Is there a lot to do in Puerto Varas, Chile? Your hostel and the businesses housed along the quaint downtown streets will give you plenty to choose from. It seems adventure activities are what people come to Puerto Varas to do, but trips such as rafting, canyoning, or lake kayaking will set you back between $50 and $100 USD per person. What is there to do for a couple of budget travelers, nearing the end of their trip and the bottom of the money barrel?
Fortunately, bike rental is reasonable and if you’re okay with DIY navigation, there is plenty to see without the need of an expensive tour or guide. Instead of blowing our budget on adventure tours, we decided to spend a Patagonian autumn afternoon biking from Puerto Varas to Frutillar, the small town 32 km to the north. We rented mountain bikes from la Comarca on San Pedro, just around the corner from our hostel and the guy who helped us spoke great English. The bikes were 8,000 Chilean Pesos (14 USD) each for a half day.
From Puerto Varas to Frutillar: Along the railway
There’s no official bike lane from Puerto Varas to Frutillar, so bikers use a combination of off-road trails, old roads, and highway along Lago Llanquihue. For about three kilometers, we biked alongside the railway. Fortunately there were no trains running, but the gravel trail took a little getting used to. We immediately understood why vendors rent out mountain bikes instead of road bikes. The clouds were still lifting and the air was cool as we started to work up a sweat.
From Puerto Varas to Frutillar: Lonely swans
The railway path lead to a narrow path through a field, and eventually we found ourselves in a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Llanquihue (yep, the same name as the lake) an industrial town with little tourist appeal, except for some random public art. The large, cartoonish cement swans looked a little sad and lonely on the mostly deserted beach.
The blue sky fought its way through the clouds while two men parked in a 1990s hatchback smoked a joint. A group of school kids shouted in the distance as we rolled along toward the main road to pick up where we left off.
From Puerto Varas to Frutillar: Over the farm lands
After Llanquihue we took the highway which rolled through green farmlands reminding us what an agricultural country Chile is. We passed brilliant green fields of cows and birds cheered at us up and down the rolling hills. The sun won the battle with the grey clouds and for a few kilometers, Chile shone.
A few escaped cows trotted along the highway, not knowing how to react to the speeding humans on two wheels.
Eventually we made it to an intersection where we could turn right and add several more kilometers onto our trip, or go straight and make a short cut, climbing a steep hill on a gravel road. We went straight and climbed through more beautiful farmland.
From Puerto Varas to Frutillar: The ghost town of Frutillar
Frutillar seemed to be mostly about their large theater building and their quaint German-style architecture. It was hard to tell because the town was mostly lifeless. It was nice to look at, but there was not much to do. We headed up the hill a little further to check out the beers at Salzburg, a hotel with and on-site brewery that was, to the dismay of our burning calf muscles, closed. (If you going during low season, check opening hours first.)
We came back to town and picnicked on the public wooden pier. The sky started to darken and a few rain drops splashed on our necks. It was time to head back.
From Puerto Varas to Frutillar: A stop at Chester Beer
Peter, in continuation of his quest for good microbrews in South America, had researched breweries in the area so we stopped at Colonos. Tired and in need of rest and a brew, our hearts sunk as we tried the door of the restaurant and it was closed. But our spirits lifted when the owner invited us into the brewery for a quick taste of their lager. We thanked him profusely and hit the road again.
The rain had failed to make an appearance but the sun was sinking. When the sun sets, Southern Chile autumn may as well be winter. Still we had to have a beer, so after a quick stop in Llanquihue for some bottles of Colonos, we veered off the path in search of Chester Beer.
We about wept with joy when we spotted a few guys sitting on a picnic table outside Chester’s tiny double-wide trailer/brewery house. “Tienen cervezas?” They did, and though Chester only had bottles and no draft beer, we didn’t complain. His other guests were Americans, a visitor and two other expats. They were beer lovers and makers, and two of them were from my own Northern California. We talked beer and exchanged brewery recommendations while the sun faded, the chill set in, and the cows mooed at us to go home.
We arrived back at the bike shop just in time to return our bikes. We drank our Colonos lagers with takeout pizza at the hostel, our behinds just a little sore (64 kilometers sore to be exact), and our heads a little dizzy from the Chilean sun and the fresh Patagonia air.