Lakeland Odyssey – Chillán to Chiloé
Best for: hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, Mapuche culture, camping
Route: Chillán – Temuco – Pucón – Valdivia – Frutillar – Puerto Varas – Puerto Montt – Chiloé
When to go? Shoulder season (Oct-Nov and Mar-Apr), when it’s mild but not overly busy. Check on volcanic activity before booking.
This latitude boasts some of the most remarkable and visitor-friendly sites in all Chile. Explore a string of impressive volcanoes (Osorno, Villarrica and Lanin are stunners); more than a dozen national parks with trails and conditions perfect for hiking and camping; several beautiful lakes; and plenty of native Mapuche culture – southern South America’s one surviving indigenous group.
Chillán is familiar to locals as a ski resort, but it’s also the terminus of the country’s one extant inter-city railway. From here it’s an easy drive down the Panamerican to Temuco, formerly a frontier town between European and Mapuche Chile. It was also once home to two Nobel Prize-winning authors: Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda – the latter of whom once declared the town Chile’s ‘Wild West’.
South of Temuco, be sure to detour into the forested foothills of the Andes if you’re driving. From here the route zigzags as it skirts the superb parks of Villarrica – where Pucón NP is a major adventure tourism hub – and Vicente Pérez Rosales. Camping is excellent around the lakes, and there’s a good variety of lodgings, places to eat and services around Puerto Varas and Frutillar.
The journey ends in the salmon-cultivating city of Puerto Montt, from where ferries leave for Chiloé, a rain-prone but fascinating island with its own native and post-colonial history and some good campsites.