First stop Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales is…hmmm, let’s just say you wouldn’t visit the little, rundown town if it wasn’t for the nearby National Park and the ‘W’ trek.
The place has a shabby backpacker vibe and there’s not much do in and around town.
Before we reached Puerto Natales we had already decided not to do the five day ‘W’ trek because of money. With accommodation (refugios) and food etc it would have cost just under £700 for the two of us. Plus a lot of the scenery is said to be similar to the trekking in El Chalten.
We could have saved money camping, but we don’t have a good history with camping. Let’s just say we’re city people who can easily be outsmarted by the complexities of erecting a tent. That or we simply lack the inclination!
So we did a day tour of Torres Del Pine instead.
It was beautiful, of course; mountains, lakes, a cave, a glacier and acres of yellow-green land. I did sort of wish I was doing the longer trek, particularly because I think we would have seen lots of wildlife. On the day tour alone we saw Llamas, birds of prey and a fox. However, the wind was so strong I was quite glad I didn’t have to spend hours trekking in it.
A scenic flight over the Andes took us to our next destination – the port town of Puerto Montt.
Puerto Montt sort of reminded me a bit of a trip I once took as teenager to Norfolk with my mum and Nan. Norfolk was so cold, miserable and boring we left after two nights even though we’d paid for seven.
Puerto Montt isn’t quite that bad, but it’s not that great either.
It’s cold, small, there’s nowhere good to eat (apart from the fish market) and there’s not much to do in town. On the seafront there’s a monstrosity of a statue of two lovers looking out to the ocean. It may just be me but he vibes I was getting from Puerto Montt certainly weren’t of the romantic variety…
The local fish market is a treat, however. We bought fresh crab and salmon ceviche and tons of giant mussels and clams to cook for dinner in our Airbnb.
Another port town 25 mins from Puerto Montt, Puerto Varas is Puerto Montt’s upmarket and much more popular neighbour. In fact, we were told that the real estate in the area is highly sought after by Chilenos and this is visible by the many new apartment developments that can be spotted around town.
From almost anywhere in town on a clear day you can see the snow-capped volcano Puerto Varas is famous for. The town and the volcano are separated by a huge scenic lake that is suitable for swimming in summer.
Puerto Varas is a German colony town. The town was founded in 1853 by German settlers as part of government colonisation project. The government invited the Germans over because they wanted to increase the country’s population. Consequently, German houses can be found all around town, still in fine condition despite being built over a century ago.
We visited the Osorno volcano on a day tour. The clouds were particularly low that day so when we reached the base camp of the volcano all that was visible below were light fluffy clouds.
Chile apparently has 15% of the world’s volcanoes and is the world’s second supplier of salmon, mostly from this region.
I’m really impressed with Chile so far, mostly the food, which is garlicky and spicy, and for the people who are very friendly and welcoming.
What to do: In Puerto Varas we did our tour with Tour de Chile (£25pp), the office of which can be found easily in town. I highly recommend this tour – the guide was particularly friendly and informative with great English. There are loads of other things you can do in and around Puerto Varas, such as white water rafting and zip-lining. Find more info here.
Travel: We arrived in Puerto Natales on a six-hour bus journey from El Calafate. I can’t remember the price but it was very reasonable. We then took a plane from Puerto Arenas (an hour from Puerto Natales) to Puerto Montt and from there a local bus to Puerto Varas, only 25 minutes away.
Food: In Puerto Varas the best food came from the food trucks in the middle of the town – ceviche, raw beef on toast, bratwurst sausages and smoked trout sandwiches all cheap and freshly prepared.
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