Check out the hike-friendly volcanic peaks in Chile’s Lake District and learn about the indigenous Mapuche people...
On the flight – or drive – south from Santiago you see a line of volcanoes marching in single-file on the left: Chillán, Lanín, Quetrupillán, Osorno, Calbuco. It’s one of the most remarkable sights you’ll ever see from an aeroplane and it would be merely teasing if you weren’t heading for the Lake District. For this region is where the Andes begin to dip to a hike-friendly height – around 2-3,000m above sea level – and where great lakes left behind by the last ice age have cut natural low-level passes deep into the range. These provide access to the foot of some impressive volcanoes and peaks, and into dense temperate forests – there’s even a land and water route all the way to northern Argentina.
The gateway to this region is Temuco, the sometime home of both of Chile’s Nobel- winning poets, Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda. The city lies close to what was once an infamous frontier between European and Indian Chile; beyond Temuco you enter the homeland of the indigenous Mapuche people, who have been settled here for thousands of years. In protected areas like the Vicente Pérez Rosales and Puyehue national parks, you can go deep into the rainforests that have provided them with wood for their huts, pine nuts for food and ideal cover for resisting the Spanish and, later, Chilean armies. The Mapuche, unlike Argentina’s plains Indians, evolved into a fishing and agricultural society and in Osorno and Valdivia you can visit Mapuche markets and try local dishes.
Opportunities for mountain biking, rafting, hiking, horse riding and kayaking are abundant. If you only stop in one place, Villarrica, a cone-shaped stratovolcano, can be explored while staying on the shores of its namesake lake close to the small adventure tourism hub of Pucón. There are caves on its slopes, as well as waterfalls and hot springs, perfect for soothing your muscles post-activity.
The Lake District lends itself to laid back stays in pretty Alpine towns like Frutillar and Puerto Varas – both settled by Germans in the late 19th century – and to more adventurous excursions.
Sample itinerary The Lake District is home to the indigenous Mapuche people and the eight-night ‘Native Chile’ tour from £3,495 includes a two-night stay in a traditional thatched ruka. Speak to an expert at Cox & Kings on 0845 619 6094 for other itineraries and ideas.
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