springs you will be completely rejuvenated and rested, and ready to continue on to the next phase of your adventure.
This region contains many rivers and is located between Araucania and the Lakes District. The Road of 7 Lakes offers a fantastic setting for a road trip, especially in the area of Panguipulli Lake. Lake Ranco is the largest of the valley. On the opposite side of the country, to the west, lies the city Valdivia, another highlight of the region, where you can drink the best beer in the country!
Huilo Huilo is a private park in the Rivers Region (Los Rios). This is the ideal park for families with young children to discover nature and animals. Many experiences are fun for all ages: zip line, waterfalls, animals, easy hikes, and even a funicular to the top.
Valdivia is often ignored by foreign visitors, and yet it is a very cosmopolitan city, organized around canals, where the atmosphere is very pleasant. It is surrounded by Valdivian jungle and fjords. There are also some remains of a fortress, which testifies to the city’s strategic position in the past, during the War of Independence. A few miles away, Niebla and its fortress (Fuerte de Niebla, built in the 17th century) are other points of interest in the Valdivia region.
Puerto Montt is the gateway to Patagonia. Above the city, several hills offer a superb view of the Seno (gulf) of Reloncavi. In the 1970s, near Puerto Montt, researchers found human remains dating back 12,500 years. In 1998, they claimed to prove a human presence dating back 33,000 years!
This peaceful city is a perfect destination to mix culture, outdoor experiences, and relaxation. The city possesses a strong heritage of Chilean and German traditions, which can be observed through its architecture and traditional cuisine. The city has an impressive setting. From Puerto Varas, you can explore the area’s magical corners or simply enjoy the view of the volcanoes from the shores of the peaceful lake of Llanquihue. Puerto Varas promises truly incredible views of both the Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes.
Not far to the North lie Frutillar and Puerto Octay, German-style villages due to the heavy migration of Germans at the beginning of the 20th century.
To the east of Llanquihue Lake , the Petrohué Falls are worth a visit! The Petrohué Falls offer a picturesque landscape: stunning emerald-colored streams with a volcano backdrop. Short walks and easy trails make it possible for anyone to appreciate this beautiful scene.
Continuing at the end of the road, we arrive at Petrohué. From here you have the opportunity to observe a beautiful panorama of Lake Todos los Santos. One or two hikes are possible from the sandy beach. You can also cross the lake by boat to Peulla. This 2-hour navigation (one way) is a beautiful sail across a green lake. Once you arrive in Peulla, you can zipline (ideal for children) or walk to Los Novios waterfall.
To get there, you will pass through Ensenada, from which you will enjoy a majestic view of the snowy peaks of volcanoes overlooking lakes.
You will take a mountain road to get to the top, passing from forest to desert–a superb experience! When you arrive at the top, you can take the chairlift to reach even higher and enjoy a breathtaking view of the area. Once at the top (1640 feet higher), your feet will be covered by snow.
This park is located between the municipalities of Puerto Montt and Cochamó. Take the road from Puerto Montt via Lake Chapo (28 miles) to get there. Three types of forests are present in the park. The park was named after the most remarkable type of tree: the alerce. It is an endangered species, present on almost 77 square miles of the park. Other kinds of species can be found in the evergreen forest: coige (a kind of beech) or tepa. Mammals, such as pudú (small deer), puma, gray zorro (fox), and viscachas are also endemic inhabitants of the park. As far as birds go, condor, kingfisher, and carpintero negro (woodpecker) have all been spotted. In other words, the park is exceptional! And again, it’s an experience off the beaten track, just waiting for you to discover.
Another destination where you can avoid crowds is Osorno and San Juan de la Costa. This town offers amazing beaches. It’s a little paradise on earth. Don’t miss it! Be careful, these are beaches where swimming is prohibited because of the streams. Visitors head there to stroll on the beach and connect with nature. Among the beaches we love:
Tip: go in a 4×4 car, otherwise you may get stuck along the way.
This is another national park that offers several interesting facilities. First of all, it’s a great place to hike and try to spot woodpeckers. Then, in winter, skiing is also available at the Antillanca Resort. Finally, wellness enthusiasts will be delighted by the Puyehue spa complex, whereas those who prefer authenticity will head to Aguas Calientes. The park also offers unique accommodations, such as a private wood cabin with a hot tub on the terrace or a stay in a geodesic dome.
The main island of Chiloé is so mysterious and mythical that it deserves its own section. First, a bit of history…
Over several thousand years ago, two tectonic plates collided, creating several large volcanoes and glaciers in the region. Glaciers then began to recede and the ocean took over, creating an inland sea. That sea nowadays separates Chiloé from the rest of Chile.
The inhabitants of the island were called Chono, a people of sailors. After the discovery and the settlement of the archipelago, the products of the island greatly enriched the Spaniards, while the natives lived in poverty and were forced into labor. Over the centuries, Spaniards and natives resigned themselves to living together, which today allows the island to preserve local traditions. The Chilotes speak a dialect that results from a mixture of indigenous words and Spanish from the time of colonization.
The Chiloé Island, swept by wind and rain, is the best place to discover some of the Chilean traditions. Chiloé, for example, has more than 150 churches and chapels, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Between its wooden architecture, handicrafts, and the famous palafitos, the island attracts more and more tourists looking for authenticity.
But it is also an ideal place for people looking to reconnect with nature. The island is abundant with vibrant, unspoiled nature. Between the immense natural beaches and the evergreen forests, you will find calm and serenity here. It is an ideal stay for a digital detox.
Ancud was the capital of the island until 1982 because of the importance of its port until the end of the 19th century. The docks and squares maintain traditional architecture, which contrasts with the new and modern shops. The Regional museum of Ancud allows visitors to learn more about the culture of the Chilotes. Ancud can be toured on foot.
This place is still preserved from tourism. To discover this region, we recommend you go and stay with a French-Chilean couple who have settled there to create unique, authentic travel experiences. You will be warmly welcomed into their home and will share home-cooked meals made of local products. You will also have the opportunity to hike the dunes, paddle on the river, or even fish in the early morning. No Wi-Fi or TV… The place is designed for disconnecting from your daily routines!
To the south of Ancud, Castro is a city that still has palafitos and that offers very beautiful landscape. Palafitos are wooden houses on stilts. Castro is also a gastronomic center for the island, where we recommend trying the delicious ceviche. The bonus? Stay in a traditional accommodation: a palafito.
We recommend driving along the shore to discover Dalcahue, Llaullao and Quinchao Island (take a ferry). The latter is famous for its delicious oysters and its church (Iglesia Santa Maria) built of alerce wood. You can also take a boat to Lemuy Island or go as far south as Queilen.
Quemchi is the ideal place to buy locally made fabric. From the town you will enjoy a view of the Caucahue Canal and the island of the same name. You can also visit the house of Francisco Coloane.
To the west of Castro, on the Pacific coast, we recommend visiting the Chiloé National Park for hikes and natural beaches. Don’t miss the famous Muelle de las Almas, where you can take a picture on a bridge that flows into the ocean (the perfect Instagram shot).
On the southern tip of the island, a new private park has been created. It is remote and off the beaten track because it is quite difficult to access. If you make the journey, you will discover forests, lagoons, and rivers, all just waiting to be explored. The forest is rich with endemic species, and the vegetation is especially dense due to the very rainy climate. Be prepared for a unique and totally preserved display of nature. It’s not to be missed under any circumstance!
At TravelCoachChile, we encourage discovering the country through unusual experiences of all kind: adventure, culture, relaxation…
On one hand you can experience moments of adventure and adrenaline by, for example, climbing an active volcano, or rafting down the rapids of a turquoise river.
On the other hand, you can also choose to meet the Mapuche community in order to discover their history and traditions. If your goal is to unwind and relax, you will enjoy the natural hot springs, located all over the region.
The Lakes District is the best spot in Chile to discover this extreme sport. A serious adrenaline rush awaits you along the rapids of the turquoise rivers. The setting also offers you a perfect view of a volcano. From beginners (ideal for families, class III) to the more experienced (class V), you will find bliss in one of our favorite spots.
What if you took advantage of your stay to perfect your kayaking skills by way of a multi-day tour? Whether on lakes, rivers, or even the sea (to some extent), you will be in rowers’ paradise. Shorter and easier outings are also available to practice this water sport.
Get ready to climb to the top of one of the region’s many volcanoes. Whether it is from the top of Villarica with its 9,340-foot peak or from one of the other volcanoes in Araucania (Quetruplion, Lanlon, Llaima, Lonquimay, Sierra Nevada, Chohuenco, Osorno, Tolhuaca), you will enjoy panoramic views on the region’s lakes and surrounding summits. The Villarica promises a complete experience because the climb is done in crampon shoes, and you can observe a smoking crater at the top (and even boiling lava, if you are lucky). The descent is done by sled or ski. What more could you ask for?
We offer a horseback riding tour to volcanic peaks of the Cañi mountain rainge (5000 feet above sea level, to Redondo volcano) crossing ancient forests of endemic trees such as the coigues, lengas and araucarias, to reach the Huenulafken lagoon.
Another authentic experience on the program. What if you opted for a slow travel experience and chose to connect the Lakes District with Patagonia on a cargo ship? This 4-day/3-night trip allows you to reach two areas of major tourist interest in Chile and discover Patagonian canals and fjords while enjoying a peaceful navigation. The atmosphere on the ship is great, and all meals are included. You can choose a private room, with or without a window and private bathroom. It is a convenient option for all types of travelers!
Vacations are an opportunity to relieve stress and disconnect. And to combine the practical with the pleasant, why not take the chance to reconnect with nature and enjoy a change of scenery? We invite you to spend a unique moment of relaxation in warm thermal waters in a tranquil natural setting. From luxury spas to more rustic natural pools, we offer a selection of hot springs that will delight wellness enthusiasts in the southern region of Chile:
You could make your children’s dream come true by taking them near the Pacific coast to try and spot whales, dolphins or penguins during your family stay in Chile. This could be the most magical moment of your journey! However, you have to be lucky to see the acrobatics of dolphins and whales. That is why we suggest a visit to the Humboldtp enguin natural reserve, in the north of Chiloé near Ancud. There you are more likely to see penguins between December and March, during their migration.
As seen in the previous sections, the south is full of natural parks and reserves of all kinds, ideal for hiking enthusiasts. Dozens of parks offer accessible hikes at different levels. Our favorites? Chiloé National Park, Alerce Andino Park and Huerquehue Reserve.
Chiloé is known for its cultural heritage thanks to its 16 UNESCO Heritage Churches.
Located on the “Road to the churches of Chiloé,” they are known to be some of the oldest wooden buildings in the world still standing. They are all less than 10 miles apart, which makes them easy to discover in a day.
Why not take advantage of your stay to learn about the indigenous culture of the Mapuche people? Whether through their cuisine, their customs, or their special connection with nature, you will certainly be impressed by this community that does everything to preserve its traditions. We offer an unforgettable adventure of staying the night in a community and participating in the preparation of a meal in a ruca, a traditional dwelling.
Is an unusual skiing experience of interest to you? You can ski on snow-covered slopes located on the walls of volcanoes. we also have access to exclusive areas located in the Araucania mountain range. We have tested several ski resorts, and recommend the ones that are ideal for ski enthusiasts looking for a snow experience in southern Chile.
There are plenty of glaciers that are accessible yet off the beaten track, to which an expedition with a guide can be organized. These ascents are usually done in a day, with crampon shoes and axes. While they do not involve a high level of technical difficulty, they do require good physical condition. Among these, we have tested the following for you:
Have you always dreamed of dog sledding? This is a chance of a lifetime to experience mushing with Siberian dogs. In addition, you will be surrounded by fabulous landscapes though the husky dogs are sure to be the center of the activity at all times.
You may have been dreaming along with us so far, but we haven’t given you all the details yet. Yes, this beautiful region has a drawback… It’s very rainy! It is one of the wettest regions of Chile…year round.
The best months to visit the southern region of Chile are between November and April. The high season runs from January to February, during the southern summer. At this time, the maximum temperature is near 70°F. The temperature drops to 50°F in the middle of winter, i.e. in July. The lows rarely drop below 40°F in winter and 50°F during the summer. Therefore, bring warm clothes to travel to the Lakes District, and don’t forget your waterproof jacket.
You will find the same kind of climate in Chiloé, except there you are likely to encounter heavy rain almost all year round. But that’s part of the charm, isn’t it? We still recommend going there in the summer, when tourist services are operating normally and temperatures are milder.
In winter and autumn the minimum temperatures are around 37 to 43°F. In summer, the minimum temperatures are about 50°F, and the highs would be around 64°F. As we mentioned, Chiloé is not the place to go to get a tan.
There are two airports connecting the region with the capital, Santiago de Chile: Temuco and Puerto Montt. 3 airlines--Sky, Latam, and Jetsmart–make connections on a regular basis. You can rent a car from these two airports.
Pucon is about a 50-minute drive from the Temuco airport. Conguillio Park requires an hour-and-a-half drive from Temuco. If you want to head to Puerto Varas and Chiloé, then its best to arrive via Puerto Montt airport. Puerto Varas is only about 20 minutes from the airport, whereas it will take 4 to 5 hours to reach Castro in Chiloé. The best option is to stay the night near Puerto Varas the day before you fly back to Santiago, in order to avoid stress.
You can also get there by overnight bus. They are convenient, safe, and comfortable. In this case, opt for arriving in Temuco around 9am or so, and rent a car from there to Pucon or Conguillio Park. If you want to travel near the Lakes District or Chiloé, then take a night bus to Puerto Varas (about a 12-hour ride from Santiago).
Without a doubt, we recommend renting a car or a van in order to make a road trip of the area. This option gives you maximum flexibility, but also allows you not to be dependent on buses. In addition, most of the natural parks we mention are not accessible by bus. Sometimes, the bus only connects with the small towns near the parks, which greatly complicates your organization and limits your hiking possibilities.
Renting a van can be an interesting option if you want to experience #slowtravel and test this type of adventure.
There are buses that connect Ancud, Castro, and the main cities of Chiloé from Puerto Varas. Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas are connected by small buses that leave every 15 minutes. There are also buses every hour to the villages of Puerto Octay and Frutillar.
There are only two daily buses that connect Puerto Varas and Pucon directly. Otherwise, you’ll have to make a connection in Temuco.