The Chilean Lake Region


There are numerous lakes within the Chilean Lake Region, however there are 8 that are considered to be “large” that are geographically placed, north to south, in an almost vertical line from close to Temuco, down to Puerto Montt.

Temuco is 676km south from Santiago, and Puerto Montt is 1,025km south of Santiago, therefore the Lake Region that we will be covering below covers around 349km of vertical territory. There are also numerous, smaller lakes located close to the larger lakes and then even more lakes in other locations at higher altitude.

It is also possible to link the lake region of Chile with the lake region of Argentina, and we will talk about that further below.

Not all the lakes have a “lake ring road” that encircles the lake. Two lakes have paved roads that go all the way around, these are Lago Ranco and Lago LLanquihue (pronounced “yan-kee-way”). A few others have road networks that almost connect the full perimeter of the lake, often involving challenging, unpaved sectors, and the others have a southern or northern lake shore road.

Some lakes are still very undeveloped and maintain their “natural” state with little, or no settlements to speak of. In these places there may be some holiday cabins to stay at and / or Chileans may have quite large holiday homes in small patches.

In addition to the lakes there are also a number of National Parks and national Reserves, all packed with beautiful and stunning scenery.

Note: ExperienceChile.Org can arrange self-drive itineraries on Chiloe Island or private transfers to and from the Island. We can also include a fully all-inclusive program.

Click on map for larger image

Pucon and Puerto Varas

Considering how many lakes there are, we are going to talk more about the “principal” lakes and two lake-side villages, in particular, that have decent accommodation options, and which are also the key lake destinations for visitors.

These two lake-side villages are:

Pucon, which borders Lago Villarrica and Puerto Varas, which borders Lago Llanquihue (pronounced “yan-kee-way”).

Pucon is a mainstay on most lake region itineraries and Puerto Varas acts as a great logistical stop off as an end or start point to pass through the Chilean Lake system, or to start or end a trip along the Carretera Austral or to go over to Chiloe Island.

We will also mention about Termas de Puyehue - a large, good level, heath spa close to the lake of the same name.

Why Come to the Chilean Lake Region?

For some, a lake region can be a “quiet”, perhaps “boring” place. And, the Chilean Lake Region, like other areas full of lakes, can be considered “tranquil”, but that is where the similarity ends.

However, that is because, unlike, say, a lake region in Sweden, or the UK, the Chilean Lake Region is dramatic, and “very alive”, it offers outstanding, jaw-dropping, stunning scenery together with of many options for activities.


There are, in many locations in the Chilean Lake Region, stunningly formed, conical volcanoes, some active and some you can climb; there are also thundering rivers coming down from on high feeding the lakes, and rivers that can be navigated by a rubber raft. Then there are also rivers that are so blue in colour that it does not appear believable, but the colour is real.


There are naturally-fed, volcanically-heated, thermal hot springs, where you can bathe in warm to hot water, and benefit from the natural minerals in the water and then, on top of all that, there are the trekking options through the native forests in one of the most wonderfully, natural scenic areas on Earth.

Plus, of course, the water-borne activities such as swimming, sailing, kayaking on various lakes, and superb fly fishing. Infact, there is good fly fishing throughout the Chilean Lake Region and Patagonia.

In the forests there is zip wire, or canopy as it is called in these parts where you can travel, like a special force’s commando from tree-to-tree across ravines and rivers.

Then there is the clean air and natural calmness that a large area of water surrounded by nature emits.

All, in all, the Chilean Lake Region is an amazing mix of stunning landscapes, jaw-dropping beauty and an area full of activity options and, on top of that, there is, of course, the ability to relax in a tranquil part of the world.

The Seven Lakes

There is now a drivable route linking together seven lakes in the Chilean Lake Region. We are not about to explain how this should be done, but most of the lakes we will be mentioning below are within the seven lakes route.

However, what we can do, is to create a self-drive itinerary that enables you to stay over at the key places in the Lake Region and then drive around the lakes following the seven lakes route.

The Principal, Larger Lakes in the Chilean Lake Region

Here we will mention the larger lakes in an order running from north to south. One point of note is that northern Chile is within the tropical sector of the planet (Arica, in the far north, is above the line of Capricorn) and consequently, as one travels further south in Chile, the climate and temperatures cool off. It should be no surprise then, to discover that the water temperature of the lakes also becomes a little lower in temperature as you go from the northern lake(s) down to the southern-located lakes.

Lago Villarrica (for Pucon)

  • Main Villages: Western Shore – Villarrica / Eastern Shore – Pucon
  • Nearby National Parks: Villarrica, Huerquehue, plus three nearby Reserves and if you have the time, further north is National Park Conguillo.
  • Nearest Airport: Temuco 676km south from Santiago / Pucon Airport for flights on certain days during the summer months.
  • Flight time to Temuco 1.5hrs approx.
  • Drive time from Santiago to Temuco: 8hrs approx.
  • Drive time from Santiago to Pucon: 9hrs approx.

Brief Description

Lago Villarrica is the most frequented lake of the lake region. It is where Pucon is located, at the eastern end. The lake is about 30km long and around 5km wide. Pucon is 27km east of Villarrica.

With regards to visitors from outside of Chile, who come to the Chilean Lake Region, the target destination is usually Pucon.


Stand Out Places & Activities:

Termas de Huiffe, Termas Geométrica, Climbing Villarrica Volcano, Rafting, Fly Fishing, Trekking

Pucon is almost unique in Chile. It is very much like a small mountain village, in the style that you may find in North America and totally unlike any other village in Chile. It has that “mountain lodge” style in the streets and offers a few boutique-like small shops, warm and cosy cafeterias, and some decent restaurants. There is also a kind of good feeling “vibe” in and around Pucon.

Pucon also has a large, black-sand beach, from where there is sailing, swimming, jet skiing and paragliding, and all around is surrounded by stunning scenery. On one side are steep sided, forested mountains that resemble the kind of scenery more akin to somewhere in Thailand or elsewhere in South-East Asia, then behind the village is the impressive Villarrica, snow-covered, perfectly conical, active volcano, whereupon at the lower levels are covered by large, native forests. There is also a ski centre halfway up.

In short it is in a stunning location, and also a main place for outdoor activities.

Things to See and Do from Pucon

To begin with there is the National Park Villarrica, which encompasses the Villarrica Volcano and most of the area around it.

Pucon is a base from which to participate in white-water rafting, zip wire, horse riding, trekking, skiing (winter months on the volcano), kayaking, trekking, climb the volcano, fishing, bathe in hot springs as well as plain relaxing. There is also an incredibly interesting, large, long and deep volcanic cave to explore, located about a quarter of the way up the volcano road. And, finally, for now, there is a wonderful panoramic view that offers incredible sights for exceptionally long distances from the ski station, halfway up the volcano.

As great as Pucon is, the only negative is that because it such a wonderful place, it has become popular and during the Chilean summer months of January and February when it can be a little “crowded” in the village as well as traffic build up on the local roads. However, if you let us (ExperienceChile.Org) select the right hotel for your stay, we can arrange things so you will not be affected so much by this scenario.

In addition to letting us include the right hotel for your stay, each of the partner hotels we work with offers a uniquely different experience, which, in itself, will be worthwhile even if you do not wish to venture out.

Accommodation in and Around the Pucon Area

Lago Calafquen

  • Main Villages: Northern Shore – Lican Ray
  • Nearest Airport: Temuco 676km south from Santiago.
  • Nearby National Parks: Villarrica.
  • Flight time to Temuco 1.5hrs approx.
  • Drive time from Santiago to Temuco: 8hrs approx.
  • Drive time from Santiago to Lican Ray: 10hrs approx.

Brief Description

The Calafquen lake is the next one down in the chain from Lago Villarrica. Here, on the western corner is the small village of Lican Ray. This is much more of a residential village than a touristic village like Pucon.

Lican Ray is 53km, by road southwest from Pucon and 26km almost directly south from Villarrica. It is, effectively, the other side of the Villarrica volcano to Pucon.

The lake is bordered on all sides by lush-green forested vegetation. From Lican Ray is it about 30km to the Termas Geometricas by way of following the northern side of the lake along a paved road for 21 km to Coñaripe and from here head up the final 9km or so to the termas.

Lago Panguipulli

  • Main Villages: Northern Shore – Panguipulli
  • Nearest Airport:
  • Temuco 676km south of Santiago / or Valdivia 841km south of Santiago.
  • Nearby National Reserves: Huilo Huilo
  • Flight time to Temuco 1.5hrs approx.
  • Flight time to Valdivia 1.30hrs approx.
  • Drive time from Santiago to Temuco: 8hrs approx.
  • Drive time from Santiago to Panguipulli: 12hrs approx.

Brief Description

Stand Out Places: Huilo Huilo

The village of Panguipulli is, by road from Villarrica 52km south. A short stretch of the route takes in a side of the Lago Calafquen from high up and the view of the lake as well as to Villarrica Volcano is spectacular on a clear day.

Panguipulli village, like Lican Ray, is a residential place and not as strong a tourist destination as Pucon. It is a rustic village and has a charm to it.

From Panguipulli, if you head east along the northern lake-side road for about 47km you will come to a mountain village called Choshuenco. Considering that when you head east, in Chile, you will eventually hit the Andes mountains, and here is no exception. The scenery along this route is beautiful, lake and forested mountain territory, like being maybe Canada, or the Alps, it has that kind of feel to it. Choshuenco is a very “authentic” rustic, quiet, rural village that birders the lake. From here, along an unpaved road it is 16km, heading up, to a tiny settlement called Puerto Fuy (more on Puerto Fuy further below), passing on the way the Huilo-Huilo resort.

Huilo Huilo

This area is very interesting. For one, about 5km BEFORE reaching Puerto Fuy is the “fantasy, children’s story book place” called Huilo Huilo.

Huilo Huilo is an inspiring, creative, and unique concept comprising of hotels within buildings that are made to look like trees, mushrooms and wood-fairy houses. The story here is that the owner was (and still could be) a “logger”. In other words, he made his business, and money, from cutting down beautiful, native trees. However, he had a “brain wave” to get into “eco-tourism” by way of building structures (by the way, native forest had to be felled prior to the construction of the “Huilo-Huilo resort”) in the heart of the forest and therefore generate income from tourism and not depend on cutting down beautiful forest.

The experience of sleeping within a building that looks like a giant mushroom, or Baobab Tree on the outside, is a novel one, as is the first hotel they built that resembles something out of Hansel and Gretel with a waterfall cascading down the side of a “fairy house”. And, from here, it is possible to get to see natures marvels such as the raging Fuy river cascading down the Huilo-Huilo falls, the nearby volcano and enjoy being in “the forest”.

In the beginning the project really looked like it could be something fantastic, but unfortunately it has developed into a bit of a “Disney Land” in the woods and has become “popular” and not exclusive. There is also a brewery opposite the resort, and just what that has to do with this beautiful part of the World we do not understand.

Yes, Huilo-Huilo, will be liked by some people. If you feel that you wish to include Huilo-Huilo in your itinerary we will be pleased to make that happen, but you will need to let us know because we do not automatically have Huilo-Huilo down as one of our partner hotels. It is, however, a unique place and worth a visit if you are in the area.

Puerto Fuy (for crossing over to Argentina)

Back to the tiny village of Puerto Fuy. This is basically a place to come to for a snack and coffee or to take the ferry that will then navigate what must be one of the narrowest lakes in the World: Lago Pirihueico. This lake is at altitude of 586m, and stretches for various kms, but is only a few hundred metres wide.

There is a car and passenger ferry that navigates this lake between Puerto Fuy and Puerto Pirihueico at the other end, also in Chile. But a little further up the road, after disembarkation, is the Chilean frontier post, which is there because it is the border crossing into Argentina.


If you are on a self-drive, you would take this route to get to San Martin de Los Andes in Argentina, or perhaps even to Bariloche, or, of course, in reverse.

ExperienceChile.Org, as previously mentioned, we can arrange a self-drive itinerary that includes a drive route as mentioned above.

Lago Riñihue

  • Main Villages: Southern Shore – Riñihue
  • Nearest Airport: Valdivia 841km south of Santiago
  • Flight time to Valdivia 1.30hrs approx.
  • Drive time from Santiago to Riñihue: 12hrs approx.

Brief Description

Lago Riñihue does not have any population centres to mention, apart from a small, holiday, residential settlement of the same name at the southwestern corner, not accessible from the north side of the lake. To get to the settlement you need to head west towards the main RUTA 5, and at Los Lagos, just before the RUTA 5, you double back on another road.

It is a picturesque lake and in certain places there are cabins and some private homes. There is a paved road that comes down from Panguipulli on the northern side of the lake at the western end and then stops, literally! At this point there is an hotel, but this closed a few years ago. Supposedly there is a plan to build a bridge over the narrow river that comes out of the lake and once this is done there will be a paved, direct link to Riñihue.

Lago Ranco

  • Main Villages: Northern Shore – Futrono / Southern Shore – Lago Ranco
  • Nearest Airport: Valdivia 841km south of Santiago.
  • Flight time to Valdivia 1.30hrs approx.
  • Drive time from Santiago to Futrono: 12hrs approx.
  • Drive time from Santiago to Lago Ranco: 13hrs approx.

Brief Description

This lake is large and more circular than the others, with an island in the middle. On the northern shore there is a reasonable settlement called Futrono 56km south-east from Los Lagos, by the main RUTA 5, then, following the northern shore of the lake heading east for 23km there is a smaller village called Llifen.

On the southern shore of the lake is the village of the same name, Lago Ranco. This is a village surrounded by nice scenery and in one place you could be forgiven thinking that this is the Alps because the green, rolling hills and steep-sided mountains look like parts of the Alps.

If you have the desire this is a lake that you can drive around completely on a paved road. The total distance would be 122km.

At certain locations around the lake are large, private homes.

Accommodation in and Around the Lago Ranco Area

Among the numerous accommodation options there are a handful that stand out. We can, and will, of course, book any hotel you ask for, even if it is not one of our partners. Here, below, we offer links to the partner hotels we work with in the Lago Ranco area.

Lago Puyehue

  • Main Villages: Western Shore – Entre Lagos
  • Nearest Airport: Osorno 923km south of Santiago.
  • Nearby National Parks: Puyehue.
  • Flight time to Osorno 2hrs approx.
  • Drive time from Santiago to Entre Lagos: 13hrs approx.

Brief Description

Stand Out Places: Termas de Puyuhue

Lake Puyehue is the next one in the chain. This lake is not a main tourist destination, however, there is one particular place that is of interest, and this is a thermal, hot springs centre called Termas de Puyehue (more about that further below) as well as a route to a ski centre called Antillanca. In addition, the route from Ruta 5, east, is also a main road to the Argentine border and on to Bariloche.

To get here you take the paved road directly from Ruta 5, opposite Osorno city (but do not go into Osorno – not a particular interesting place). From Ruta 5, heading directly east the drive is 47km through nice countryside, to Entre Lagos, which a small settlement at the western end of Lake Puyehue. From Entre Lagos the road follows the southern shore of the lake to a place called Nilque, which is just a reference point. From Nilque it is around 10km or so up to the Termas de Puyehue and a further 12km to the ski centre of Antillanca.

Termas de Puyehue

These hot springs are part of a large complex focussed on “good health”. It is, in reality, a health spa, but unlike any one you have previously seen. The actual building is immense in size, like something that the Germans would have built to “make an impression”, and, indeed, in this part of Chile, as well as over the border in Bariloche, there are many buildings that were constructed by the Germans who settled in these parts after the Second World War. The exterior is formed from large; stone blocks and the main entrance is like a towering entrance to a cathedral.

You can stay over at Termas de Puyehue in a nice guest room, enjoy good food and then get a massage, mud bath and soak in modern, thermal water pools. Apart from that you can enjoy very clean, fresh air and walk through the woods.

Antillanca Ski Centre

The drive up to Antillanca, which is located on the side of a Volcano of the same name, is absolutely beautiful. The paved road passes through a forest of varied tree types and when driving the route when there is snow around it feels just like driving through a mountain forest in North America or the Alps.

The actual ski centre is a rustic place with an old-world charm.


This is the large Argentine city by a lake and a centre for lake and ski activities in Argentina. A number of clients like to traverse from Bariloche to Chile because it offers a good link between the key places of interest in each country.

If you are on a self-drive itinerary, or not (and you need transfers), we can arrange for you to get to Bariloche in Argentina from the Chilean lakes, or in reverse. Just ask.

Lago Rupanco

  • Main Villages: No significant populated village.
  • Nearest Airport:
  • Osorno 923km south of Santiago / or Puerto Montt 1,025km south of Santiago.

Brief Description

Perhaps the best way to describe this lake is that it is remote. There are no significant settlements around the lake, apart from some residential areas comprising large, private houses.

There is a direct, paved route to the western end of the lake from Entre Lagos.

Lago LLanquihue

  • Main Villages: South-Western Shore: Puerto Varas
  • Western Shore: Llanquihue, Frutillar and Puerto Octay.
  • Nearest Airport: Puerto Montt 1,025km south of Santiago.
  • Nearby National Parks: Vicente Perez Rosales.
  • Flight time to Puerto Montt 2.5hrs approx.
  • Drive time from Santiago to Puerto Varas 14hrs approx.

Brief Description

Stand Out Places: Osorno Volcano, Petrohue Waterfalls, Frutillar Village

This is the final, large lake, in the Chilean Lake Region chain. Around this lake there are several settlements and one, principal, tourist destination.

To get here you either fly into Puerto Montt from Santiago, or up from Punta Arenas, and then the drive to Puerto Varas, located on the southern tip of the lake, is 25km.

More than any other lake in the Chilean Lake Region Lago Llanquihue retains the most physical evidence from the early German settlers. Apart from the main population centre of Puerto Varas, around the lake there are numerous old, German-style houses from the era of when the settlers arrived, just after the end of World War II.

There are also numerous bed and breakfast and hotel options where one can stay if self-driving.

Like the Lake Ranco, it is possible to drive completely around Lake Llanquihue in a full circle. Therefore, if we assume that the drive route is “anticlockwise” and starting at Puerto Varas, the next settlement is Llanquihue. This is an authentic, Chilean, “rustic” village about 9km north from Puerto Varas, and not much here with regards to tourist interest.

Frutillar and the Teatro de Los Lagos

Next along the western shore is Frutillar. Here there are two Frutillar’s. One is called Frutillar Alto and the other is called Frutillar Bajo.


Frutillar Alto is not the place to see, this is a rather ordinary small, residential settlement located high up from the lake (hence the word “alto”). However, Frutillar Bajo is the place to see. You need to go through Frutillar Alto first, before driving downhill to Frutillar Bajo.

Frutillar bajo is on the lake shore and about 17km north from Llanquihue. Frutillar is an “original” German style village, styled by the German immigrants who settled here after World War II. It is “clean and ordered”, with a number of residential homes, cafes, cake and gift shops.

Teatro del Lago

It is also, amazingly, home to one of the best Operatic Theatres in the Southern Hemisphere, called Teatro del Lago” whereupon operatic and classical concerts are performed, usually in January and February attracting some of the best in the business. This building is modern, with large windows as well as being covered in places with a nice, wooden façade, and situated on its own pier.

Puerto Octay

Next up on our tour around Llanquihue lake is the village of Puerto Octay. This is 27km north from Frutillar, following the north-western side of the lake. The drive to Puerto Octay is through rural, rolling hill countryside, often where cows and sheep are grazing, with the occasional glimpse of the fantastic snow-topped Osorno Volcano to the right, the other side of the large lake.

Puerto Octay is a rustic settlement, when we say rustic, there are many wooden houses covered in traditional wooden tiles.

From here the road continues, around the north-eastern side of the lake and to the base of Osorno Volcano to a place called Ensenada which is 62km, by road, from Puerto Octay.

This stretch of road passes directly through remote, lake-side land totally on the other side of the lake from Puerto Varas.

Just before Ensenada, on the left, is the entrance to the road that then climbs up the Osorno Volcano and the ski centre. During the summer it is worth coming up here on a clear day to see the incredible, panoramic view.

At Ensenada there is only a rustic hotel.

Once past this hotel, if you turn left at the junction you will get to a place called Petrohue after 19km, which is at the western end of Lago Todos Los Santos as well as the entrance to the National Park called Vicente Perez Rosales. Just before arriving to Petrohue there is the Petrohue waterfalls on the right side, which, when the river is full, are very impressive with water thundering through channels in the rock, and then cascading down into the river below. On a clear day there is also a fine backdrop view of the conical, snow-covered Osorno Volcano.

However, if you turn right at the junction just after Ensenada Hotel, you will be following the final part of the circle that leads back to Puerto Varas, and the distance from this junction to Puerto Varas is 50km.

Therefore, the total road circumference of Lago Llanquihue is 165km.

Route to Bariloche in Argentina

There is a route from Puerto Varas to Bariloche in Argentina that goes over the Andes and involves a navigation on three lakes. It is a long day if you do not break it at Peulla, but very pretty.

Starting from Puerto Varas the transfer is by bus to the western end of the Lago Todo Los Santos (which is an emerald green in colour, on a sunny day), where the Petrohue hotel is located (just down from here), whereupon passengers will embark to a catamaran that then navigates the length of the lake to a place called Peulla located at the far eastern end of the lake. This is where there is a hotel and where passengers can overnight. If you stay overnight, or just have lunch at the hotel, the journey continues in another bus that passes up and over the Andes and through a forest, before coming down the other side and into Argentina. Here, there are two more lake navigations, the final one leading to Bariloche with a bus transfer to your final destination hotel.

This a very picturesque journey, albeit long, but serves also, as a good way to get from Chile across to Argentina, or vice-versa.

As a side note, there is an alternative of a road transfer all the way, but via another route.

ExperienceChile.Org will be pleased to incorporate the crossing between Puerto Varas to Bariloche (or vice-versa) into any itinerary that we are arranging for you. Please just ask.

Puerto Varas

This is a village similar to Pucon in size and feel. It is well populated and only 22km north from the larger, and very populated Puerto Montt.

The village of Puerto Varas is on the western shore of Llanquihue Lake and faces the conical, snow-covered Osorno Volcano – which is quite an impressive sight.

From Puerto Varas there are many activity options, such as white-water rafting, trekking, zip wire, visit to a native forest.

Puerto Varas is also the ideal place for logistics, and a lot nicer than staying over at Puerto Montt. For example, it serves as a stop over if you intend to explore the lake region south to north, or north to south. It is also a start or end point for the Carretera Austral and / or to go over to the island of Chiloe. In addition, it is also a start and / or end point for those going to, or coming back from, Torres del Paine or other places in Patagonia.

Accommodation in and Around the Puerto Varas Area

Among the numerous accommodation options there are a handful that stand out. We can, and will, of course, book any hotel you ask for, even if it is not one of our partners. Here, below, we offer links to the partner hotels we work with in the Puerto Varas area.

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