Has the prospect of discovering rich Germanic heritage and traditional fishing communities piqued your interest in the Chilean Lake District? Perhaps you are longing to get out into the great outdoors and explore the region's natural splendour? Or maybe it's the idea of a self-drive holiday in Chile that most stirs the feelings of wanderlust?

Whatever first attracted you to this part of Northern Patagonia, you'll find plenty of exciting things to do in the Chilean Lake District to bring you closer to nature and explore its traditional architecture and ways of life. Let's look at five of our favourite activities, each offering a different way to experience and understand the region.

Hike through splendid Patagonian forest

  • Temperate rain forest and native trees
  • Glorious views of volcano
  • Relax in hot springs

One of the best places to hike in the Chilean Lake District is the Puyehue National Park, near Puerto Varas. This area is characterised by its snow-capped volcano, glistening waterfalls and shimmering rivers, but it's the temperate forests and natural hot springs which attract many hikers here. Walks along the park's trails reveal native trees and an abundance of flora and bird-life adding colour and multiple layers to the forest. A welcome bonus is the presence of hot springs, which occur naturally through volcanic activity. There are both natural water pools and purpose built pools to choose from, both providing a welcome treat at the end of your hike.

Things to do in the Chilean Lake District - hiking

Forests of Puyehue National Park (photo by Christian Córdova)

Ride the ferry to Chiloé

  • Fishing community & traditional stilt houses
  • UNESCO heritage wooden churches
  • Chance to see penguins, dolphins & sea birds

A day trip from Puerto Varas to Chiloé begins with a short ferry crossing towards the main island, during which you should look out for sea birds, sea lions and even dolphins in the water. Upon arrival your first port of call might be the capital Castro and its charming palafitos houses, which sit side-by-side on the waterfront, held up by wooden stilts. Together they form the quintessential postcard scene of the island, but beyond them lies a region rich in distinctive culture and local legends, most of which tell of Chiloé's seafaring tradition, which remains prevalent throughout. Exploring the island's small fishing communities, local craft markets and any of the 16 UNESCO World Heritage wooden churches is the perfect way to better appreciate the traditional way of life here, whilst the sandy beaches, temperate rain forest and Humboldt and Penguin breeding communities display its natural beauty.

Things to do in the Chilean Lake District - Chiloe

Wooden church on Chiloé Island (photo by rodoluca)

Take a self-drive adventure

  • Explore the Chilean Lake District at your own pace
  • Visit Pucón for a more in-depth Lake District exploration
  • Combine with the vineyards of the Santa Cruz wine region

An excellent way to discover the Lake District with greater independence and at a pace that suits you is on a self-drive holiday through Chile. Our advice is to start at the capital Santiago, spending a few days exploring the city, before collecting your hire car to drive to the artistic seaside town of Valparaiso and the Pacific beach resort towns of Viña del Mar and Reñaca. From here you can drive south to the beautiful Santa Cruz wine region, visiting some of the famous vineyards of the Ruta del Vino. Continue south along the Andes and you'll eventually come to the town of Pucón, one of the major tourism centres for the Lake District. A three night stay is ideal to give you ample time to get out and about in the local area, enjoying views across Lake Villarrica and the volcano, as well as perhaps taking advantage of the horse-riding, hiking, rafting and other activities on offer here. Conclude your adventure in Puerto Varas, from where you can enjoy the other activities and excursions discussed here. 

Things to do in the Chilean Lake District - Self-drive

View of Villarica Volcano in the Huerquehue National Park near Pucón (photo by Elemaki)

Use pedal power to explore by bike

  • Stunning views of Osorno Volcano & Petrohué Falls
  • Follow established bike routes with a local expert
  • Can be tailored to your own abilities

We've already explored the Chilean Lake District on foot, by boat and from behind the wheel, so now it's time to load up the bikes and get up close to some of the region's biggest natural wonders. One of our favourite bike trails in the Lake District follows the Paso Desolacion, which encompasses magnificent views of the snow-capped conical Osorno Volcano, the shimmering waters of Lake Llanquihue and the biodiversity of the native forests. The 24km trail ends near the breathtaking Petrohué Falls, at the Todos los Santos Lake, the views of which are a well-earned reward for your efforts. The local guide can vary the trail according to your experience and fitness levels, perhaps driving onwards to avoid the tricky uphill stretch near the start.

Things to do in the Chilean Lake District - cycling

Cycling in the Chilean Lake District (photo by Cristian Ordenes)

Relax with a local beer in hand

  • Sample craft beer from local breweries
  • Discover Frutillar's European heritage
  • Explore the backroads by bike

One of the best ways to appreciate the Lake District's glorious scenery and European architecture is to cycle the backroads between your likely base in Puerto Varas and the well-preserved Germanic town of Frutillar, on the edge of Lake Llanquihue. Fine views across the lake towards the surrounding volcanoes lay in store along the way, as does the chance to sample some of the area's traditionally brewed craft beer. One of the best producers is the Chester Beer Brewery just outside of Puerto Varas, famed locally for their Chilean Pale Ale, Stout, Summer Ale and IPA. The founder and owner Derek Way, known to friends as Chester, actually started brewing beer in his own home because he couldn't find any good local craft beer for he and his friends to enjoy together. His love of cooking and his environmental consciousness, allied with his newly acquired skills, were the pillars upon which the micro-brewery was then founded.

Things to do in the Chilean Lake District - Frutillar

Frutillar pier & Osorno Volcano (photo by Themidget17)