The town with the pretty red church by the lake: Puerto Varas, Chile
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We loved this little town in Chile’s lake district. Heavily influenced by German immigration, the architecture has a lovely quaint feel to it. We only stayed in Puerto Varas for a few hours, but that was probably enough. It’s a little touristy and more expensive that other nearby towns, but the overall pleasantness of the place makes that entirely bearable. Unfortunately on the day we visited there were clouds covering the Osorno volcano, but on a clear day you should be able to see it standing proudly on the other side of the lake.
How to pronounce Puerto Varas: Pwer-toh BAH-rass
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This is usually top of people’s list of Puerto Varas things to do. It sits a few blocks up the hill, away from the centre of town. Disappointingly, when we turned up at the famous white and red church German-style Iglesia Sagrado Corazon de Jesus, it didn’t look much like the classic photos as many buildings had since been built between the church and the lake, obscuring the view. Perhaps there are some camera angling tricks involved – we spotted an observation point in one of the larger hotels further up the hill which may have had the advantage of blocking out the newer buildings. However, if you take this out of account, the church itself is a beautiful piece of architecture, inside and out, and the surrounding gardens are lovely.
2. Experience life on the lakefront
For us, the beauty in this peaceful town was its cosy coffee shops and restaurants (we recommend Cassis Cafe for excellent pizza and ice cream, plus proper coffee). Warning, these establishments are a little pricey, but it’s worth it once you’re sipping espresso with views of the Llanquihue Lake and Osorno Volcano in front of you. There are many interesting cafés and restaurants to choose from along the water’s edge.
3. Learn a little in the museums
Puerto Varas is home to two very interesting musuems. The first is Museo Antonio Felmer, which takes you back in time to the days when Chile was under the colonial rule of the Spanish, but the area was changing rapidly due to an influx of immigrants from Germany. You’ll be able to walk around plenty of 19th century artefacts to get an insight into their lives – best done with one of the guides that work there. It’s a must of the Puerto Varas things to do. The Museo Antonio Felmer doesn’t open until 11am and shuts at 6pm on weekdays with a 2-hour siesta closure from 2. Friday to Sunday, it’s open all the way till 8pm. The museum is closed on Mondays. If you like this, you may also consider a half-day trip up to Frutillar to see the German house, Museo Colonial Alemán, there.
Another Puerto Varas museum worth having a gander of is Museo Pablo Fierro, which is an Aladdin’s cave of interesting art pieces and objects from previous lives. It’s a house full of charm and wonder. Touching the pieces is encouraged, and if you’re lucky, Pablo Fierro himself will be there to tell you all about his eclectic collection. This museum is open 11am-7pm every day, and entry is free.
4. Enjoy the surrounding nature
For the hikers reading this, there are several hikes to do around the Puerto Varas area. These include Volcán Osorno itself (on which you can also ski in winter) and Cerro Philippi, which gives great views over the lake and town. For those less adventurous, a 0.5 miles from the pier is a viewpoint called Mirador La Puntilla – or at very least a walk to the end of the pier is a must! You can hire kayaks to take out on the lake on a nice day.
Puerto Varas is a day trip away from the stunning Petrohué Falls, a river that flows over a bed of old lava rock in the shadow of the mighty Volcán Osorno. You can take the Ensenada bus from San Bernardo St. with Walker Martinez in town to get there. Also is Ensenada is a sandy beach, which is a solid choice on a sunny day.
Where to stay in Puerto Varas
As mentioned previously, we didn’t stay in the town, we just visited as a day trip from Puerto Montt. If we were to stay in Puerto Varas, however, we would have looked at getting a reasonably-priced room in Casa Apel Hostel – just look at how plush those beds are!
Getting the bus from Puerto Varas to nearby towns
If you’re staying in another town and want to head home, there’s no particular bus stop for the colectivos, you just have to look like you’re waiting and/or look like a gringo and a bus driver will pull up and shout to see if you’re going to the same place as him. This system actually works very smoothly! There are plenty of connections to nearby towns, such as Osorno, Puerto Montt and Ensenada.