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One of the largest lakes in South Chile, Lake Llanquihue (Lago Llanquihue in Spanish) covers over 200,000 acres. This picturesque lake, second only in size to General Carrera Lake, lies in the shadow of magnificent conical Osorno Volcano. Surrounded by lush vegetation and a haven for native flora and fauna, Lake Llanquihue has become a favored destination for sightseers, skiers and vacationers from all over the world. The lake was first discovered by western explorers when Pedro de Valdivia arrived in 1552, but remained relatively untouched by colonialists until the end of the 19th century. The name means 'submerged' or 'submerged land' in the native Mapuche language and was no doubt often visited in prehistory; the archeological site of Monte Verde a few miles away holds firmly-dated evidence of the earliest human culture in the Americas, some 1500 years older than the better-known Clovis culture. What the lake looked like to those visitors some 12,500 years ago, we may never know, but archeologists are actively digging into the issue. Llanquihue was scraped out of the earth by the last glacier to leave the area, as were most lakes in the Chilean Lake District.
Today, of course, most visitors come to Lake Llanquihue to relax, fish, ski and trek the several national parks and reserves in the area. The only outflow from the pristine lake is the Maullin River, which originates at the lake and flows southwest to the Gulf of Coronados on the Pacific. The lake is an excellent fishery, with fario trout, rainbow trout, silver or coho salmon and perca trout as the sport fishing favorites. A number of fishing lodges and resorts arrange pleasant modern accommodations and offer fishing expeditions on Llanquihue Lake, the Maullin River, and the many mountain streams draining into the lake. The lake is also excellent for water sports, with its wide expanses of open water and excellent lakeside accommodations. Kayaking, canoeing, water skiing, jet skiing, swimming and river rafting are all favorite pastimes for vacationers.
The surrounding countryside is perfect for an active vacation: hiking, mountain biking and nature observation in summer vie for popularity with skiing on the slopes of the Osorno Volcano, which has a ski resort located right on the lakeshore. The tourist-oriented towns of Frutillar, Llanquihue and Puerto Octay lie along the western lakeshore, while larger Puerto Varas anchors the southwestern shore. All have beautiful beach areas and spectacular views of snow-capped Osorno Volcano. Puerto Varas in particular shows its German heritage most clearly in the architecture and cuisine. As one of the oldest resort regions in Chile, the Llanquihue Lake area has modern cultural and entertainment facilities such as theaters, galleries, a casino and music venues as well as a well-preserved natural environment.
German immigration was actively encouraged in the mid-1800s when settlers were needed to develop farming in the Northern Patagonia region of both Argentina and Chile. The small city of Puerto Varas in particular is graced with soaring Germanic-style churches and homes. The city is well-known for its many restaurants serving authentic kutchens, marmalades, sausages and craftsman-style beers. The city is geared toward travelers and visitors, with annual festivals and activities planned for nearly every month of the year. Many hotels, resorts, guest houses and vacation rentals assure there is always the perfect lodging choice available. All types of tour operators are headquartered here and can provide expert guidance and equipment for nearly any type of activity. The views are spectacular: seven volcano peaks can be seen from the Llanquihue lakefront pier. A road, mostly paved, circles the entire lake. Just south of the lake near Puerto Varas, the Reserva Nacional Llanquihue or Llanquihue Reserve is a favorite among rain forest fans and also features Mount Calbuco, a huge active volcano that last erupted in 1893.
Puerto Varas is also the starting point for one of the old Lake Crossing routes across the Andes. Originally the favored route of Jesuit priests centuries ago, the tour begins by bus to Lake Todos los Santos within the Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales; this national park is the oldest in Chile and holds both Osorno Volcano and Lake Todos los Santos. Lake Llanquihue and Todos los Santos were once joined into one huge lake, but volcanic eruptions separated the two, sending their outflow in different directions.
The 570,000-acre Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales is a favorite for nature observation, thermal baths, skiing, fishing and boat tours. There is a hotel and some camping available in the park. Bird watchers spot great grebes, flightless steamer ducks, torrent ducks, kingfishers, crested caracaras, green-backed firecrowns, Magellanic woodpeckers, ashy-headed geese, Chilean coots, and eagles. Animals seen in the park include pudu deer, grey foxes, river otters, pumas, wild cats, ferrets, long-muzzled weasels, and little mountain monkeys. Several hiking trails take sightseers to view waterfalls and magnificent views overlooking the lake. The Lake Crossings route across the border requires taking a ferry boat down the length of the lake, then boarding another bus which takes travelers across the Argentina border to yet another lake and another boat-ride, finally reaching San Carlos De Bariloche on Lake Nahuel Huapi.
Lake Llanquihue is an excellent choice for an extended vacation in Patagonian Chile. A variety of rentals can be found along the lakeshore including holiday guest houses, apartments and private residences. Some real estate is available, but the area is quite popular and may require a search for the perfect property. Properties range from bare land to summer cottages to established homes. So, pack up the ski boots and suntan lotion, the swim trunks and fly fishing gear. You're headed to northern Patagonia on the trip of a lifetime. And, before you know it, you'll be looking for your own little piece of Lake Llanquihue to call your own.
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