Lake District – Chile and Argentina
In May this year, I wrote two posts – Santiago – a city of painted crosses, and Valparaiso – a city where creativity is everywhere – on my South America trip in November 2017. Today’s post is a continuation of that series. If you are planning a trip to you Chile, you might find some of the information useful.
After spending three days in Santiago and two days in Valparaiso, we took a flight from Santiago to Puerto Montt. From north to south, Chile extends for 4276 kilometers. Although there are buses available on many routes, most of the time you will be catching flights to cover that kind of distance.
We are were planning to stay at Puerto Montt for four nights but had nothing booked other than the hotel accommodation.
We reached Puerto Montt quite late in the evening, and by the time we reached our hotel, it was dark.
Our hotel was overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and for a little while, we were delighted. Our happiness ended pretty soon when we saw our room. It didn’t even have basic furniture. The side stables were missing, the table lamp was on the floor, and the window was facing the side street.
The helpful attendant, an older man, who brought our luggage to the room, went to the reception and got us allocated another room. The second room was spacious and overlooking the sea.
As it turned out, we made several mistakes in this leg of the trip. I have written them in detail below so that you can avoid them.
Mistake Number 1
In the morning, when we had our bearing, we realized that Puerto Montt was just a port. It was no place for tourists. People coming to Lake District usually stay at Puerto Varas, a beautiful town with the snow-capped Osorno Volcano and Llanquihue Lake as the backdrop. Besides, all the good restaurants were in Puerto Varas.
Note: If you plan to visit the Lake District, make sure you stay at Puerto Varas.
On the upside of staying in Puerto Montt was that we got a chance to experience a small-town local life that included traveling on the local bus, shopping in a small shopping center, and walking in the local parks.
Puerto Varas was not far, just a ten-minute bus ride. We were catching the local bus from a tiny bus stop outside our hotel to the central bus station, where there was a fifteen-minute service to Puerto Varas. We could easily go there for lunch and come back.
Mistake number 2
We hadn’t booked anything other than accommodation — neither for the Lake District or Patagonia. We didn’t even know what was there to see. So we spent the whole day in the tiny office of a travel agent, who spoke very little English.
We booked one tour to Bariloche and three tours in Patagonia. Being the peak season, everything was booked out. The travel agent had to ring several tour companies to find us spaces on our preferred dates. It rained all day that day. That was our only consolation. We couldn’t have done much on a rainy day like that.
Note: If you are going anywhere during the peak period, pre-book all the tours.
The next morning we caught an early bus to Puerto Varas from where we caught the tourist bus to Bariloche. The trip had five legs, three by bus and two by boat. The following map gives a good idea of the rough terrain and the complexity of the tour.
The scenery was spectacular, the water crystal clear, mountains so close. We had an amazing lunch at Peulla, a village at the border of Chile and Argentina.
We boarded the bus and drove for two minutes to stop at the Argentina embassy. Our first experience at the border clearance between two contraries (after that, we had several). We were not prepared for the three-hour process. The passengers of several tourist buses had to line up to get their passports stamped. Our luggage was taken out, inspected by Argentian inspectors and dogs, and then reloaded. Any fruit or plant material had to be thrown in the special bins. When we left, it was already five pm, and we had at least five hours’ journey ahead of us.
When we reached Bariloche, it was half-past ten. Everyone was tired, hungry, and angry.
When we checked in the hotel and then took to the streets to see if anything was open. We were starving. To our surprise, there were quite a few restaurants still open. But they had hardly any customers.
When you are hungry, you also want to have the best food possible. Without any crowd number to guide us, we randomly selected an Italian place and ordered a pizza and a risotto.
That was the best pizza and risotto I ever had anywhere in the world (even better than the one in Valparaiso).
We were the only customer in the whole restaurant and the waiter, a middle-aged man, had all the time in the world. We started chatting with him. When we got out of the place, it was close to midnight.
We only had one night in the town. We were catching an early morning to Puerto Varas. Rather than going back to the hotel, we walked the streets, window shopping, and getting the feel of the place. Nights are the best time to enjoy a new town; you can have the whole place to yourself.
The trip back was through the mountains. The Andes were still covered in snow. When we reached the peak, the snow was still a meter high snow, even in the summer. Trees were bare and stood like skeletons.
Mistake number 3
On the last day in Puerto Montt, we decided to have the most recommended Chilean dish PICHANGA PARA, a selection of meat and vegetables with eggs, chips, and avocado.
How could you go wrong?
It was then the most amazing looking dish.
That is was where the amazement ended. It didn’t taste very nice. Everything was deep-fried, even the vegetables.
I wrote most of this post from memory, and there are many things I am missing. It is quite possible I have got some names wrong or made other mistakes, for which I apologize. I will continue to update it.
Next travel post – Patagonia — The End of the World.