The Araucanians, a proud South American tribe also known as the Mapuche, knew there was a pass through the rugged mountains, but they never revealed its location, especially to the despised Spanish.
For centuries, these doughty natives of southern Chile and Argentina held off the invaders, clinging to their independence long after the mighty Inca Empire to the north had fallen. The pass, which consisted of a network of trails, and lakes that could be crossed by small boat, was one of their best kept secrets.
Time and intrepid explorers eventually uncovered this hidden travel network, and by the 1930s it was possible to cross the 70 miles from Bariloche, Argentina, to Puerto Montt, Chile, in a combination of small lake boats and oxcarts. Although airplanes have made the pass irrelevant, thousands of people still make the lake crossing through the mountains every month.
Anyone who has visited this lake region, nestled between Argentina and Chile, knows why travelers would trade a 40 minute flight for a two-day excursion. Seeped in history, the region boasts some of the most breathtaking scenery on earth, and the crossing overwhelms the eye with one gorgeous view after another. Modern day transport enables visitors to enjoy such dazzling views in relative comfort: buses have replaced the oxen, and boats with large motors can cross the lakes in a fraction of the time it used to take to paddle across.
Most visitors make the crossing between Bariloche and Puerto Montt (or vice versa) in one to two days, taking a series of four buses and three boats. The route cuts through two national parks, wraps around four lakes, and features stops in the picturesque towns of Bariloche, Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas, which is known for its roses. Bariloche is a world class visitor destination known for adrenaline-pumping outdoor sports, such as skiing and hiking, and for its mouth-watering handmade chocolate.
Highlights of the route include a magnificent view of Tronador Mountain, whose name means â€śThunderer,â€ť and stops at the Petrohue and Helechos waterfalls. Petrohue is a series of scenic falls that wend their way through ancient volcanic rock. Helechos is remote, inspirational waterfall reached by horseback from the town of Peulla. Travelers taking the two day trip can also enjoy an overnight stop at the historic Peulla Hotel, a Swiss-style mountain lodge constructed in 1896. A variety of activities, from fishing and horseback riding, to whitewater rafting and hiking, offer outdoor enthusiasts the opportunity to get out and rub elbows with Nature.
The secret is out. The locals couldnâ€™t keep this much natural beauty hidden forever.