Patagonia — Vistas and Volcanoes

After the W trek we needed a few days to recover, launder clothes and plan the next stage of our journey. We had a lot of distance to cover and a few strategic points to visit in a relatively small window of time if we were to keep the trip on track. We'd researched the areas between Southern and Northern Patagonia, and knew there were some exciting things to do and see. Our route took us up the Andes, weaving in and out of Argentina and Chile, stopping at key cities and sights along the way.

El Chalten

Our first destination was the small town of El Chalten, 420km north of Puerto Natales, and home to the famous Fitz Roy mountain. There were no direct buses from Puerto Natales so after crossing the border into Argentina we had to make an over night stop back in El Calafate and catch an early bus to El Chalten. El Chalten’s mountains are visible from the town and so you instantaneously feel the rewards. With vast valleys, rivers, lakes, circling condors, autumn trees and towering mountains: it's Patagonia at it’s best.

Seeing as it was a beautiful day we dropped our bags off in our hostel and got our (still recovering) knees back into action. We’d arrived late afternoon so decided to do a short hike to the Fitz Roy Mirador before dark. We stopped off at various look-out points along the way and had great views of the surrounding landscapes. As we reached the look out for Fitz Roy, even though it was a clear day, a cloud had perched itself on top of the iconic peaks! Despite the obscured mountains, the setting was beautiful, and being so close to the town felt like a complete luxury. 

The following day we set off for another hike to Laguna Torre in hopes of seeing the iconic Torre massif. The hike was around 3 hours each way but it was relatively flat, and without heavy bags it felt easy in comparison to Torres del Paine. Unfortunately the clouds descended again as we arrived at the lagoon and the epic mountain view wasn't visible. As it started to rain we powered back to our hostel to have a quick shower and dinner before boarding the night bus to our next destination: Bariloche, Northern Patagonia. 


After a pretty uncomfortable 30 hour coach ride from El Chalten (with bumpy roads and very few breaks) we were relieved when we started to pass the amazing lakes and lush mountains of Bariloche. Feeling a little sleepy from the journey we slowly made our way up to our hostel, Penthouse 1001. The hostel was located in a converted 10th floor apartment block, giving great views of Lago Nahuel Huapi, the largest lake in Bariloche. We cooked up some much-needed roast vegetables for dinner and watched the sun set, excited to explore the area the next day.

Unfortunately it was raining the following morning, so we took the opportunity to catch up on our admin from the last few weeks in the comfort of the lovely hostel. By the afternoon the weather perked up so we caught the local bus to the base of the chairlift to see the famous 7 lakes view. From the top it was easy to understand why Bariloche was so highly rated; the blue lakes surrounded by tree-covered hills and jagged mountains, the dramatic scenery reminded us a bit of Rio! After taking in the views we headed back to our hostel to try out the industrial-style kitchen and cook up our favourite recipe, chicken a l'orange! We had a lovely evening drinking with fellow travellers in a hostel that had definitely positioned itself as one of our favourites. 

The following day brought rain once again, so we begrudgingly canceled our kayaking plan and explored the town instead. Bariloche itself is a lovely Swiss-style town with wooden alpine architecture, great restaurants, Saint Bernard dogs(!) but also amazing artisan chocolate shops! We felt it would be culturally irresponsible to not try out the local specialities, and we were not disappointed. The chocolate was ridiculously cheap and very good, and after stocking up, we made our way back to hostel to pack and devour our treats. 

Puerto Varas

The following morning we took a 6 hour bus from Bariloche, which included a very lengthy border crossing back into Chile, and arrived in the picturesque town of Puerto Varas mid afternoon. After checking into Casa Azul hostel we did a short self-guided walking tour of the town, walking past the Iglesia Sagrado Corazón church and the many protected traditional German-style wooden houses.

We ended up at the lake front at sunset where we could see the snow-topped Osorno Volcano in the distance, as well as Calbuco Volcano, the third most active in Chile. Not wanting to miss the opportunity we decided to book a tour to the Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park for the following day where we could visit Osorno up close.

The following day we got picked up by our tour guide for a full day of exploring the Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park. Half an hour into the drive we took a quick stop to feed some llamas at a local farm which was (according to one of us) the ‘best dollar ever spent!’. Needless to say the food was gone in seconds.

We continued along the lakeside road until we arrived at the Vicente Pérez Rosales park entrance. We walked past a few small lakes (and even spotted a baby southern river otter!) and then took a short catamaran ride around the Todos los Santos lake, taking in the beautiful scenery. We even docked the boat up to next a small waterfall where we could fill up our bottle with fresh spring water.

We then moved on to Petrohué Waterfalls, an incredible mass of water that had found it’s way through cracks in the volcanic rock after many large earthquakes. You could really start to see the effects that the volcanoes and tectonic activity had on the surrounding ash-covered landscape. We spent half an hour looking out over the walkways at the various viewpoints of the prehistoric waterway.

After the waterfall it was time to make our way up the Volcano Osorno. The best way to see the volcano is getting two separate chairlifts (used for skiing in the winter months) and then walking as far as you can go from there. It was a surreal experience being on a chairlift without snow, and seeing the ash-covered landscape with patches of red rock and cold mist rising from the sides of volcano. 

At the summit we were treated to breathtaking views of the lake and of the Andes mountain range that shot up around us. Walking further up the steep path we could feel the awesome energy and power of the sleeping volcano beneath our feet, and as clouds floated around us we both felt incredibly glad we'd made the effort to visit.

The following day we wanted to rent a kayak, but as we’d just hit low season it was near impossible to find availability. Determined to find some kind of water-based activity, we asked the local tourist information office who explained that we could visit a thermal spa in a nearby forest. As our options were pretty low we decided to go along, and after being picked up from our hostel we arrived at the small retreat. The location was beautiful and we could hear the river nearby as we sank into the secluded thermal baths surrounded by forest. After 10 minutes in the tub we would race up the steps to the sauna, repeating the process for 2 hours. It was very relaxing, although it did feel a bit indulgent for a couple of travellers!

Even though we had been met with a few minor frustrations on this leg of our trip, it put into perspective about how lucky we'd been up to this point. This was our first time travelling really long distances, and with quite short stops in between we had little margin for error. It helped us remember that it's better to dedicate a bit more time to get the best out of each place we visit. We rounded up our trip in Patagonia with an amazing fish dinner at Casavaldes and looked forward to continuing our journey north to Chile's capital.