In 1979, when I first traveled to Chile, one of my destinations was Puerto Montt (pictured above), where backpackers hoped to catch the rustbucket freighter Río Baker that sailed the Chilean fjords to Puerto Natales, the gateway to Torres del Paine. Before the massive 1960 earthquake, the renowned travel writer Jan Morris had described the city’s “structures in the Alpine manner, all high-pitched roofs and quaint balconies;” some of that still exists, but Montt’s lost its earlier charm to utilitarian reconstruction, industrial expansion, and an uninspiring port – despite a natural setting that matches Seattle’s on Puget Sound.
At the time, nearby Puerto Varas (pictured above) wasn’t even on my radar. Despite the map, which showed the blue fresh waters of Lago Llanquihue and the snow-topped volcanoes around it – one of which blew its top not so long ago – the Argentine city of Bariloche held a higher profile and, in any event, I was keener to reach Tierra del Fuego, which I eventually did. On my way back north, I crossed from Bariloche back into Chile but was running short of time to detour south to Varas – if indeed, I had properly appreciated its appeal. Instead, I turned north from the city of Osorno and, eventually, flew back home from Ecuador.
In the interim, though, I’ve gotten to know Varas and vicinity well and, because of its attractions – the lake, whitewater rivers, rugged mountains covered by dense temperate forests, and snow-covered slopes suitable for skiing and summer climbing, it’s become one of Chile’s adventure travel hubs (along with Pucón). In fact, in early October, it will host the Adventure Travel World Summit and, though I won’t be able to attend, I will be working with the Patagon Journal to create an introduction to the country’s top 20 or 25 adventure excursions, from the Atacama to Antarctica (I am on the magazine’s editorial advisory board).
Before then, I may describe some of those excursions in this blog so, even if the summit’s not on your agenda, you’ll have an idea of what might be done.