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A little over a month ago I discovered the Chilean Lakes District. I was looking for somewhere to go for a vacation from my vacation in Chile. I wanted to find the best destinations in Chile. If you know me, you know I love all things water. After spending some time researching what there is to do in the lakes region of Chile, I knew it was the perfect place for me. After a few days in Chiloé Island I headed about four hours north to Puerto Varas. Puerto Varas is the perfect city to be near, on and in the water (the water is safe to drink in Puerto Varas also!) Two of my favorite activities were rafting and kayaking in Puerto Varas!
Rafting in Puerto Varas
White water rafting has been something I have always wanted to do, but have hesitated booking at the last minute. Rafting is really big in the Chilean Lakes District, so I thought I would give it try. When I read the outstanding reviews from Ko Kayak that mentioned both how exhilarating, yet safe it was, I knew I had to go for it.
The night before my rafting experience, I was really second guessing it. I try to be adventurous and people often say I am, but boy do I get scared before a new adventure. All I wanted to do is cancel it, or better yet have them cancel it so I don’t feel I chickened out!
But feel the fear and do it anyway!
On the morning of the rafting excursion, I was all nerves! I was picked up at my hotel and taken with some of the group, about 45 minutes away to Ensenada. That is the where Ko’Kayak is based. We began with a safety briefing on site before we geared up, that didn’t help my nerves. Looking back I’m grateful I went with a professional company that informs everyone on how to stay safe. But in the moment hearing what to do if you fall out and if the raft flips and you got stuck underneath it….is just plain terrifying!
After suiting up in full body neoprene suits with boots (best to wear a swimsuit underneath), we had a 10 minute drive to the site to begin our adventure.
I was grouped with three young German guys. Soon enough we were walking to the starting point in the Petrohue River and getting in our raft. I had to be reminded to sit on the outside of the raft and not on the inside, aka the chicken seat! It felt against human nature to sit closer to the spot where I could easily fall in!
We practiced following the commands a bit and were on our way to class III and IV rapids! Like so many things in life when you don’t know what to expect, it’s more scary. That was what the first waves were like for me. I had no idea if I would immediately fall out or choke on a mouth full of water.
I soon gained a bit of confidence, just in time to jump in the water and swim around in some calmer water. Then it was time to be hoisted back in the raft. I felt a bit like a dead fish being dragged aboard. The guide suggested we switch positions. “I am good in my second row seat”, I told the young German guy who offered me his precarious front row position.
Following a few more rapids we were able to get out of the raft again and float down the river a bit. During the safety briefing we were told that our biggest life vessel was the raft. So willingly jumping out of the raft and swimming away seemed counterintuitive, but feel the fear and do it anyway!
There were a few more rapids and then it was sadly time to get out. On the information for the company they say everyone ends by saying “one more rapid please!” I thought it was just a marketing phrase, but it was exactly what I was feeling! I thought we got cheated and only had 20 minutes in the water, but it was an hour and half. Time flew by!
I was really impressed that there were toilets and changing rooms right near the spot we got out of the rafts. When everyone was all changed we headed back to the base to enjoy a little snack and drinks!
Finally we had the opportunity to purchase photos from the trip! A professional photographer, Adele, came along with us in a kayak and took pictures from the shore. As you can tell the pictures are great and really reasonably priced! Many tourist attractions don’t allow photos and then charge ridiculously expensive amounts for the photos. As you can imagine it is rather difficult to take photos while paddling, so this is a great option!
The rafting in Puerto Varas couldn’t have gone better! I can’t wait to try rafting again.
Kayaking in Puerto Varas
I had so much fun rafting in Puerto Varas with Ko’Kayak, that I needed to go back for more. I could have easily gone rafting again, but instead I signed up for the full day sea kayaking.
Just like the rafting, I got picked up from my hotel and taken to the base in Ensenada. We got dressed in the wet suits over swimsuits before driving about 45 minutes away to Cochamo. I wore my go to kayaking shoes, instead of the wet suit boots, which worked perfectly. Unlike rafting I don’t think we really needed to wear wet suits either because we were in sea kayaks with a spray skirt. That means water isn’t supposed to get in the kayak! Of course if you tip over and have to pull the skirt handle and fall in the water, they might come in handy! If I did it again I would probably just wear the clothes I typically wear kayaking.
Once in Cochamo we started our kayaking in the first fjord of Patagonia, the Reloncavi Fjord in Ralun Bay! I have been wanting to go to Patagonia for such a long time, but am holding off until my leg fully heals and I can enjoy all the hikes there. It was such a pleasant surprise when I found out that not only was I in Patagonia, but I was kayaking in one of the fjords of Patagonia!
I was asked to share a double kayak with someone who had never kayaked before. My first thought was, oh boy we are going to tip! He told me to sit in the back so I was the one steering with the foot paddles. He caught on how to paddle very quickly and we had great teamwork, if I say so myself!
We kayaked for about two hours on very calm water. I loved the pace. We kayaked far enough that it felt like we were getting a workout, yet we took enough breaks to actually enjoy the amazing scenery. My favorite part was kayaking past a sea lion! It’s so cool to see animals in their natural habitats!
We made a stop for lunch at Yolanda’s house. Yolanda is a woman who lives with her adult son in the middle of nowhere! They don’t own a car or a boat. They have to walk an hour just to catch a bus that will take them into town. Ko’Kayak sometimes will deliver things they need during the kayaking trips, because it so hard for them to get to town.
Usually on tours you end up eating at tourist traps. I was so excited that Ko’Kayak partnered with Yolanda to provide such a unique experience for us. We got an amazing home-cooked meal, with most of it coming directly from Yolanda’s garden. Then we were shown around her property and visited a little home museum.
After a leisurely lunch break, it was about 45 minutes more kayaking around a peninsula to where our transportation was waiting to take us back to the base.
One of the only things I didn’t like about this day was that there were no toilets to use in Cochamo. We were told to go outside. This is understandable when nothing is around, but when we are in a town it felt really awkward. I think the company could easily partner with a local business to let us use the toilets. Same with the end of the kayaking. We were asked to change in the wild before heading back to the base. It would be nice if they had some changing facilities and toilets to use. Just like they work with Yolanda for the lunch, it would be another way to help the local community if there was a place to change and use the restroom at the end.
I can’t say if I liked the rafting or the kayaking better. The rafting provided more of an adrenaline rush, but the kayaking allowed me to enjoy the scenery more and interact in local life during lunch. You really need to go rafting and kayaking in Puerto Varas!
Where to Stay in Puerto Varas
With all your water adventures during the days you will definitely want a good night’s sleep. I treated myself with a stay at Hotel Solace. It’s a four star hotel with a large breakfast buffet. This is one of the best breakfast buffets I have had so far in Chile. There is fruit, eggs, bacon, sausage, lots of bread, some cereal and dessert. The rooms are clean and come with a nightly chocolate! If you don’t speak Spanish, an added bonus of this hotel is that the staff speaks English. The location is perfect too. It’s a short walk to the bus station (large hill though) and an even shorter walk to the main part of Puerto Varas (another hill…but that is Chile for you!).
More About Chile
- Santiago:What to Do in Santiago,Museo Histórico Nacionalreview,Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos review, Where to Stay in Santiago, Barrio República Neighborhood Guide
- Chiloé Island: How to get to the island, how to get around, where to stay, what to do and more.
- Pucón: Day tours from Pucón
- Central Chile 3 Week Itineraryincluding Santiago and the Chilean Lakes District