31 hours of travel from Lima: taxi, plane, packed Santiago airport bus, subway, overnight bus, minibus and we arrived in the charming town of Puerto Varas, Chile. This German-influenced town surprised us with delicious baked goods (kuchen!), beautiful snow-capped volcanoes and horrible massive biting horseflies! Two out of three ain’t bad…
We decided to make this town our first stop in Chile and were not disappointed. A few days at a cozy B&B and a climb up the hill for a look at the town left us wondering, “What else is around here?”
We decided to check out the Saltos Del Petrohué, saltos meaning ‘waterfalls’, and took the local bus about 90 minutes out of town. A very stuffed minibus! 18 seats and we counted 42 people on board! Not surprisingly it was cheap. A short walk off the bus and we were treated to one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. The Rio Petrohué is a beautiful, clear turquoise and with the backdrop of the volcano…wow!
However, we weren’t without company. There were, of course, other tourists, but the more annoying presence was the swarms of horseflies, the likes of which I have never seen. And I’m from Maine, I’ve seen me some horseflies… Gregor called them ‘Satan’s little Airforce’. So, please enjoy these pictures from the comfort of your fly-free home.
We wanted a closer look at this volcano and there was a trail we could take a little way down the road, so off we trotted, arms flailing while asking ourselves how much of this fly madness we could take. We figured we could turn around if we couldn’t take it anymore, so when we finally found the trail in a heavily wooded area, we breathed an audible sigh of relief when we realized the flies did not follow us into the woods! Hooray! About 5k of fly-free bliss later we encountered a clearing where we got a great view of the volcano with the downside of it being in an open area with flies. (Oh please don’t let all of Patagonia have these horrible creatures!) Getting a great arm workout swatting our bamboo shoots around our head I’m convinced we could have had an 800 or so batting average against a farm team. We retreated back into the safety of the thick brush and all in all considered ourselves lucky to have been able to see such great scenery.
After that hike we were even more smitten with the town when we found a little festival with microbrews and extra large hot dogs that they call Super Ponchos! Also, it was at the train station which made it even cuter.
From Puerto Varas we took a 9 hour bus across the border to San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, also situated on a lake, winding our way through some impressive moonscape-style land, poking each other every few minutes in our cushy first class bus chairs, “Did you see that snow-capped mountain over there?!” We are getting pretty good at bus riding, which I think is a good thing since it’s hard to get around Patagonia any other way if you want to see some of the off the beaten path stuff. Also, the first class tickets are cheap and are like big easy chairs so we’ve been treating ourselves to those. So our 9 hour bus ride was no big deal and we arrived to Bariloche which unfortunately we found much less charming than Puerto Varas.
This area of the world is not so cheap to travel in. We knew this ahead of time but still experienced sticker shock when we arrived – it’s pretty much on par with Europe and the US. Puerto Varas was nice but now we were in Bariloche. While it does have its nice aspects (mainly the surrounding scenery), for us Bariloche itself is super touristy, a bit ugly, and way overpriced. We gave up on finding a decent meal and ate cold cuts in our room for a couple dinners.
There are many hiking options around Bariloche, which is why we chose it. There are several “refugios” in the parks, which are very basic lodging options that you can eat and camp at while doing some multi-day treks. They all require you to have a sleeping bag at the very least, so while we could have rented equipment and done this, there were plenty of day hikes that we wanted to do so we picked two and did them consecutively.
Hike #1 – Catedral and Refugio Frey
Take the local bus an hour or so to the base of the mountain. Plan is to hike about 6 miles up to Refugio Frey, have lunch, and then hike back down to catch the bus back to Bariloche. The local bus was easy and a little outside of town we picked up 20 or so middle school kids that were all decked out in hiking gear and cute scout kerchiefs.
[As we arrived to the start of the hike] Me: “Hey look, a chair lift!”
Gregor: “Yeah, people take that up, but we’re not going to do that.”
So we start winding our way up to the refugio, taking it fairly easy. Most of the hike was very flat, the last third or so was a bit steeper, but not too bad. We got ahead of the scouts, Gregor said it would be good to get up and get lunch before they got there and he hoped we could beat them. I told him that kids are pretty slow. The hike was supposed to take 3 hours 45 minutes. We did it in under 3!
At the top we enjoyed a pizza and the view for an hour or so and started to hike back down. We had just gotten down the steep part when we met the scouts still on their way up, looking a bit tired. Haha!
Hike #2 – Glaciar Castaño Overo, Cerro Tronador
The bus to get to this hike was 2.5 hours, most of it on dusty dirt roads. Making this a day trip meant 5 hours on a bus, but that’s Patagonia! We make sure we are well-armed with podcasts and kindles.
We were dropped off in front of a lodge where you could see a large, sloping clifftop glacier and we were promised waterfalls at the end of our 5 mile hike.
The hike was easy, especially compared with the day before and we were not disappointed by the view! We sat there and enjoyed a jar of pickled eggplant on crackers and watched the waterfalls cascading down the sheer rock face as the bright blue glacier melted in the Patagonian summer sun.
We hiked back with plenty of time to catch the bus back to town and enjoyed a beer and the glacier from afar. What a lovely day.
Next we go back to Chile, you guessed it, on a bus! Until next time 🙂
Specifics: there are a wealth of bus options to get from Santiago down to Puerto Montt which is Chile’s gateway to Northern Patagonia; it’s a lot cheaper than flying and is a comfortable overnight trip. From Puerto Montt the local minibuses are great for getting to the nearby towns and sights. To go from Puerto Varas to Bariloche we took an Andesmar bus up through Osorno and across the border at Paso Cardenal Antonio Samoré. It’s a really long ride when you consider how far you’re actually going (not far) but the scenery is great.
Bariloche has a good public bus system so it’s easy to get around there as well, although you need a “SUBE” card to ride it, which requires Argentinian pesos to fill up, and there is no ATM at the bus terminal. So we walked the few km into town. Don’t have much great to say about anything in Bariloche other than the Club Andino Bariloche: this is the group that runs the refugios in the mountains, and they were really friendly and helpful. To get to Tronador (our second hike) you have to take a ‘transfer’ – aka tourist-specific minibus – which leaves daily from the club.