This region boasts some of Chile’s most beautiful landscapes. Many of them seem to have been designed for a picture postcard, with lakes, pasturelands, green rolling hills, and almost always a volcano in the background. Deep green rivers flow down from the mountains through virgin forests. In addition, the region includes the picturesque Chiloé islands, with their houses on stilts and wooden churches.
The region comprises five provinces. North to south, the first three – Valdivia, Osorno, and Llanquihue – are geographically similar and owe their initial development to German settlers who started to come in 1850.
The province of Chiloé is historically different. Even while under Spanish rule, it developed its own cultural identity, which it still preserves. Its people are friendly and keepers of a fantastic mythology and an unique cuisine.
Palena is another remarkable case. It forms part of the vast territory that Chile began to settle only at the beginning of the last century. Though still struggling against isolation, it has great economic potential and its expanses are still largely unexplored.
The regional capital is Puerto Montt (1,044 kilometers south of Santiago), with a population of 175,938. Valdivia and Osorno are other major cities. Valdivia, a prime river port, has developed into one of Chile’s most active convention venues.
The salmon industry
Other economic activities include tourism and a growing supply of services.
Salmon farming is the largest source of jobs and the region’s main export industry, contributing approximately one billion US dollars in annual export returns. The industry’s aim is that, by 2010, one out of every four salmon consumed worldwide will come from Chilean waters.
The so-called “salmon cluster” is formed by a group of industries developed around salmon farming and services directly and indirectly associated with it, such as manufacture of cages and nets, floating houses and storerooms, training centers, quality control, laboratories, vaccines, and drugs.
The region is the gateway to the southern fjords and to Chilean Patagonia, while a number of international passes facilitate economic and tourist integration with Argentina’s Neuquén and Chubut provinces.
Everything to see
Excellent roads and airports, a broad range of tourist services, hotels, and restaurants help to enhance acquaintance with the area.
Nine of the ten lakes in the region bear Mapuche names: Calafquén, Panguipulli, Riñihue, Pirihueico, Maihue, Ranco, Puyehue, Rupanco, and Llanquihue, which is the largest and is surrounded by many villages. The tenth lake is Todos los Santos, also known as the Lake Emerald, because of its green water. They attract around 600,000 visitors every season.
Passengers on the luxury cruises that call at Puerto Montt with increasing frequency expend close to four million US dollars. A favorite outing is to Angelmó, a picturesque cove and market, where local inhabitants sell their wares and where there are small fish markets, handicraft fairs, and seafood restaurants.
The Futaleufú River, in Palena province, attracts lovers of adventure sports. It is known as one of the three best rivers in the world to practice rafting and kayaking.
A novel ecotourism project is under consideration at the Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve. The idea is to build a hotel under the eternal ice on Mt. Choshuenco. The project’s feasibility is being studied by glaciologists from the Center for Scientific Studies in Valdivia.
A charming people
In addition to its natural attractions, the region possesses human characteristics that give it unique charm.
Its most typical character is the chilote, or inhabitant of the Chiloé Archipelago, with a mixture of indigenous Huilliche and Spanish ancestry. Skilled with wood and axe, he is a great boat builder.
In this land of myths and legends, Trauco is an ugly dwarf faun that attacks men and seduces women. Pincoya, the goddess of fertility of beaches and seas, has long golden hair, is incomparably gentle and sweet, and rises from the depths, barely dressed in seaweed, to dance on the sand.
In Puerto Varas, Frutillar, and most of the small towns built around Lake Llanquihue, the architectural style, traditions, and pastry cooking reflect traditions brought by German settlers in the 19th century.