For most of its history, windy Puerto Montt was the end of the line for just about everyone traveling in the Lake District. Now the Carretera Austral carries on southward, but for all intents and purposes Puerto Montt remains the region's last significant outpost, a provincial city that is the hub of local fishing, textile, and tourist activity. Today the city center is quickly sprouting malls, condos, and office towers—it's the fastest-growing city in Chile—but away from downtown, Puerto Montt consists mainly of low clapboard houses perched above its bay, the Seno de Reloncaví. If it's a sunny day, head east to Playa Pelluco or one of the city's other beaches. If you're more interested in exploring the countryside, drive along the shore for a good view of the surrounding hills.
Casa de Arte Diego Rivera
The Casa de Arte Diego Rivera, a gift of the government of Mexico, commemorates the famed muralist of the same name. It hosts art exhibitions in the gallery, as well as evening theater productions and occasional music and film festivals.
Hospitable German-born proprietor Helga Birkir stands guard at this Chilean-Teutonic seafood restaurant on the coast west of Puerto Montt. Helga offers a little bit of everything, but it's her curanto that draws crowds. Fresh produce from her well-kept garden makes lunch here a delight.
Feria Artesanal Angelmó
Several kitchens here prepare mariscal (shellfish soup) and caldillo (seafood chowder), as well as almejas (clams), machas (razor clams), and ostiones (scallops) with Parmesan cheese. Separate tables and counters are at each kitchen in this enclosed market, which is 3 km (2 mi) west of Puerto Montt along the coast road. Don't expect anything as formal as set hours, but most open around 11 am for lunch and serve for about three hours, and then from about 6 to 9 pm for dinner every day in the January–March high season. The rest of the year, most close some days of the week.
This old-style café in the heart of Puerto Montt retains the spirit of the 1920s and 1930s. It's a good place for a filling afternoon tea, with its menu of sandwiches, ice cream, and pastries.
Its pale-wood and chrome decor might make this place seem trendy, but it's actually fun and friendly. The great sandwiches and light meals of crudos, cakes, and küchen make it a great destination for late-night noshing.
Part of a chain of similar restaurants in southern Chile, for years this centrally located spot has been the place for locals to meet and be seen. Sandwiches can be served up extra big if you like. Standard Chilean beef and chicken plates are served, and diverse salads (such as the calamari salad) are excellent. The place also doubles as a coffee shop, so don't hesitate to inquire about the cakes and other desserts.
El Fogón de Pepe
If you need a change of pace from the ubiquitous seafood found in these parts, this is a great option. Exquisite roast beef plates in addition to roasted ribs, chicken, and steaks are all great.
One of the best things to do in Puerto Montt is to eat curanto, a southern Chilean potpourri of shellfish served together with various meats and potatoes. Pazos, in a large house across the street from the beach in Peulluco, is where you'll want to start. They also have an array of other seafood delicacies, and meat and chicken alternatives if you're not up for fish.
Puerto Montt is a growing city, and the nightlife seems to improve every year. Most of the better bars and discos are in Pelluco. If you do venture out late at night, be careful where you walk, as with the city's growth in size has come a growth in street crime.
Sherlock, a bar-restaurant in the city center, is a good place to drink wine or cocktails. In summer, pull up to a table outside. Downstairs on the bar's ground floor they often have live music or karaoke.
Boule Bar is a good drinking hole in the city center.
The upbeat disco Kamikaze fills up with people of all ages.
Puerto Montt's biggest disco, Apache also has a separate bar with live music. It's usually packed on weekends, mostly with a younger crowd.
Feria Artesanal Angelmó
An excellent selection of handicrafts is sold at the best prices in the country at the Feria Artesanal Angelmó, on the coastal road near Caleta Angelmó. Chileans know there's a better selection of crafts from Chiloé for sale here than in Chiloé itself. Baskets, ponchos, figures woven from different kinds of grasses and straw, and warm sweaters of raw, hand-spun, and hand-dyed wool are all offered. Much of the merchandise is geared toward tourists, so look carefully for more authentic offerings. Haggling is expected. It's open daily 9–dusk.
Museo Juan Pablo II
This museum, east of the city's bus terminal, has a collection of crafts and relics from the nearby archipelago of Chiloé. Historical photos of Puerto Montt itself give a sense of the area's slow and often difficult growth and the impact of the 1960 earthquake, which virtually destroyed the port. Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass on the grounds during his 1987 visit. One exhibit documents the event.
About 3 km (2 mi) west of downtown along the coastal road lies Puerto Montt's fishing cove. This busy port serves small fishing boats, large ferries, and cruisers carrying travelers and cargo southward through the straits and fjords that form much of Chile's shoreline. On weekdays small launches from Isla Tenglo and other outlying islands arrive early in the morning and leave late in the afternoon. The fish market here has one of the most varied selections of seafood in all of Chile.
Parque Nacional Alerce Andino
Barely a stone's throw from Cochamó, the mountainous 398-square-km (154-square-mi) Parque Nacional Alerce Andino with more than 40 small lakes, was established to protect some 20,000 endangered alerce trees. Comparable to California's hardy sequoia, alerce grow to average heights of 40 meters (130 feet), and can reach 4 meters (13 feet) in diameter. Immensely popular as a building material for houses in southern Chile, they are quickly disappearing from the landscape. Many of these are 3,000 to 4,000 years old.
Latin America's ornate church architecture is nowhere to be found in the Lake District. More typical of the region is Puerto Montt's stark 1856 Catedral. The alerce-wood structure, modeled on the Pantheon in Paris, is the city's oldest surviving building.
Beaches at Maullín
About 70 km (43 mi) southwest of Puerto Montt, at this small town near Pargua—the ferry crossing to Chiloé—the Maullín River merges with the Pacific Ocean. It's a spectacular setting. Be sure to visit Pangal Beach, an extensive beach with large sand dunes that is teeming with birds. If you choose to stay overnight, there are cabins and a campground.