Crossing the Lake District in Patagonia to Bariloche

We left Puerto Varas, Chile early one morning to begin our full day journey through the Andes mountains to get over to the Argentinian side. I was hoping to stay in Puerto Varas for a couple more days to really enjoy this beautiful village. I guess this means I’ll have to come back! There was still so much more to see and do but all I kept repeating in my head was “three boats and four buses”! That was our mantra leading to this day. It was going to take us three catamaran boats and four tour buses to get to Bariloche, the chocolate haven and ski town in Argentina, and all in one day!

Boat on the lake

We took a tour bus to the Lago Todos Los Santos to board our first catamaran. It was a nice leisurely two hour trip through the massive lakes filled with the melting snow and glaciers of the Patagonia. These areas are very popular for fishing salmon and trout, fly fishing, boating and hiking. Its a place you visit to relax and take in the sights. When we departed I caught this photo of a man teaching, I’m guessing, his 4 or 5 year old son how to steer the boat! Hey, you have to start training them young.

Man and child on boat

The gorgeous views made me forget how much further we needed to travel.

lake crossing

lake crossing

Beautiful clear day out for boating, we couldn’t have asked for better weather!

Lake crossing route

We arrived in Puerto Peulla, population 120, just in time for lunch and walked about 10 minutes to the Natura Hotel

Puella sign

House by Peulla river

Natura Hotel

The Chileans, similar to Europe and Caribbean cultures, have their biggest meal of the day during lunch time. It’s quite an adjustment when you’re used to having sandwiches, soups or salads for lunch but we didn’t protest and dove right in. Besides, we were in the middle of nowhere, between mountains and in the wilderness so any other food options we’d have to catch it ourselves! If you take this tour route its more than likely that you’ll stop at this hotel’s restaurant and if you do, you’ll be pleased with mostly anything on the menu. I didn’t see any spicy dishes on the menu so opted for the salmon and got a side of spicy salsa. The salmon was perfectly cooked and the cut was very generous.

Salmon lunch at Natura

My sister ordered the fried Merluza. This fried fish was crispy and so tender and flaky that if it wasn’t for the crust you’d never know it was fried. Just perfection and super spicy too! I felt bad for my sister, she actually yelled out as soon as she bit into one, so of course I had to come to the rescue and handle those for her! Note to management, you probably want to warn folks about the blazing hot rings of fire on the plate!

Spicy fried fish

Delicious a dulce de leche custard.

Dulce de leche custard

With bellies full we boarded the tour bus and headed towards the Tronador mountain to begin the second leg of our trip.

Tronador sign

This mountain was given the name Tronador because of the thunderous sounds the glaciers make when they’re breaking off…an unfortunate result of global warming. If you look to the upper right area of photo below you can see two of the glaciers. They actually look like black ice. Tronador mountain

Here’s a closer look…

Tronado glacier

We traveled up the mountain and through the steep and winding roads of the Vicente Perez Rosales National Park which is in Chile to the border of Argentina where we entered the Nahuel Haupi National Park.

Argentinian Border sign

After going through customs at the border crossing we boarded yet another catamaran at Puerto Frias. I was playing with the camera settings on this one and love how the boat looks like a little toy. The boat could probably fit about 50 people comfortably so there was plenty of room to move around. One thing that’s great about crossing the lakes with a tour company is that you don’t have to worry about lugging all your baggage. You can easily board the boats quickly and enjoy your trip stress and worry free.Catamaran in Puerto Frias

The water in lake Frias is so bright and green from the mineral deposits released when the glaciers crash down the mountain. It’s a beautiful site to see. It was so cold out I was only able to stay out for about five minutes at a time even though it was the beginning of Spring. I can just imagine how magnificent it would be to visit during the summer months. Yes, the water is this blue! The locals call it Emerald Lake because of the color but it looked more like turquoise to me.

Lake Frias

We boarded the third catamaran at Puerto Blest for the last leg of our tour before reaching Puerto Panuelos, then it was a quick bus ride to Bariloche.

Catamaran_tour

We finally make it to our destination for the next few days and immediately zeroed in on a parillada, a grill house, for a taste of what the locals eat. Actually, a parillada is a platter of grilled meats and most include various cuts of beef, chicken and pork, with some offal as well. I settled for a tender steak, my first in Argentina and it’s as delicious as rumored. Try Alberto’s in Bariloche for great food and great wine, this bottle of Don David Malbec was a very good medium bodied wine and complimented the steak very well.

Don David Malbec at Alberto's

grilled meats

Melted cheese

steak dinner at Alberto's

The next day we took ski lifts up to the top of Cerro Campanario for a spectacular view of Bariloche and surrounding towns.

mountain top

It was so cold up there so I enjoyed the view from inside with delicious hot chocolate.

hot cocoa

Weeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Cerro Campanario ski lift

We headed back to town and stopped at Don Molina’s for lunch, another great place spot for amazing food. Argentina isn’t just known for it’s wonderful steak, you can find exceptional Italian, French, German and Swiss food as well.

condiments

Pasta puttanesca, spicy and al dente!

spicy pasta puttanesca

You’ll find several gelato shops, bakeries, chocolate shops a few blocks from Don Molina if you want to take a walk before getting dessert. These were on the way back to our hotel, the Nahuel Huapi, so the walk was quite nice after such a huge meal.

gelato

By the way, the cake below is signed “Happy Birthday Fatty”! A term of endearment I’m sure!

bakery sweets

Well hola Russia! Mamuschka is a very popular chocolate shop in the heart of Bariloche. Seems like every third door on this street will have a chocolatier. Walk into any of them and the staff will be more than happy to give you free samples.

Mamuschka Chocolates

Before we left Bariloche I had to try the fondue at Marmite, a little pricy for fondue but I was craving it!

Fondue at Marmite's

Bariloche is one of those towns that you can spend several days exploring. It’s known as the central hub for the Patagonia area with the nearest airport about 40 minutes away. It’s Springtime now and there are plenty of adventures to be had and amazing food as well. Next time I’ll come during the summer months and try wind surfing or kayaking and rock climbing. If you’re here during the winter months, expect lots of snow, I hear the mountains can easily get up to 2 meters of snow, so bring your ski gear!

Arriving In Patagonia With Food On My Mind

After leaving Santiago, Chile we headed south to the northern part of the Chilean Patagonia. Patagonia spans across Chile and Argentina with the Andes being part of the continental divide. I also learned that Patagonia means the land of big feet, actually it was the name given to the region because the natives in the area were said to be very tall and had big feet, “pata grandes“, “patagones“. There are lots of interesting facts about the area. For example, how the Andes have the tallest volcano reaching 6000+ meters! According to our guide, 15% of the worlds volcanos are in the Andes, they host multiple glaciers (I saw two!) and are the longest mountain range in the world. Pretty impressive but all I know is flying over the Andes is simply breathtaking…

The Andes Mountains

We had an early flight to Puerto Montt and immediately headed to the beautiful Petrohue Falls for a brisk hike and quick photos. Every where you look in the Patagonia area is a photo opportunity. It’s early Spring and the land, despite the 40 degree drop in temperature from Santiago, is lush and green.

petrohue river

The falls aren’t tall but they are beautiful and powerful…the sounds alone will put you in a trance. That’s volcanic rock there by the way. If you decide to go,  make sure to stay for at least a hour or two so you can take your time discovering the various trails.

Petrohue falls

Just watch where you’re going since the national park is huge and was told one can easily get lost. There’s a little cafe near the falls if you want to stop for snacks and coffee as well as a retail shop selling handmade crafts, wool sweaters and socks. Perfect for the unprepared travelers like myself who decide to walk the trail with comfy shoes but no socks! It was freezing out so those wool socks where my saving grace! We hit the road again for our hotel in Puerto Varas for a very scenic ride. That’s the Osorno volcano in the distance, the clouds covering its peak!

road to Puerto Varas

We were famished so stopped at the Fogon seafood restaurant for some amazing seafood!

Fogon sign

They immediately served us salmon and trout ceviche and warm homemade rolls on the house which we gobbled up in no time. This Patagonia local beer was pretty good too!

Austral Patagonia beer

Next was the a Corvina fish stew…I was in heaven! It arrived piping hot with huge tender pieces of fish, too much for me to finish. The light broth had stewed tomatoes, onions, mixed herbs and a hint of chilies whose flavor I can still remember. It’s the kind of comfort food you need after a chilly, busy day.

Chilean Sea Bass stew

The King Crabs were pretty amazing too but I don’t think I’d be able to finish a dinner this size! They also have this creamy, spicy mashed potatoes to make things interesting.

king crab dinner

Look at the size of these babies!!

King Crabs

After that meal we didn’t even bother with dessert or coffee, it was straight to the hotel to relax before our next adventure. We stayed at the Cabanas del Lago, a certified “green” hotel right by the lake. I loved this place! Great service and comfortable rooms, free Wi-Fi, heated swimming pool, cozy and romantic bar and lounge area overlooking lake Llanquihue, the staff was super friendly and of course our hotel room view did help!

Cabanas del Lago Hotel room view

I couldn’t end the day without a few sweet treats so ventured into town looking for desserts and local spices. After poking around a bit I found a spice blend very popular in Chilean Patagonia, Merken, a typical Mapuche spice! Mapuches being the original natives of the area.

Merken spices

Merken is a hot spice blend made using smoked chile peppers, similar to a smokey, hot paprika and blended with salt and other spices for more flavor. You can sprinkle it on anything and of course, I found a chocolate shop using it in their truffles. So delicious!

Merken truffles

Puerto Varas has quite a few chocolate confectioners due to the Swiss and German who migrated to the area in the early 19th century. You’ll see those influences in the architecture, signage, pubs and foods. A very fascinating place!

Mudolph Chocolates

After that huge lunch earlier I opted for a light snack and coffee at Cassis Cafe, the best coffee in Chile is served there! Seriously, I’m picky about my coffee and usually go for dark roasts and all the coffee I tried tasted like either Nescafe or some watered down version of coffee but Cassis has the real deal. The perfect ending to a perfect day!

Be sure to return for my four part series on my adventures in Chile and Argentina. Next up, crossing the Andes in route to Bariloche, Argentina! Llao llao!

My Amazing Visit To Santiago Chile

I’m back! Sorry to have been gone for so long but needed to get away for some rest and relaxation which I rarely got during my trip to Chile but I couldn’t stop! There were so many beautiful places to see and great food to be had! I had the pleasure of visiting both Chile and Argentina as well as the Patagonia area for my too short vacation and noted many great spots for my return visit. I think I gained about 5 pounds there but who cares, life is meant to be enjoyed! Besides, there’s nothing a little exercise can’t fix. We landed in Chile first, the home of the Carmenere grape, Chilean Sea Bass, and some of the best steak empanadas you’ll ever have!

Metropolitan Church

First though we took in a city tour of Santiago to get acclimated and all the while I was looking for something spicy to share with you! Anything to take away the chill in the air. This time of year is the beginning of Spring in this area and even though the flowers were blooming there was still a little cool air coming in from the Pacific ocean.

Flower Cart

We walked around enjoying the beautiful architecture. Chile has some great structures and you can clearly see the European influences. Below is Santiago’s post office in the Plaza de Armas, now does your post office look anything like that? Probably not but also in this plaza you’ll find an Italian renaissance church, some art nouveau interiors, beautiful art sculptures, and artisans selling all sorts of goods…just watch out for the pushy older ladies selling rosaries, so cute but they won’t take no for an answer!

Santiago Chile Post Office

Inside the cathedral…

The Metropolitan Cathedral

Face Sculpture

Loved this cart, so colorful and organized!

Candy stand

I edited quite a bit here after taking over 800 photos between both countries so picked a few to give you a snapshot of what I experienced. I looked around for spicy foods of course but Chilean food is more flavorful than hot. Hot peppers are more of an afterthought and added as a garnish, worked into a salsa or dried and sprinkled on dishes. There aren’t any specific places that I found that focus on hot, spicy foods but pretty much any restaurant or market you visit will have local aji (pepper), preserves, salsas or dried spices for purchase or to add to your dish.

Jars of mixed spices

One thing you will get plenty of in Chile is the empanada (that’s a meat patty folks). Here the empanadas are very different from those I grew up on. The spices are different and most are stuffed with chopped boiled egg whites, olives, coarsely chopped onions and chopped steak, not ground beef which is typical in the Caribbean versions. All in all, very delicious and usually served with a spicy salsa on the side…oh, and most look like below, giant hot pockets or calzones!

empanada

Very chunky ingredients and very filling…

Sliced open empanada

You’ll have some energy after your empanadas so take a drive up to the San Cristobal mountain for a hike and a panoramic view of Santiago. On a clear day you can see the snow capped Andes mountains in the distance. Definitely a view not to be missed! There was a bit of fog still covering the city when I took this photo but you can still see them.

I could have spent hours up there, its just that peaceful. Further up the mountain you can hike to where the chapel is and just take it all in. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes or sneakers since there will be a lot of stairs and walking. Once you approach the top you’ll find a huge 22 meter Virgin Mary with extended arms similar to the monument of Christ in Brazil.

The Virgin Mary at the San Cristobal mountain

It’s was a nice relaxing tour after a day of activities but the day wasn’t over yet. We stopped by the Normandie restaurant in downtown Santiago after reading several great reviews online and the food was spot on!

salmon papillote

This salmon papillote was the most tender, well spiced salmon I had in all of Chile and there’s a whole lot of salmon to be had in Chile. This beef bourguignon was like butter; tender, juicy and very satisfying. May I add too that the food prices were very reasonable here. The food prices in Chile can get very steep.

Beef Bourguignon at Normandies

You can’t visit Chile without touring a vineyard or two or three! Chile is a huge contender in the wine marketplace and their Concha y Toro vineyard is one of the largest wine distributors in the world. I’ve had just OK Chilean wine in the states but in Chile I had great, exceptional wine. Surely they’re keeping all the good stuff! Seemed like every wine we tried was good, even the table wine.

Concha y Toro Vineyard

There are many good vineyards around the Santiago area. We took the metro (subway) to the Concha y Toro vineyard and it took us less than an hour after a quick 10 minute taxi ride from our train stop. For only $36 you can tour the vineyard, visit the Castillero del Diablo cellar, enjoy an indoor and outdoor tasting, as well as a cheese plate and wine pairing with a sommelier…and you get to keep the cheese board and glass.

Wine and cheese pairing

Below is the famed Carmenere grape responsible for one of the best and beloved medium bodied wines in the country. This harvest will be ready by February or March of next year.

Carmenere grape

Another gorgeous vineyard you must visit is the Emiliana organic vineyard which is only about a half hour drive from Santiago. The grounds are gorgeous, the staff friendly and the wine is flowing! I picked up a bottle of their Chardonnay for a pleasing crisp and fruity white wine perfect for all the seafood you’ll be enjoying in Chile. After leaving Santiago, we headed south for Puerto Varas at the northern part of the Patagonia to commune with nature and indulge in the country’s fine seafood dishes. Soon I’ll post those photos for you!