By Steve Klein
A two-hour flight south from Santiago, Puerto Montt is the capital of Region de los Lagos and the jumping off point for a whole world of adventure in Chile’s Patagonia. This area is renowned for both fresh- and saltwater fishing, birding, climbing, hiking, cycling, canoeing and kayaking, nature photography, and horseback riding. It is also the only place in the world where a single day’s excursion offers sightings of Flamingos, Condors, Penguins and even Blue Whales.
As its name suggests, the region is dotted with freshwater lakes, including Chile’s largest lake, Llanquihue (pronounced Yan-KEY-way). For those clients whose sense of adventure does not go beyond day trips, the lake is ringed by small towns that provide a picturesque setting for a wide variety of reasonably priced accommodation, both tourist and business class. At the other end of the scale, a 90-minute drive away is The Cliffs Preserve, an exclusive resort for royalty, celebrities, and those clients who can afford to pamper themselves (US $1200 per person per night).
The Maullin River basin is a prime area for birding. The lowland surrounding the river flooded in 1960 when the strongest earthquake ever recorded on the planet, 9.6 on the Richter scale, dropped the area almost three metres. The earthquake devastated the area, killing thousands and destroying much of the infrastructure, but the resulting marshlands have attracted the majority of the bird species in Chile to the area. In the past 50 years eco-tourism has been one of the keys to rebuilding the area. Local guides lead excursions to see the Chilean Flamingos, several varieties of Pelicans and Cormorants, Flightless Steamer Ducks, Condors, Kelp Geese and Gulls.
An hour drive southwest of Puerto Montt, a ferry connects to Chiloe Island. Here you will find 16 UNESCO World Heritage sites, churches built during the 18th-century Spanish colonization and the 19th-century German colonization. Both cultures are strongly evident in much of the architecture throughout the entire area. It is on Chiloe that you can see endangered Humboldt Penguins, Magellan Penguins, and off the southern tip of the island Blue Whales are sometimes seen.
Chiloe is also the heart of the region’s growing agri-tourism industry. Farm stays, horseback trips, sea kayaking and birding trips can all be arranged through a group of local operators. www.chiloeadventures.com.
For more information on Chile, visit www.visitchile.org or www.chile.travel.
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