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Chile - The Lake District

Our first foray into the Chilean Lake District began on our way down to Chiloé in mid-November. We took a quick detour west to visit the northern most lakes, including Lago Villarrica, in the hope that we might catch sight of Volcán Villarrica, but the weather didn't play ball. We followed the southern side of the lake to Pucon and then headed into Villarrica National Park, but the gravel road to Coñaripe quickly became a track and eventually a washed-out, impassable one. Shame we hadn't seen the obvious sign indicating the road was closed as we entered the park! Oh well... we back tracked along the southern shore of Lago Villarrica and on to Lago Calafuén and Lican Ray, with a quick visit to Lago Panguipulli and the town of the same name before continuing on to Chiloé.

On leaving Chiloé, we returned to Chile's southern lake district, hoping for better weather and clear views of the lakes and the many volcanoes dotted around the area. We drove to Puerto Varas, camping on the west side of Lago Llanquihue, hoping for a morning sighting of Volcán Osorno. The next day we excitedly caught sight of Osorno, although somewhat shrouded in clouds.

Next was a visit the Saltos del Petrohue (waterfalls), then on to Lago Todos los Santos, where we camped on the beach, cooking two trout that the campsite owner had generously given us the night before and attracting some of the scavenger birds, after the fish scraps. This time, ever optimistic, we were hoping for a view of Volcán Puntiagudo, but once again we were out of luck, so we enjoyed a drive to Cochamó on the Reloncavi Estuary. Having arrived in this quiet little town, we felt it only right to continue along the full length of the estuary to Puelche and once there, we took the ferry to Caleta La Arena, a circular, but scenic route back to Puerto Montt. It was at Puelche that we saw signs showing we were on the Carretera Austral and at that time, we decided we would return and take this famous route south.

Continuing our tour of the lakes we returned to Puerto Varas, then Frutillar and finally Puerto Octay, still waiting for a decent view of a volcano. With limited time before I had a flight back to London from Bariloche, we needed to cross the border back into Argentina, so we drove past Lago Rupanco, barely getting a view of the lake and certainly no view of the four volcanoes on offer. Moving along the south shore of Lago Puyehue, we were once again disappointed, so it was onwards and over the border to try our luck with the Argentinian lake district.

Fast forward to 4th December. Having just enjoyed Argentina's Ruta de Siete Lagos, we crossed back into Chile at Hua Hum border. A short drive through forest was followed by a 90-minute ferry ride the length of Lago Pirihueico through Huilo-Hullo National Park to Puerto Fuy. We were back in Chile's lake district and it was 3rd time lucky - the weather was perfect. The views were stunning and at the end of the journey we had a great view of Volcán Choshuenco. We soon discovered that like Argentina, Chile had its own Ruta de Siete Lagos. We visited Lagos Neptume, Panguipulli and Pullinque. We returned to Panguipulli then on to Lago Riñihue with views of Volcán Choshuenco. We camped at Lago Ranco before retracing our steps through the lakes from Lago Puyehue and south. This time, with full sun and clear skies, the views were spectacular. At certain points we had five volcanoes on view at once - Puyehue, Casablanca, Puntiagudo, Osorno and Calbuco, with the added bonus of Cerro Tronodor (Argentina) in the background. We also revisited Frutillar on Lago Llanquihue, which we discovered was not the drab place we had seen in November, but a handsome town with a fine opera house on the lake front - it helps when you find the heart of a town!

Having satisfied our need for lakes and volcanoes it was time to head south. From here our eyes were on the Carretera Austral and kilometre 0 at Puerto Montt.

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