Established in 1926, Chile’s first national park, Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales, is a geographical extravaganza whose dominant features are Volcán Osorno, a symmetrical snowcapped cone that’s the “Fujiyama of South America,” and Lago Todos los Santos, an elongated lacustrine highway leading toward the Argentine border. The 251,000-hectare park also contains rushing rivers, steep forested canyons, and a scattering of alpine lakes.

It takes its name from Vicente Pérez Rosales, an adventurer whose mid-19thcentury travels literally cleared the way for European pioneers—he hired the indigenous Huilliche to set fire to the forests near Lago Llanquihue. Pérez Rosales later made a name for himself during the California Gold Rush.

Boat traffic began to cross Todos los Santos around 1890, with the first tourists arriving in 1903. In 1913, Theodore Roosevelt was one of them. Long before Europeans saw the area, though, indigenous peoples had used the southerly Paso de Vuriloche to traverse the Andes, and Jesuit missionaries used a slightly different route south of Volcán Tronador, the area’s highest peak.

View of golden-leafed trees and a snow-capped mountain beyond the welcome sign at the park's entrance.

Entering Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales. Photo © Sam Beebe, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.


Sector Volcán Osorno

While not erupting since the mid-19th century, Volcán Osorno’s youthful but potentially dangerous Holocene crater has active fumaroles. From the Beagle’s deck, Darwin observed the eruption of January 19-20, 1835:

At midnight the sentry observed something like a large star, which gradually increased in size until about three o’clock, when it presented a very magnificent spectacle. By the aid of a glass, dark objects, in constant succession, were seen, in the midst of a great glare of red light, to be thrown up and to fall down. The light was sufficient to cast on the water a long bright reflection.

Adventure operators in Puerto Octay and Puerto Varas offer one-day guided climbs of Osorno, for about US$400 for one person, US$300 per person if there are two. Starting around 4am, it’s a challenging ascent, requiring either technical skills on snow and ice or guides with those technical skills, especially to cross crevasses. Conaf, which issues permits, requires one guide for every two climbers on commercial trips. Independent climbers must provide proof of experience and present their gear.

Recent improvements have made Osorno’s ski area a viable recreational option in both summer and winter, though it’s not likely to draw big crowds away from more elaborate ski areas such as Portillo and Valle Nevado. Most skiers stay in either Puerto Varas or other lakeside communities, as the only accommodations are two basic nearby refugios (shelters), though a small hotel is under construction.

Facilities include a pair of lifts that carry skiers nearly 500 meters above the base elevation of 1,200 meters. At the base, reached by a paved road just north of Ensenada, there’s a small cafeteria and a larger restaurant, seating up to 150 patrons for lunch. Lift tickets are moderately priced, and rental gear is available. Outside ski season, visitors can still take the lifts (US$26 adults, US$13 children) for access to the views and high country walks.

For more information on the ski area in both winter and summer, contact the Centro de Ski & Montaña Volcán Osorno (tel. 09/9158-7337). They also provide round-trip van shuttles (US$19 pp) for day trips from Puerto Varas.

Sector Petrohué

At the west end of Todos los Santos, the source of its namesake river, Sector Petrohué is most popular as the port for the Peulla passenger ferry, which leaves mid-morning and returns early afternoon. Since most of the sector lacks an integrated trail network, visiting remote areas requires either hiring a private launch or contracting an activities-oriented tour, but there are a few accessible options. From Playa Larga, the black-sand beach north of Petrohué Lodge, the five-kilometer Sendero Rincón del Osorno follows the lake’s western shore. The Sendero La Picada is a five-hour (one-way) hike that traverses the volcano’s northeastern slopes to a gravel road that continues to Las Cascadas.

A short walk from the jetty, the Museo Pioneros de la Patagonia (no phone, 9:45am-1pm and 2pm-6:15pm daily, US$4) is a privately built facility depicting local history from pre-Columbian times to the present. It focuses on the trans-Andean connection pioneered by the Roth-Schirmer family since the mid-19th century, emphasizing commercial links to Argentina and creation of the Cruce Andino shuttle that now carries tourists there.

Six kilometers southwest of Petrohué, on the south side of the highway, Conaf manages the Sendero Saltos del Petrohué (US$3), a short riverbank trail that follows a series of basalt bedrock rapids and falls that are too rough for rafting or kayaking. Below the falls, Puerto Varas operators start their Class III-IV descents of the Río Petrohué (US$68), which is suitable for novices but still interesting for those with more experience. Rock climbing sites are nearby.

Sector Peulla

Where the Río Negro and the Río Peulla empty into Todos los Santos, 20 nautical miles east of Petrohué, the hamlet of Peulla traditionally earns its livelihood from tourist traffic patronizing Hotel Peulla and its restaurant, whether overnight, on day excursions from Petrohué, or en route to Bariloche. A newer luxury hotel has mostly supplanted the Peulla. Chilean customs and immigration is a short distance east.

Day-trippers and through-travelers have time enough to walk to Cascada de Los Novios, a waterfall just a few minutes from Hotel Peulla. Only overnighters will have time for the eight-kilometer climb of the Sendero Laguna Margarita.

Getting There and Around

At Saltos del Petrohué, the private Centro de Visitantes offers information, a café, souvenirs, and activities throughout the park.

Several bus companies connect Petrohué with Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt. Mid- September-mid-April, Monday-Saturday, Puerto Montt’s Turistour operates 7:45am buses to Ensenada and Petrohué via Puerto Varas, connecting with its own bus-boat crossing to Bariloche (US$280 pp). The rest of the year, the Bariloche crossing takes two days, with an obligatory overnight at Hotel Peulla; buses run Monday-Friday only, leaving Puerto Montt at 8:30am.

At Petrohué, a dockside kiosk sells tickets for the three-hour voyage to Peulla, where it connects with the bus to the Argentine border at Puerto Frías and a relay of bus-boat links to Bariloche. Hikers and cyclists can also take this route. Round-trip tickets to Peulla cost US$45 for adults, slightly less for children; lunch at Hotel Peulla costs an additional US$20 per person. From Puerto Varas, the fare is US$55; for more details, contact Turistour (Del Salvador 72, tel. 065/2437127).

Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Patagonia.