A variety pack of parks: something for everybody! You can hike, fish, canoe, climb, ski, camp, relax at a hot springs, take a lake cruise, even waste your money at a casino. There is no excuse to be bored in the Lake District.
Inland from the coast at Valdivia, Chile, the Lakes District is the vacation spot of choice for many South Americans. Facilities range from dress-up-and-be-seen European style resorts to I-wanna-be-alone wilderness. Four parks Puyehe and Vicente Perez Rosales in Chile, Lanin and Nahuel Huapi in Argentina, are contiguous, but each has its own character. You can spend weeks in any of them, and still have more to experience. Together, they're an inexhaustible resource of outdoor recreational opportunities. See them on a map of Chilean & Argentinian outdoor attractions (#5).
Vicente Pirez Rosales is Chiles oldest national park. Established 1926, it now takes in 626,000 acres. The park has two centerpieces: the Lago Todos los Santos, a long glacial lake, and the Volcan Osorno, a powerful Fujiyama-type volcanic cone. Todos los Santos used to be part of one large lake that included Lago Llanquihue to the east, but volcanic eruptions divided them. Lava also made Petrohue River, which drains Todos los Santos, into a wild blast, jetting out at Petrohue Falls over recent lava flows.
The park has three developed areas. Ensenada, which is just inside the park's borders, is a German style resort community (yes, and former home to several Nazi war criminals, now long since gone). First town on the lake, Petrohue is both a resort town and also a commercial center for local dairy farms and the people who have summer homes along the lake. Puella, at the western end of the park near the Argentine border, is smaller and more isolated.
Puyehe, established in 1941, includes 265,000 acres. It has four major attractions. If you want to learn about the natural history of the Lake District, Anticurra is well worth a visit. Anticurra is the trail head for several trails. One interpretive trail, a scant half-mile long, identifies all the major trees and shrubs of the Valdivean forest, and throws in a visit to a waterfall and an 800-year-old coihue tree. To supplement this direct experience, the visitor center at Anticura mounts exhibits and slide shows on the local ecology. Another trail lands you, after a half day hike, at a refugio and hot springs at the base of Puyehe Volcano. In the winter, Anticurra becomes a ski slope. Playa Puyehue is a Austro-Hungarian style resort community centered around healing hot springs. Aguas Calientes, located on the banks of the Rmteo Chanleufu, is more a people's hot springs. You can even dig your own thermal pool along the banks of the river. Antillanca is a ski resort and also the site of promontory from where, standing in one place, you can see six volcanos and six lakes.
Nahuel Huapm, Argentina, is a huge 1.9 million acres, bordering both Puyehue and Vicente Perez Rosales along the Chilean border. The park was established in 1903, and its namesake is the enormous Lago Nahuel Huapm, which has 200 square miles of surface area.
You can do the resort thing at Bariloche, where even the town's name is swanky. But GORP readers will be interested in the plethora of outdoor stuff that Nahuel Huapi. The visitors' center at Bariloche is well worth a stop for maps and other information about what to do in the park. The park is especially notable for three activities: hiking, fishing, and mountain climbing.
Hiking: The trails in NH are exceptionally well-marked and well-maintained by any standards, but especially for South America. There are four principal areas: Laguna Frmteas, the trailhead for routes through the moist forest, is reachable only by boat; the rocky Tronador area, Cerro Catedral, in the highlands and where it's possible to travel light between the fully equipped highland refugios,and Cerro Lspez, for spectacular views along the ridges.
Fishing: We're talking 35 pound brown trout! The rivers and lakes were stocked at the turn of the century with foreign species that flourished Atlantic salmon, rainbow, brook and brown trout. A paradise for Eurocentric fishermen, if not the native fish. Pick up a license in Bariloche.
Mountaineering: Every level of climber will find something to challenge them in this park. The park has even its own climbing club the Club Andino Bariloche, which conducts regular training in the Tronador area.
Lanin is the wild cousin of Nahuel Huapi, a finger extending northward along the Andean ridge, or cordillera, that divides Argentina from Chile. The terrain is more diverse than at Nahuel Huapi, ranging from snow-covered peaks to lowland plains. Hence, the park offers a lot more scenic and natural diversity for hikers than Nahuel Huapi. The park's five major glacial lakes each has its own distinctive ecosystem.
Trekkers in need of a gentle trek might want to consier the Queni circuit which is a gentle 29 km and takes you the Baños; de Queñi.; The Baños; are a series of thermal pools nestled under forest trees a laid back and isolated paradise. This might be the thing to do after climbing Volcan Lanin, which the indigenous people believed to be the home of evil spirits. Today the peak is monitored by the Chilean and Argentine armies, and theoretically you need permits from military authorities if you want to ascend the summit.
Fishing is great in Lanin, and a much more private experience than at Nahuel Huapi.
The Lakes District is named after the many glacial lakes, carved out of the mountains then filled by melt-water and rain. The area is now a temperate rain forest in the lower elevations, and an alpine highlands in the upper elevations.
When to Go
This all depends on what you want to do. Although the parks are open are year long, and the lower elevations are very temperate, the winters are exceedingly rainy. Peak seasons for all the parks is the South American summer, December to March. Fishing season is generally November though April. Skiing is prime in abouts July.
Sleeping & Eating
These parks have everything: luxury hotels, alpine refugios, developed and wilderness camping. Because so many cultures are present here indigenous, Spanish, northern European you can get practically anything you want, except maybe sushi. Bariloche even has its own chocolate industry. Purchased food does tend to be cheaper in the developed towns, where transportation is less of an issue.
Because this is a rich, moist ecosystem, foraging tends to be great. And of course fishermen will have the opportunity to dine on their catches.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication