Lake District

The Lake District of Chile, from Temuco to Puerto Montt, is reminiscent of the Alps (if one ignores the occasional volcano). The lakes, the lush green pastures and even the architecture seem at times to be transplanted directly from Bavaria or Switzerland. The Lake District is a popular vacation spot during the summer months (December through early March) and there are many beautiful vacation homes throughout the area.

I rented a car at the airport in Temuco (the only car I rented during the entire trip) and took five days to cover the 200 miles to Puerto Montt. Along the way I meandered through lovely villages (such as Villarrica, Pucon and Puerto Varas) as well as larger towns (such as Valdivia, Osorno and Puerto Montt). The Pan American Highway (Route 5) is the main road through the area, but I took frequent detours and side trips.

The quality of the roads is not what we might expect in the United States, but they are working on it. Large sections of the Pan American Highway were dug up right down to the gravel. The side roads were quite pleasant if paved, but if they were ripiado (gravel) traveling on them could become quite tedious. The quality of the road often dictated the route I chose. One of the road signs I particularly enjoyed was "pavimento en mal estado," which I translated (perhaps too literally) as "pavement in a bad state."

The small city of Valdivia is particularly attractive, with a beautiful walk along the river. Puerto Varas was also very nice, set on a wonderful lake across from a volcano.

The food throughout the Lake District was exceptional. Two specialties of the area that I had never eaten before are congria (which was sometimes translated as "conger eel," though it looked nothing like an eel to me, even in the fish markets) and centolla, a crab with legs almost as large as an Alaskan king crab. I can highly recommend both dishes based on frequent sampling.