On Feb 4 I took the bus from P Natales to Punta Arenas and then the plane form Punta Arenas-Puerto Montt with Sky airlines. I have booked the flight on cheaptickets.com in Germany but it is cheaper to book directly with Sky.
Puerto Montt is ugly. Nothing to see there. Except: Angelmo which has a wonderful fish market and handicraft market. A lot of small restaurants and open fish kitchen invite to eat sea fruits and fish. Do not miss it!!!
I’ve been told by several people that Puerto Montt itself (even in downtown) is not safe after 8 pm.
On Feb 5 I went by public bus to Puerto Varas – small nice town nice on the border of the lake Llanyquihe. The town was founded by German settlers back at the middle of the 19th century and they are using now a lot of German words (eg kuchen).
On Feb 6 I’ve left from Puerto Montt to Parque Pumalin. Parque Pumalin was a tip from the famous globetrotters Silvia and Cristoph Wintersberger.
The way between Purto Montt and Parque Pumalin is ca 200 km long but there is no road and it takes 8 hours (!). It is necessary to take three ferries!!
Initailly I wanted to hire a car to go there. I have tried several times to reach the company Naviera Austral to book a place for my car on the ferries, but they didn’t answer the phones and the mails. So I canceled the car reservation and came by bus.
Parque Pumalin has been founded by Douglas Tompkins the former owner of the fashion label ESPRIT who bought the whole land. Pumalin is now with unbelievable 470,000 ha the largest private park worldwide. Douglas Tompkins is not very interested in tourism. There are some trails, some cabanas and some camping but he would like mainly to keep everything as it is. That’s why it is difficult to access the place.
The landscape is amazing. You get off the boat and you think you are in the Amazonas, however without alligators and snails. You can leave the cabana and are in the middle of the rain forrest.
At Caleta Gonzalez I have rented a cabana. The cabana is very expensive (55,000 CLP for a single person) but has in the middle of the rain forrest all the comfort you need and is heated. There are seven cabanas there and a restaurant. I bought food in Puerto Montt because the restaurant is not cheap either. Beside the restaurant there is a small kiosk with very basic things.
At Caleta Gonzalez starts the Caretera Austral (southern road) which has been built in the jungle by military under General Pinochet in the 70′s and is a wonderful road that relinquishes important parts of Chile. These regions before could only be reached by boat or by plane. Still today the access is very difficult.
There are a few wonderful trails in the rain forest close to Caleta Gonzalez: Cascadas Escondidas (the hidden waterfalls), Sentero de los Alerces (the larch trail), Laguna Tronador.
The trails are implemented with a lot of wood to protect the soil. There is a trail close to the cabanas that leads to cascada (ca 1,5 hours from the cabanas), however after going ca. 1 hour there was a river that I could not cross because the water was too high (much rain) and no bridge.
Alerces (larches) are very old and trees (can be up to 3000 years). They are very tall (up to 150 ft). Their skin has been used for building boats and that why sometimes they just took the skin off and the tree will eventually die.
I have been to Laguna Tronador even if the trail was closed. Wonderful laguna very high up. The trail was not in very good shape and I assume this was the reason why they closed the trail.
After staying there several days, I can advise you that Parque Pumalin is very difficult to access for foreigners without a car! Please don’t understand me wrong. PP is wonderful however it is very inaccessible for non Chileans.
Basically you need a car there because the points of interest are spread over ca 50 km which obviously you can not hike. I was trying to go to the next village xxx but there was no bus to go there and I could not find any car .
Going there by bus
It is not possible to reserve in advance a bus ticket. The bus company called kemelbus which from what I know gets some funds from the Chilean authorities does not reply neither to phone calls nor to emails. The only thing is to go there (in the Bus terminal Puerto Montt). But there they sell only a one way bus ticket. The lady at the clerk told me to buy the bus return ticket in the bus. However the guy in the bus didn’t want to sell me a ticket for Friday (I was asking four days ago on Monday) because he was not on the bus on Friday. Finally I have asked in Caleta Gonzalez the hotel manager for support. I do speak some Spanish but I think the people on the bus intentionally spoke very fast so that I could not understand them. Vishna, the hotel manager was very supportive, but she needed four days (until Thursday) to get a bus ticket for bus arriving at 3 am (three am) in Puerto Montt.
Going there by car
If you have a (hired) car, you will not get a reservation for the ferry. The company that runs the longest ferry ( from Hornopiren to leptepu) does not reply nor mails nor calls from foreigners. They do not accept credit cards. They ask only Chilean people to deposit money in the bank account and then they reserve. Even if you go into their office in Puerto Montt you have to wait ca one week to get a place for the car on the ferry, but again from the point in time where you go into their office in PM.
For the Chilean people it is easier as they can deposit money in the bank of the naval company.
This explains why ca. 95 percent of the tourists in PP are Chilean!.
This is the status in Jan/Feb 2012. The authorities are trying to improve the situation. But please check before getting there. Do not rely on internet because the info there is either wrong or not up to date. The only way is to call on the phone (Spanish only) or to go there.
After I finally got a bus ticket for the ride back from Caleta Gonzalez to Puerto Montt, the bus had to wait in the middle of the night for the tide. So I arrived in Puerto Monnt at 5 am after a 14 hours trip for ca. 200 km!!!
Back in Puerto Montt I’ve rented a car and on Feb 12 I visited Volcano Osorno close to Punto Varas up to the coffee shop. On the volcano there is a 12 km road giving a wonderful view on lake Llanquihue and on the Lago Todos los Santos. On the top skiing is possible during the winter.
Petrohue and Saltos de Petrohue are nice but not worth to visit. Saltos de Petrohue is a series of small waterfalls formed via erosion of the black basalt. But if you are on the way to Iguazu, you better make a coffee break.
I can not understand why a lot of people pay 300 USD for crossing from Puerto Varas to Bariloche (or vice versa) with the trip called “Croce Andina”. You can see exactly the same things from the beach or by taking a “normal” boat on the lakes Llanquihue and Todos los Santos and you pay much less.
The landscape very much similar to the Alps.
On Feb 12 I have been on the island of Chiloe by car. I have visited old villages and churches.The most impressive the church of Achao built by the Jesuits in the 17th century. The Jesuits priests went on a circuit through the villages on the island and stayed three days in each village. During these three days they hold mess, baptisms and marriages and then they left. After three years they came again. Darwin certified in 1838 that these Jesuits priests were the southernmost Christian priests in the world. I have visited the churches in Achao, Curaco de Velez, Dalchhue and Castro. The Achao church is 100 percent out of wood (madera), even the nails are out of wood. They had used wood for everything. The exterior surfaces of the houses are covered with small wood tiles and were worked like filigree. Wonderful.
In Castro I saw some houses built on pillars in the water (palafito chiloe). However it is not clear for me why they built like in this way because they had enough ground.
My Hotel in Puerto Montt: Hospedaje Vista al mar
Location: ** (out of 5) located ca 0,5 km from the central bus station but the neighborhood is not very safe. Poor people lying on the street and a lot of strolling dogs.
Service: ***** (out of 5). Excellent breakfast (salad of fresh fruits). Eliane was very cute and waited for me until 5 am when the delayed bus from Parque Pumalin arrived in Puerto Montt.
Room, Hotel overall, infrastructure (internet): ***** (out of 5): Very good wi fi. Free internet PC in the lobby. Room clean and large
Overall rating: **** stars out of 5
No favorite restaurant in Puerto Montt (just Pizza Hut and McDonald’s)
On Feb 14 I took the bus from Puerto Montt and left Chile for San Carlos de Bariloche.