Because Chile is so long, it can take over 48 hours to drive to the very southern tip from Santiago. That makes for a long bus ride! Rather than do it all in one go, I decided to make a road trip of it, stopping at lots of little towns along the way.
The distances are very long so I decided to do it in chunks, spending a few days at each stop. The drive down is stunning with mountains surrounding the highway and huge farm fields with various crops along the way, so definitely get a window seat!
No need to rent a car — the buses are very comfortable and safe, even for single female travelers like myself. They ticket all the bags and you watch them put it on and then they periodically check on all the passengers to ensure you didn’t miss your stop.
Here are the top 5 towns I would recommend making in the lakes district of central Chile:
I chose Chillan because it has an amazing farmers & handicraft market on the weekends. It is one of the largest in Chile and attracts vendors from around the region. And it didn´t disappoint!
It was a sprawling market with everything from produce and full pigs to copper carvings and floor rugs. I ate and wandered my way through the market, while listening to traditional Chilean music on the pan flutes and harp. It was a wonderful experience and I got to try some delicious produce :)
There is also a fish and produce market every day of the week on the banks of the river right in the middle of the town. And to my surprise, there were sea lions at the market as well. As the fisherman cut up the fish, they throw the remains to the sea lions to eat. There were so many of them and they were absolutely huge!
Valdivia is also the German capital of Chile, so no trip here would be complete without craft German beer. Kunstmann, one of Chile’s largest microbrews, is based in Valdivia and they have a fun tasting room in their brewery. I went to the brewery and got to sample many different kinds of beer. All of them were great, although malty, something I’m not used to drinking. But it was great to learn about beer making (at least as much as I could understand) and seeing craft beers in other countries.
Pucon, a popular mountain town in Chile, was my last stop on my road trip through Central Chile. It is known for a constantly steaming volcano, great outdoor activities and people from around the world. This is a major expat town, so expect a lot of the standard touristic amenities. Even though it is quite touristy, its natural beauty and quaint feel makes it well worth the stop.
One of my favorite activities in Pucon was hiking to the Salto el Claro waterfall. Falling an impressive 85 meters, this waterfall is definitely off the beaten trail. The hike took about 2 hours, but it was well worth it. The waterfall cascades over this secluded pool and drops into the forest. Its a thin stream of water, but the drop is long and looks so elegant. I took a short swim, but the water was only about 60 degrees, so I was freezing after 30 seconds!