THE GREAT LAKES REGION
This journey begins in the Araucanie region and more precisely in its capital, Temuco, 700 km from Santiago. The other important towns are Valdivia, Osorno and, further south, Puerto Montt that marks the start of the Austral Route.
A place of much history and culture its towns have been influenced during several eras, predominantly by the German culture as is visible today in the architecture of the houses and in the physique of its inhabitants.
This is the territory of the Mapuche people where the last Indians, having been able to push back invaders, still survive on the banks of the Bio Bio River.
This is above all a region dominated by innumerable lakes and the volcanoes of the Andes range which forms a natural frontier with Argentina. This region offers travelers the riches of nature and a place where you can practice such diverse activities as volcano climbing, trout fishing, horse riding, skiing, rafting or even bathe in thermal waters or in the cool waters of lakes.
This is a region unheard of to western trekkers. It resembles Swiss landscapes but nonetheless has a Chilean flavor with a dash of seafood thrown in….
It does also offer numerous off the beaten trail itineraries. We particularly like the Jesuits hike (incorrectly named as the region reminds one more of a trapper region at the end of the world) in an area which allowed Pablo Neruda to flee the Chilean dictatorship and cross into Argentina.
It is of course also difficult not be tempted by the almost virgin trails on the nearby island of Chiloé with its singular history.
The villages of Pucon, Puerto Varas or Frutillar invite one to relax; there are small lakeside resorts where one can spend an evening at the casino after a good hike that rivals in difficulty those of the Alps.
The lake crossing to Bariloche in Argentina is an excellent way to cross the border at this stage of the journey.
The following is a list of some of the region´s national parks:
- Vicente Perez Rosales
Ideally we would continue the journey on the austral route that begins on the southern border of the lakes region. At the end of this mythical route are Patagonia, the Torres del Paine Park, Mount Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, Perito Moreno... in short, you are not going home quite yet!
THE AUSTRAL ROUTE
The Austral Route in Chile runs parallel to Route 40 in Argentina and is the continuation of the Pan-American Highway that links Alaska with Tierra del Fuego.
It is a unique highway, built only 20 years ago between fjords and glaciers, seas and forests, where the phrase “nature in its pure state” takes on its full meaning. The administrative name of this region is Aisén; it is the least populated and perhaps most beautiful region of Chile and extends from Puerto Montt to Villa O´higgins. In the north is Pumalín Park, the largest private park in the world, with 320,000 hectares transformed into a nature reserve. The park´s main entrance is to be modified as the Chaiten volcano covered a good part of the region in ashes.
Along the way one follows the course of the Futaleufú River, reputed worldwide for kayaking and rafting. Thermal centers, the most well-known of which is Puyuhuapi, also punctuate this route varying its pleasures. It is also a sportfishing paradise and an intensive salmon rearing area.
Many villages seem to be frozen in time but there is also a large town on the route, Coyhaique, the capital of the region. Its adjacent port, Puerto Chacabuco, is the starting point for excursions to Laguna San Rafael.
Further south it is the splendor of General Carrera Lake that will surprise you; exuberant nature around each corner of the road contrasted with zones of bosque muerto (dead forest) due to an immense fire that devastated the region thirty years ago. To end the journey you can take a boat trip at Cochrane or Villa O´higgins, the southernmost point on this route….you will then need to cross into Argentina or head north again to take a ship or plane to continue your journey.
Chiloé is situated in the southwest of the American continent and is the largest island in South America. The archipelago is made up of 40 small islands and the main island which is accessed from the continent by crossing the Chacao canal by ferry.
Sites not to be missed on Chiloé are the stilted houses in Castro and the island´s churches and chapels, one of Chile´s most important architectural ensembles and classed as World Heritage Sites by Unesco. As for natural attractions there is the Chiloé National Park in the south, one of the least well known in Chile, and also the penguin reserve at Puñihuil near to Ancud in the north. Chiloé possesses surprising cultural traditions and you may have the opportunity to participate in festivals of Chilot folklore. Try the variety of excellent seafood that this part of the world has to offer; we especially recommend tasting “Curanto”, a typical Chiloé dish made of potatoes, meat, maize flour and shellfish.
Chile has 5 sites classified as World Heritage Sites by Unesco including the churches of Chiloé (since 2000).
In sum, Chiloé is an archipelago where the island lifestyle provides a taste of the adventure of the great south. Its history of isolation has allowed Chiloé to preserve its customs and the authenticity of its landscapes; the hedged farmland reminds us a little of Normandy. The colorful houses and the painted wooden churches, a legacy of the Jesuit missions in the 18th century, are all characteristic of the island.
VOLCANOES AND EARTHQUAKES
Chilean territory is one of the most seismically active regions on the planet. Chile is part of the famous “Ring of Fire”, a zone in the Pacific Ocean where the Nazca and South American plates meet. The movements of these two plates provoke the customary earthquakes in Chile. On May 22 1960 the south of the country was the victim of what is considered the “top one” earthquake ever registered on the planet: 9.5 on the Richter scale. This telluric movement was so strong that some mountains collapsed, new lakes appeared and a tsunami crossed the Pacific and caused considerable damage as far as the Hawaiian, Japanese and Philippine coasts.
A large number of volcanoes also have their roots in the collision of the Nazca and South American plates: no less than 3,000 have been counted in the Chilean Andes ranging from the smallest cinder cones to gigantic volcanoes with craters several kilometers in diameter. This chain of volcanoes is the longest in the world. Chile also has 500 volcanoes that are considered geologically active (15% of the planet´s active volcanoes…) including the highest volcano on the planet, the “Ojos del Salado” which peaks at 6,891 meters.
To be found in the central region and the south of the country:
- Osorno; altitude 2,720 meters
- Llaima; altitude 3,125 meters
- Villarrica; altitude 2,840 meters