Introduction

Hence begins the Chilean south. The regions of La Araucanía, Los Ríos and the Lakes District jar travelers with menacing ice-topped volcanoes, glacial lakes overflowing with what looks like melted jade, roaring rivers running through old-growth forests and coastal enclaves inhabited by the indomitable Mapuche people. Sur Chico is home to eight spectacular national parks, many harboring exquisitely conical volcanoes, and is a magnetic draw for outdoor-adventure enthusiasts and devil-may-care thrill seekers.

Peppered about sprawling workhorse travel hubs, you'll find well-developed lakeside hamlets, most notably Pucón and Puerto Varas, dripping in charm and draped by stunning national parks and nature reserves, each one like an Ansel Adams photograph leaping from the frame. But the region – call it Patagonia Lite – isn't all so perfectly packaged. Off-the-beaten path destinations like the Río Cochamó Valley and Caleta Cóndor reward the intrepid spectacularly, their isolation fodder for that ever-elusive travel nirvana.

Highlights

  • Caleta Cóndor Visiting one of the most beautiful places in the world that you've probably never heard of.
  • Reserva Nacional Malalcahuello-Nalcas Trekking the otherworldly landscapes of one of La Araucanía's volcanically altered national parks.
  • Pucón Pushing your adrenaline limits daily in Sur Chico's high-adventure capital.
  • Puerto Varas Ogling cinematic and volcano-flanked Lago Llanquihue from this outdoorsy lakeside German settlement.
  • Volcán Villarrica Glissading down beneath the fuming crater of an active volcano.
  • Parque Nacional Conguillío Driving straight through the heart of this volcanic wonderland.
  • La Junta Hiking or horse-trekking deep into the granite playground inside the impossibly gorgeous Río Cochamó Valley.
  • Termas Geométricas Burning a day at these romantic and spectacular hot springs.
  • Huilo-Huilo Biological Reserve Sleeping in a fairy-tale hotel inside a gorgeous nature preserve.

When to Go

Jan–Feb Summer in this weathered region brings less rain, but you’ll still need a raincoat.

Nov–Mar Navimag ferry high season: spectacular Patagonian sunsets and glaciers.

Jan One of the most crowded months for visiting Volcán Villarrica but also the sunniest skies.