Puerto Montt, Chile cruises

Standing almost on the halfway point of the country’s long coast, Puerto Montt is the gateway to Chile’s lake district, and can reveal stunning scenery as well as a rich German heritage.

Stepping ashore in Puerto Montt, named after a Chilean president, you may just feel like you’ve found some corner of Bavaria. The German influence here – found in the cakes, local beer and the gabled houses – is a legacy of settlers drawn to the Lake District 150 years ago.

Puerto Varas is a picture of Chilean-German charm. Its architecture is certainly reminiscent of Europe, and it’s known as the ‘city of roses’ for its floral displays. If the town is attractive, its setting is positively stunning. It sits on the southwestern corner of Llanquihue Lake, the second largest in the country, and looks across to the perfect cone of Osorno Volcano.

Halfway along the western shore, Frutillar offers a more laid-back vision of German influence. It has a quaint old pier that extends out into the lake and black sand beaches if you wish to bask by its waters. The German Colonial Museum gives an idea of what life was like for its early arrivals, and a replica mill with a waterwheel is among the simple clapboard buildings. Wherever you wander, you’ll have surely earned a slice of kuchen or apple strudel.

It’s fair to say that the scenery around Puerto Montt will almost certainly entice you out of the city. To appreciate nature’s majesty, you might venture into Vicente Perez Rosales National Park, Chile’s oldest protected wilderness. One of its most attractive features is Lake Todos Los Santos, commonly known as Lake Esmeralda, which hints at the intense greenery of its water. Close by are the Petrohue Falls. On the river of the same name, this is the point at which its waters bounce and foam over the basaltic lava boulders.

You could delve into the verdant woodlands of Alerce Andino National Park, which are speckled with lakes. The stars here are the soaring alerce or Chilean redwood trees, which can reach heights of up to 150 feet and be around 13 feet wide.

Within these dramatic landscapes, you can take part in a number of outdoor activities, from hiking and cycling to kayaking and rafting. Perhaps an authentic ranch might appeal more. You’ll meet the huasos, Chile’s versions of cowboys, for impressive displays of horsemanship, rounded off with a hearty barbecue and a glass of Chilean wine.