Lakes and Fjords: Chile's Lake District, Chiloe and Aysen

From Chile’s fabulous Lake District and mystical Chiloé Island down to the remote ice fields of Aysén reached only by expedition cruise ships or by one road – the Carretera Austral

Chile's beautiful Lake District is a land of forests and lakes, dairy farms and small towns in an alpine landscape below snowy volcanos.

They call the Lake District the 'Gateway to Patagonia'. Patagonia begins where the Andes almost meets the sea east of Puerto Montt, and continues for a thousand miles of wild, rugged nature crumpled by mountains and incised with fjords with no large towns until the modest Punta Arenas in the far south.

Lake District

Long lakes lie between fingers of mountains and major volcanoes either side of the jaggedy line that marks the border with Argentina.

Settlers recruited from Germany, Switzerland and Austria brought an alpine feel to 'lake districts' on both sides of the national border. Both are part of the heritage lands of Mapuche peoples, which extend from the Pacific to the Argentine pampa.

Conguillío NP in the north surrounding Llaima volcano (3125m) has a lot of hiking options and skiing, but the heart of the area lies between the towns of Pucón and Puerto Varas.

Pucón is a full-blown adventure capital with every outdoor activity in the book. There are extensive trails for moderate walks through national parks, challenging treks to volcanic craters, kayaking on serene lakes and rafting down tumbling rapids. There's mountain biking, paragliding, parachuting, flights over volcanoes in light aircraft, zip-lining, rock-climbing, rustic hot springs and silken spas. And skiing, snowboarding, dog sledding and snow-shoeing. And parasailing, jet-skiing and stand-up paddle boarding. There's more, but let's stop at that for now.

Puerto Varas, which looks across a beautiful lake to the stunning perfect cone of Osorno Volcano, is more sedate and less all-out (though there are lots of hiking and rafting options) and connects well with other good things.

From Puerto Varas you can sail across three lakes to reach Argentina on the other side of the Andes: the 'Lake Crossing'.

Down the road at Puerto Montt there are good flight connections, a dock for cruises departing for the remote fjords of Aysén, and a ferry to the extraordinary island of Chiloé.


The large island of Chiloé has steered its own course, separate from the mainland though not isolated. Here the Spanish colonists mixed with the established Huilliche and Chonos communities and together they evolved Chiloé's distinctive culture, which blends them all.

There is plenty of fishing and a countryside that thrives in Chiloé's Scottish climate, and together they support little communities along the inland coast on the Golfo de Ancud.

The island's first capital, Castro, was founded in 1567 and for a while was the world's southernmost city. Colourful timber homes are set on hilly land around a bay, whose waterfront is lined with hugely picturesque palafito houses on stilts over the water for fishermen to tie up to, landing their catch straight into their back room.

The Jesuits established a circuit of churches to tend to the island's small communities. Their builders created a homely architecture of timber finished with wood shingles. 16 of the surviving 60 wooden churches, built without nails, are now collectively a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The island's blended heritage has produced a vivid oral folklore of goddesses, evil forest dwellers, witches disguised as owls, snakes that bring fatal coughs, and a beauty that dances on the shore to indicate whether there is much fish around at the moment.

Northern Patagonia

Northern Patagonia begins as it means to go on, with a wilderness that is even now barely penetrated, such are the obstacles of its intricate mountain topography. The valleys are all dead-ends, the mountains all tangled. The high Andes is governed by immense ice fields, together the third largest weight of ice outside the poles, their glaciers and waterfalls descending to deep fjords and sea channels.

Aysén, the Chilean region that covers almost all Northern Patagonia, is an extraordinary world of wild nature, with just a few settlements, some populated more from Argentina over the Andes than from north or south in Chile.

Huge areas are protected by Pumalín and Corcovado national parks, which owe much to the pioneering conservationist Douglas Tomkins, founder of North Face clothing.

You can take Aysén's Carretera Austral to Lago General Carrera, and its marble caves, and down to little Caleta Tortel perched beside Baker Fjord between the Northern and Southern ice fields.

The Fjords of Ancud and beyond

The Gulf of Ancud separates Chiloé from the mainland and leads into channels behind the Chonos and Guayaneco archipelagos. Eventually it reaches the astonishing Glacier San Rafael. You can explore this rugged wilderness from the comfort of an expedition cruise ship.

Start planning your trip to Chile

Let us know what kind of trip to Chile you are most interested in, and when you are thinking of travelling. Our travel experts know Chile extremely well, and will be delighted to offer some initial ideas and advice, and to develop a more detailed design for your holiday as your ideas evolve.

Call us on 020 7281 7788 ( Mon-Fri 9:15-5:45). Or we'd be happy to call you back.

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Holiday designs that visit Chile's Lake District, Chiloe and Aysen

'Life in Chile'

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Step into Chile’s natural worlds and ways of life. Walk in forests of monkey puzzle and myrtle. Sample rich indigenous Mapuche culture. Experience European traditions adapted to life in Chile.

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Chile's slimline shape stretches from parched desert to glaciers at the end of the world. This stunning small group tour takes you north to south visiting Chile's extremes, from the driest place on earth to the wilds of Tierra del Fuego.

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'On the Road in the Lake District and Patagonia's Far South'

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Time to explore. A superb trip with great experiences, made easy by good conditions for careful confident drivers.

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A very comprehensive and tremendously enjoyable experience of the birds of these regions. Excellent value with a local guide in Central Chile, then self drive and d-i-y birding in Torres del Paine and Tierra del Fuego.

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