Varas’s architectural heritage, stemming from its German colonization as a 19th-century lake port, lends it its character. A recent building boom has resulted in nondescript housing developments on the outskirts, but it’s also brought more stylish infill downtown; many visitors prefer Varas to nearby Puerto Montt, and not just as a base for excursions.
On Llanquihue’s southwestern shore, Puerto Varas (population about 30,000) is 996 kilometers south of Santiago, 20 kilometers north of Puerto Montt, and a short distance east of Ruta 5, the Panamericana. The boundaries of its compact central grid are the lakeshore to the east, Diego Portales to the north, San Bernardo to the west, and Del Salvador to the south. On all sides except the shoreline, hills rise steeply toward quiet residential neighborhoods that include many places to stay.
From the corner of Del Salvador, the Costanera becomes paved Ruta 225 to the village of Ensenada, the lakeport of Petrohué in Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales, and toward the Cochamó backcountry.
Puerto Varas Historic District
Other than the lake and its inspiring views toward Volcán Osorno, Varas’s main attraction is its Germanic colonial architecture. The most imposing single structure is the 1915 Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón (corner of San Francisco and María Brunn), a national monument whose steeple soars above the town. When lit at night, it’s best seen from the corner of Imperial and Santa Rosa.
Numerous private residences are national monuments, mostly in residential neighborhoods northwest and west of downtown. The city has recently emphasized its architectural heritage by erecting explanatory signs with brief histories alongside many of them. Examples include the 1910 Casa Kuschel (Klenner 299), the 1914 Casona Alemana (Nuestra Señora del Carmen 788), the deteriorating 1915 Casa Maldonado (Quintanilla 852), 1910 Casa Jupner (Miraflores 96), 1913 Casa Opitz (Terraplén 861), 1932 Casa Gotschlich (Dr. Otto Bader 701-05), and 1932 Casa Yunge (San Ignacio 711). A couple of impressive nonmonuments serve as accommodations: the 1941–1942 Casa Schwerter (Nuestra Señora del Carmen 873) and the 1930 Casa Hitschfeld (Arturo Prat 107).
For some years after the Santiago–Puerto Montt railroad closed, the former Estación del Ferrocarril (Klenner s/n) sat empty, but it’s been revamped into the Centro Cultural Estación, a gallery and events center. After a brief revival, rail service is once again suspended, but work is underway on the tracks and sleepers.
The city has a municipal Oficina de Turismo (Del Salvador 320, tel. 065/361219, 9:30 a.m.–9 p.m. daily Jan.–Feb; 9:30 a.m.–7 p.m. daily Mar.–Dec.). At the foot of the pier on the Avenida Costanera, the private Casa del Turista (Piedraplén s/n, tel. 065/237956, 9 a.m.–10 p.m. daily Dec.–Feb., 9 a.m.–1:30 p.m. and 3–7 p.m. daily Mar.–Nov.) usually has an English speaker available.
Informatur (San José and Santa Rosa, tel. 065/338542), sponsored by an alliance of various service operators, keeps a selective accommodations database.
Afex (San Pedro 414, tel. 065/232377) is the local exchange house; TravelSur (San Pedro 451, tel./fax 065/236000) is a general travel agency that also changes money. BancoEstado (Santa Rosa 414) does not impose a service charge on ATM transactions.
Correos de Chile (San José 242) is the post office. There are numerous downtown phone and cyber outlets, such as Internet@Internet (Del Salvador 264, Local 102).
Chilean Spanish (Mirador 160-A, tel. 09/8361-2500) offers Spanish-language classes.
Lavandería Alba (Walker Martínez 511, tel. 065/232908) washes clothes. Atop Cerro Calvario in southwestern Puerto Varas, the Clínica Alemana (Dr. Otto Bader 810, tel. 065/232336) provides medical assistance.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Chile.