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.