Route of the Seven Lakes in Chile: What to do and where to go
In recent years, one of the destinations most valued by national and international tourists who vacation in Chile is in the Los Ríos Region. We’re talking about the Route of the Seven Lakes, a circuit of towns located on the banks of different lakes that stand out for their natural beauty, the lushness of their landscapes, their friendly people and their traditions. 750 kilometers south of Santiago, one of the qualities of this route is the proximity between the towns, so the tourist can choose to settle in one of them and from there visit the others by bus or even rent a car.
How to get to the Route of the Seven Lakes
You can take a direct bus to Villarrica in the South Terminal or travel by car following Route 5 to Freire and then turn left on route 199. You can also take a direct plane to Temuco and from there take a local bus to any of the towns along this circuit.
If you want to go by car from Argentina to Chile you can enter from San Martin de los Andes following route 48 to the Hua Hum border crossing, where you will reach the town of Pirihueico; from where the car must get on a ferry that will take you to Puerto Fuy, on the north shore of Lake Pirihueico.
If we had to recommend one place to "set up camp" along the Route of the Seven Lakes, that would be Villarrica. It's a beautiful city and very well maintained. In addition, it’s the city (perhaps with the exception of Pucón) that has the most varied and sophisticated range of services and products, and this makes it an international destination.
To give just a few examples, here you will find exquisite ice cream parlors, tea houses and shops with regional and organic products, as well as adventure tourism packages that include night expeditions to the Villarrica Volcano, hiking, horseback rides that end at waterfalls hidden in the middle of nature, ziplining, mountain bike circuits and others.
Travel tip: Along many of the streets that overlook the lake, including the waterfront, there are cozy cabins and hostels at a great price, some of which include breakfast. On average, a double room costs around USD 50 per night, while a cabin (with capacity for five people) costs around USD 85 per night, which is convenient if you’re travelling in a group.
Pucón is another favorite destination on the Route of the Seven Lakes, especially for young people. Its at the opposite end of Villarrica, on the shores of the lake with the same name and literally at the foot of the volcano, so that the tourist who decides to go in winter will be awed by the visual spectacle of the large snow-covered massif.
Visiting Pucón in winter is synonymous with snowboarding and skiing, since the Pucón Ski Center is located twenty minutes from the city. However, if you prefer to come in summer, it is also very close to the Huerquehue National Park, which corresponds to an important reserve of native flora and fauna, and is also just minutes from the Trancura River, an ideal place to try out rafting and hydrospeed. Not to mention all the options for entertainment that exist in the same city, such as breweries and nightclubs to dance until dawn.
Travel tip: Staying and eating in Pucón is more expensive than in other towns in the area, which is why it is also considered a more exclusive destination. A cabin can cost around 100 USD per night. If you’re a couple, our recommendation is to rent a hotel room, as some offer promotions for three nights for 280 USD with breakfast included.
Coñaripe is a somewhat rustic town; not fully conditioned to meet the needs of demanding tourists. However, it has a great attraction that makes it a must for anyone who travels the route outlined here. We’re referring to its spectacular beach on the shores of Lake Calafquen. Bathing in these waters is a difficult experience to describe, since a few kilometers from the shore there are huge green mountains that "embrace" the lake, producing an enveloping visual effect and the sensation of being suspended at a great height . A truly moving experience.
If your plan is to continue on to Pucón after leaving the lake, then we recommend that you make a stop along the way and visit the famous Geometric Baths, a complex of various pools carved into the rock of a ravine twenty minutes from Coñaripe towards the northwest and surrounded by forests. Take advantage of its more than seventy tributaries of hot springs that arise naturally at 80 degrees Celsius. If you want to relax and disconnect from everything, then this is the right place for you.
Lican Ray is a small town of two thousand five hundred people located on the north shore of Lake Calafquen that subsists mainly thanks to the active tourism. It stands out mainly for its wide beach and warm waters in the summer season. Here there are also traditional markets where tourists can buy regional products of all kinds; mainly jams, textiles, traditional liquors, wood crafts and natural ointments based on native herbs, among others.
The Mapuche national park is also located in Lican Ray, run by the indigenous community itself and open to the public. There the interested tourist can learn many things related to the culture of this unique town, try typical foods and take guided tours.
Lake Caburgua is one of the main destinations for the vacationers from the area, who’re attracted by the spectacular landscapes that surround it and by its warm transparent waters, ideal for bathing and practicing water sports.
Travel tip: There aren’t many food options in the vicinity of the lake. If you come from Pucón or Villarrica, you may want to put together your own lunch and some snacks before leaving. If you come by car, it’s recommended to arrive early, as the (private) parking lots fill up quickly.
Panguipulli, like Villarrica, is a good place to "set up base", since you can visit several nearby towns from there and, being a city, it has services of all kinds. It is, of course, on the shores of Lake Panguipulli. If we had to recommend just one thing to do here, we would definitely tell you to visit the Casona Cultural de Panguipulli, an old restored Swiss-style mansion that was formerly a boarding school for Capuchin monks and today is an architectural heritage site in this area. It’s an ideal place to have coffee or tea, taste the exquisite pastries of southern Chile, attend exhibitions, plays or just sit and read.
Neltume is a small town with simple houses and very few shops. Why do we recommend it here? Because of the incomparable beauty of the Fuy River that runs parallel to the town on the south side and that’s worth seeing as it has the most crystalline waters that can be found in the area. In addition, the waters are calm and suitable for bathing on this part of the river, although very cold because of its proximity to the mountains. Further on, in the direction of Huilo Huilo, those same waters are the protagonists of spectacular jumps that are worth viewing from a distance and with safety precautions.
Further north, in the same area, the adventurous tourist will find the Neltume River, a short watercourse just one kilometer long, an ideal extension for rating and fly fishing.
Huilo Huilo is a biological reserve with international fame and a reference for sustainable tourism in Chile. It has an extensive network of perfectly marked and interconnected trails that allow tourists to get into nature and visit various geographical and architectural attractions.
Within its geographical milestones the "jumps" or waterfalls are highlighted, which make an impact with their beauty and power. There are also endless elements of the evergreen forest and the "Valdivian jungle" that can be experienced to their fullest with a guide, who can assist you with many activities such as learning about the native flora, bird watching, trying out different adventure sports and excursions to the top of the Mocho Coshuenco Volcano.
As for the architectural attractions, Huilo Huilo stands out for its good taste and for the intelligence invested in the design of the accommodations, which include a wide range for all tastes and price ranges, from camping areas where the visitor can set up his tent, shared cabins for backpackers, private cabins and lodges. The latter deserve its own mention, since their structures are true works of art that merge with the natural landscape, as can be seen with the famous Montaña Mágica Lodge.
As if all this weren’t enough, in the heart of the reserve, on the side of the road, Petermann Craft Brewery is located, where one of the best beers in the area is produced thanks to the unparalleled purity of the glacial waters used to make it.
Travel tip: This reserve is very large, so you will need at least three days to hike all of its trails and take a couple of excursions.
The Route of the Seven Lakes is one of the destinations that you should not miss in your travel itinerary in South America. Get in touch with our team of experts and book all your excursions in Chile with Chile4utours.
By: Brian Gray, Chilean anthropologist and muralist specializing in urban visual culture