I took the four-day, three-night Navimag ferry from Puerto Natales in the heart of Patagonia north to the coastal town of Puerto Montt. The destination city isn’t known for much, but worth a walk around if you have the time between busses. A new friend from the ferry, Leon, and I walked over to the mercado where we wandered through aisles offering fresh-off-the-boat fish and bowls of ceviche. Unable to resist, we stopped at a restaurant and went big by ordering the ‘jardin del mar’: crab dip, oysters, lobster, scallops and a few other types of seafood we couldn’t quite name. It was heavenly—especially after four days of cafeteria style dining on the ferry. A few hours later we walked back to the bus station and split ways, glad to have shared a great memory in such a mundane place.
I was headed to the nearby Puerto Varas—a short 30-minute drive with much more to offer. Local busses leave the Puerto Montt bus terminal every 10-minutes, so I hopped on the first one I could and navigated my way to the hostel that I booked prior to leaving on the ferry. The first night at Margouya Patagonia was an embarrassing amount of computer time, as I was finally reconnected after some time apart. I contacted a local tour company, Ko’Kayak, about either sea kayaking or white water rafting and decided to book a spot on its half-day rafting tour the next day. They forgot to pick me up at 8 a.m. so instead went at 2 p.m., but that just meant I was able to wander around the heavily German-influenced town instead. I followed a walking trail the hostel gave me that took me around historic houses and points of interest, as well as a small park with a view of the two volcanoes and lake. Rafting on Petrohue that afternoon was an absolute blast, opening me up to yet another new activity I had never tried and want to do again.
My second full day consisted of me trying to get funds via Western Union, which never worked and forced me to wait until I got to Puerto Montt the next day. After that piece of the puzzle, I headed to the nearby National Parque Vincente Rosales for a hike. This was another hostel-recommended activity and supposedly the only hike I could do unguided (not true, but I was okay with going with the norm this time). I caught the bus at the unmarked local bus station, going in the same direction as Petrohue and Lago de los Tres Santos. The five-hour trek took me along the lake, through valleys and a close distance to Volcan Osorno. The terrain consisted mainly of sand, which meant extra work on the legs, but all in all a good day. On the way back, I hopped off the bus mid-way at the Saltos del Petrohue, a waterfall, along with all of the other tourists. It was a short stint there, but I stopped and read along the rapids that I had rafted on the day prior and admired the natural beauty all around.
Where I Stayed: Margouya Patagonia
– Hands down one of the best hostels I’ve stayed at. Puerto Varas is so small it’d be hard to find something in a bad location, but it was the accommodation that blew me away. I stayed in the second of the two properties, a house just a block from the main base, in a four person dorm. Big beds, great kitchen, fast wi-fi and the most cozy of environments. Free tea and coffee all day and staff, some WorkAway, chock full with information.
This was my first destination post-WWOOFing and reintroduction into the modern world. Because I had no internet on the farm in Chiloe, I had no accommodation booked or activities planned. Arriving at 6 p.m., I found the tourist information booth in the bus terminal and asked about potential hostels. I was quite impressed as he gave me a map, great directions and a huge spreadsheet of options complete with names, addresses and prices. I embarked out to find the most hostel-populated street and eventually walked into Hostel Totem. Partially accepting defeat, I accepted the outrageous $48 rate for a private room with a private bathroom and included breakfast. (I just spent two weeks on a farm without spending a cent… I deserved a little splurge, right?)
My granola bar lunch on the bus wasn’t cutting it, so I left in search of a great meal with a few ingredients I had been missing the past two weeks while volunteering—alcohol included. I couldn’t find much around downtown, so I stopped a couple on the street to ask for a recommendation. They led me to La Ultima Frontera—a seemingly hidden gem across the street from a church and shaded by a few large trees. It was phenomenal and completely my kind of vibe: artsy fartsy, laid back crowd and great food. I scarfed down a giant beef asado sandwich and a pint of local brew before going back to FaceTime with the parentals.
I spent the entire next day exploring the city (after finding a new, much cheaper hostel, Hostel Bosque Nativo) and purchased my bus ticket to Pucon for the next day). I started downtown again, not nearly as bustling at dinner-time, but still lovely in the sunny weather. One of the main attractions is the market, per usual, so I meandered through there (interesting to see products I just encountered while on the farm) and walked over the bridge to a few museums. I saw a flyer for a documentary at the local university that night, so I walked some more, took a rest at the hostel before heading back out for a beer at El Growler.
Where I Stayed: Hostel Totem, Hostel Bosque Nativo
– Hostel Totem is a good choice if you have the money. The place was clean and nice, although I’m sure there are better options out there. I would definitely recommend Hostel Bosque Nativo to any and all backpackers. Its log cabin style interior is super comfy and it has a strong association with environmental friendly stuff due to its history. A legitimate breakfast is included and the dorms were quite spacious, although I heard the showers weren’t the bees knees.
This place was on my radar since arriving in Bariloche, Argentina in late January, so I knew I wanted to spend some time here. I only stayed for four nights, but could have stayed forever. I was immediately welcomed by a gorgeous sunset over one of the two lakes, which didn’t hurt. Definitely an adventure-tourism focused town, it still has its charm and offers everything from strenuous volcano trekking to calm kayaking.
What I Did—
Volcan Villarrica: Definitely the No. 1 activity in Pucon and for good reason. I booked my trip through my hostel for $75,000 pesos (cheaper than any other option I found) and was set to summit two days after arriving. After a short and sweet informational session at 8 p.m. the night before, we started at 6:30 a.m. by gearing up with a provided backpack, helmet, boots, pants, a jacket, crampons, an ice pick, a gas mask and more. It was a short 45-minute drive to the base of the mountain, where you had the option to take a chair lift or start the hike. Every blog I read said TAKE THE CHAIRLIFT. So I did. I was already feeling the aftermath of the six-hour hike the day prior, so I wasn’t taking any chances. (One guy walked and decided to call it quits halfway up the volcano. A.K.A. TAKE THE CHAIRLIFT. Save your energy for the real stuff.) It took around four hours of climbing to get to the top, with plenty of breaks along the way for our 10-person group. Every company takes their group up at the same exact time, so it was a slow pace with constant traffic jams. We started on rocky terrain, stopped to attach our crampons for our ascent on the glacier and climbed over boulders to set down our packs a short 15 minutes from the crater itself. Gas masks around our necks and ice picks in hand, we summited the volcano, immediately hit with the toxic gasses emitting from within. It was something I had never experienced before and honestly a bit terrifying to feel the gas in my throat, restricting my breathing. We only had five minutes at the top, either for the toxicity or allowance for other groups or both. So surreal to be on top of one of the most active volcanoes in South America—and the view from up there of the surrounding land was absolutely immaculate.
Work hard, play hard. Instead of hiking back down all 2,850 meters, we slid. Slid on the freshly snowed, sometimes icy hard glacier—down, down, down with laughs, shouts and giggles along the way. Outfitted with our provided pants and jacket, we also had a plastic slide that attached to our “diaper” to improve sliding conditions. We all looked ridiculous, which only added to the fun. Some routes were “sin plastic” and others “con plastic,” where you shoved the plastic shield between your legs (ouch), to give you an extra boost. I transported back to my eight-year-old self during those timeless minutes and absolutely relished it.
I cannot recommend this enough. It’s a long, intense day, but an experience you will never forget and worth every cent.
Kayaking on Lago Villarrica: After two days of hiking, I needed to give my legs a rest. Enter: arm day! I rented the kayak from my hostel for a measly $5,000 pesos and embarked on the nearby lake. I took some snacks and an empanada for lunch and headed out on my own. I admired the volcano in the distance, still in disbelief that I had climbed it the day prior. An hour and a half later, around the bend, I found a beach and stopped off for some sun bathing. I had the place to myself for a good 30 minutes before a couple joined, but it was still a perfect hour soaking in the rays.
El Cani Sanctuary: I chose El Cani over the national park, and I’m glad I did. I invited my bunk-mate to come with me, so we woke up bight and early for the 8:30 a.m. bus. (The next one is at 10 a.m. and we didn’t want to get there too late for a six hour hike.) But we weren’t prepared after making the late night decision and needed a lunch. Nothing was open that early, except for a tiny stand where we bought a piece of multi fruit strudel and a ham, cheese and avocado sandwich for $3 from the nicest of ladies. Rushing off, we waited for the bus, saw everyone jump on the one for the national park and enjoyed our solo ride to El Cani. Check in at the little house and pay the $4,000 peso charge to receive one of the best maps you’ll ever receive for a South American hike. It’s a privately run sanctuary that most people skip out on, but we enjoyed every minute of our uphill hike to the mirador. Crossing through different types of terrain, we reached our destination to see four volcanoes, a few lakes and a view for the senses. We ended up running down, thanks to the steep route, and got down at 4 p.m., a wee bit early for the 4:30 p.m. bus so we enjoyed a juice at a nearby restaurant before missing the bus, ending up hitchhiking our way back to Pucon.
“Secret” Waterfall, Salto el Claro: A “hidden treasure” according to my hostel, this was a good half day activity before I caught the night bus to Santiago. I snapped a photo of the laminated hand drawn map at the hostel’s reception desk before embarking on the hour and a half walk to this magical waterfall. A friend had done it a few weeks prior and told me that the first hour was boring, walking directly along a main road—which it was. But eventually you wander up a dirt road, along farmland and back into the forest. Marked trees guide you down into the unbelievable, wonderful hang out spot. The waterfall, the rounded alcove and relaxing natural sounds are worth the not-so-great walk.
– 10/10. 5 stars. One of my Top 3 Hostels. The most cozy of atmospheres, complete with a dog and cat, incredibly helpful staff (including WorkAway volunteers) and every piece of information you could ask for. I stayed in the 8-person dorm, which was spacious (minus the somewhat rickety bunks) and included lockers big enough for your entire pack. Good showers, perfect outdoor and indoor seating areas and a big clothesline for drying. Also, a good map with all the best restaurants. Great place to meet people as well thanks to its size and set-up. If you can’t get a bed there, go anyway just to see it and get information. (Another recommendation is its sister hostel, Chili Kiwi.)