Puerto Varas, Chile and the Andes crossing to Argentina

Puerto Varas beach with views of volcanoes Osorno (left) and Calbuco (right)

It was about a 5 hour bus trip on JAC from Pucón to Puerto Varas. There were two main reasons we visited this lake resort town, 1) we heard from the locals in Pucón that it was a very nice place, some even liked it better than Pucón and 2) It was the gateway to the bus / boat lake crossing through the Andes; a trip that was supposed to be a beautiful way to get to Argentina (and, as it turned out, expensive).

Hotel Ignacia – view from room 5

After a climb of what felt like 1000 stairs, we checked into Hotel Boutique Ignacia Villoria, panting, where we’d booked a room for 2 nights. They gave us the keys to room 5 which was a cozy queen bed, corner room with a lovely lake view. We immediately asked the owner if we could stay an extra night, which he gladly agreed to for US dollars cash.

The first order of business was to get information about the land and lakes crossing to Bariloche, Argentina. We found the travel office for Cruceandino which the owner of the hotel directed us to and were told the crossing would be $295 per person. Ouch, more than a flight would cost. We thanked them for the information and found another travel agency that told us that the first one we visited had a “mon-oh-poh-lee” and that we had no other choice. After swallowing this news, we wandered around this lovely lakeside town, with it’s wood scalloped shingled homes, reminiscent of Nantuket, and had a “beef cordon blu” at the cozy, moderately priced Dane’s Cafe.

Kuchen Festival

The next two days were spent relaxing, Cynthia even got a run in. We walked the length of the beach, the “sand” of which ranges from golf ball sized pebbles to a fine gravel. Walking east, we stopped into “Shoper” a beer joint over looking the lake and volcano. At this point, when they gave us some pita slices drenched in garlic and olive oil, we realized the more expensive places, like in Pucón, seemed to give you a snack with your drink at no extra charge. We also happened to be in town for the Kuchen Fest where they have a cake contest and then give out thousands of free pieces of cake. We were lucky enough to score a really good piece of apple kuchen.

View of Puerto Varas from Mesa Tropera
View of Puerto Varas from Mesa Tropera

Culinary highlights of our time in town included lunch at the brewpub Mesa Tropera, decent beer and burgers at Patagonia Burger and a surprisingly good pizza at El Returno. We were glad we’d decided to stay an extra night because the weather was forecasted to be the best on Monday, so we also booked our tickets for the bus/boat lake crossing. They did some weird math and in the end, they charged our credit card in Chilean pesos an amount that converted to $304 per person. 

Saltos de Petrohué

At 8:15 Monday morning, we boarded the bus in front of the casino for the 1.5 hour ride to Petrohue. Along this way, we stopped to visit the Saltos de Petrohué, where the falls are expensive but the bathrooms are free and the hairdryers were “for hands only” – not sure what else you could possibly use them for as they weren’t even useful for drying hands. The falls were quite active and gave us great views of the Osorno volcano. Unfortunately we were plagued by inch long flies that we couldn’t shake so we were glad the trail was a short one.

Leaving Petrohue

A few minutes more on the bus and we reached Petrohue, where we boarded the first of our three boats for our trip over the Andes. It was a large catamaran and the 2 hour trip was very scenic including views of volcano Osorno and of a glacier high up on Mount Tronador.  Although we zipped along, those inch long flies followed us; seems you can’t outrun them with a boat either!

On the east end of Todos Los Santos Lake at the base of the mountains, we disembarked at the tiny resort village (only 2 hotels 50 feet from each other) of Puerto Peulla. We had a three hour “layover” there because they sold some of the passengers different tours like zip-lining (canopy as they call it here) and horseback riding. Some people were also going to stay overnight and others were being picked up to continue the previous day’s journey. We’d seen a waterfall on maps.me that was just outside the little village, so we opted to walk the 15 minutes to the village, then turned right and followed the Cascada signs (and zip lines) to the falls. There were 3 picnic tables at the falls, which were small but pretty.  We’d packed sandwiches for the crossing, so we sat and had lunch while we enjoyed the scenery, the giggles of some girls zip-lining above us, and marveled at the people who drank/filled there bottles from the waterfall. On our way back, we noticed the girls had to be lowered in a harness to the ground from 15 feet to complete the zip line tour. I wonder if they mentioned that in the brochure…

After lounging around a bit in the designated Hotel Natura, we boarded our second bus that took us through Chilean exit immigration, and drove us winding over the hills with a quick stop to get some pictures of Mount Tronador, an extinct volcano which stands about 3000 feet above the surrounding mountains. Continuing on, we again stopped for photo opts at the Argentine border, which was just sign posts in the middle of the forest. The borders between Chile and Argentina tend to be peaks of mountains so the border controls are generally miles into the countries in a more accessible location.

View of the Andes during Lake Nahuel Huapi crossing

At the next pier, we went through customs/immigration and boarded our next boat on Lake Frias. This was a smaller boat and a short ride (45 minutes) to a small bus and a short ride (15 minutes) to Puerto Blest. There we grabbed a drink from the counter, speaking some mix of Spanish and English to the girl behind the counter, who laughed at her own mixed responses and delightfully said “Spanglish!” and waited for our last boat to Bariloche. The boat crossing was about 1.5 hours to the ferry port of Bariloche. The cruise had some spectacular views of the Andes as we were cruising across Lake Nahuel Huapi and there were sections where the temperature plummeted dramatically as you went over deeper parts of the lake. One last 45 minute bus ride had us in Bariloche…. Tired but what an amazing trip, 3 boats and 4 buses, about 12-13 hours door to door. 

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