Puerto Montt, Chile
Serving as a gateway to Chile’s nearly uninhabited fjord country, Chilean Patagonia, and the southern lakes district, the community of Puerto Montt has a distinct appeal of its own and a notably European atmosphere. The city was founded in 1853 by Vicente Perez Rosales. Accompanying him as part of a government-backed movement to populate the region were German colonists who had come to South America to claim the surrounding Llanquihue Province. They settled here on the Reloncaví Sound, creating a town they named in honor of Manuel Montt, the president of Chile at the time and the leader whose government had backed the German immigration. The new residents built homes in the style of their German homeland with pitched roofs and elaborate balconies.
The city grew as an agricultural and fishing center, booming in 1912 with the arrival of the railway which made Puerto Montt a stop on the way to the city of Chiloé. Toward the end of the 20th century, another boom came in the form of the salmon industry; the fish are now raised at over 30 locations in the region and is a major export.
Although a devastating earthquake in 1960 cost Puerto Montt some of its structures, today many historic homes still stand along with the town’s oldest building, the 1856 Iglesia Catedral, located on the Plaza de Armas. Visitors can also take a peek back into the history of the region with a visit to Museo Juan Pablo II, a waterfront museum with displays highlighting the German immigration, the region’s natural history, and the area’s maritime history. At Plaza de Armas, art lovers appreciate the Casa del Arte Diego Rivera, a Mexican-Chilean project named for the famous muralist; it showcases the work of many local artists and features a statue commemorating the early German colonists.
One of the top spots for visitors is the scenic Angelmó, the fishing port for Puerto Montt located about three kilometers west of downtown. The waterfront, built high to avoid swelling tides, is lined with sidewalk cafes featuring fresh catch; a well-known crafts market sells wool sweaters and panchos as well as other handicrafts. From the port, boats ply the waters of the Reloncaví Inlet, heading for the nearby islands as well the Chiloé Archipelago, an area known for its thick forests and picturesque villages.
About 23 kilometers from Puerto Montt lies one of the region’s top attractions: Llanquihue Lake. The second largest lake in Chile, this expansive body of water is 22 miles long and 25 miles across at its widest point and is surrounded by the Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes. Fed by streams that wind through the nearby volcanoes and the Andes Mountains, the deep lake is home to many salmon. A favorite getaway for visitors and local residents, this lake offers activities that range from beach fun to skiing, depending on the season.
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