Haven’t heard of Chiloe? You’re not alone. Despite covering 3,546 square miles across a 41-island archipelago, Chiloé is far off the typical travels’ radar. This collection of Chile’s forgotten islands developed separately from the mainland, resulting in a culture and lifestyle unique from the rest of the country. The main island, Chiloe Island, is the second largest island in South America. It is a remote land with limited transportation where weather-worn locals make their living from the sea. The pastoral landscape is shrouded in mist, and mythical tales are told—and sometimes believed—by elder Chilotes.
The first adventure of Chiloe is getting there in the first place. From Puerto Montt you must cross the Chacao Channel by ferry. Buses and other vehicles drive right onto the ferry. Once on board, you’re allowed to walk around—though be warned the winds are strong and cool. If you’re taking the bus, the fare is included in the ticket price, but individual vehicles will need to pay an additional fee. As the main attraction of Chiloe is the unspoiled landscapes and secluded seaside getaways, it’s recommend you rent a car to experience the best the island has to offer. (Note: In late 2012 Lan began offering limited flights to Castro from Santiago with a layover in Puerto Montt).
The first town you’ll encounter is Ancud, a port town congested with colorful wooden houses topped by shingled roofs and not too much else. It was the last stronghold of the Spanish in the Americas, and saw many battles during the Chile’s war for independence. The remains of a small fort, a museum, and some cannons scattered along the malecon remain as tribute. Ancud is a convenient base for visiting the colonies of Magellanic and Humboldt penguins off the coast of Punihuil.
A bit further on, located mid-way down the island, is the city of Castro. As the third oldest city in Chile, Castro has some history worth exploring, including impressive rebounds from rebellions, fires, earthquakes, and tidal waves. Wooden architecture is the main attraction here. In the 1600s Jesuits came to convert the native Huilliche and Ona people. In the process, they build the now famous Chilota churches, 16 of which are now considered World Heritage Sites. The structures are made entirely of local wood and without any metal nails. An odd exception Castro’s yellow Church of San Francisco, which is wooden but covered with sheets of galvanized iron.
A similar architectural attraction are the palafitos, colorful wooden houses situated on stilts along the water’s edge.
Chiloe has a culinary tradition all its own which is, not surprisingly, based almost entirely on seafood. Be sure to sample curanto, a collection of mollusks and sea species cooked in a pit in the ground, and the very rich centolla, king crab. Potatoes are also popular, combined with meat and cooked into fried bread-like dishes such as milcao (with sausage in the middle) and chapalele (with pork in the middle). Wash it all down with some licor de oro, a home-brewed version of aguardiente. This strong alcoholic drink comes in a variety of flavors and is typically brewed in the town of Chonchi. Chile isn’t a country renowned for its culinary scene, so trying out typical dishes in Chiloe is a tasty activity to combine with sightseeing.
If spending more than a day or two, you’ll also want to explore the island’s natural offerings. Chiloe National Park is a great place for hiking, if you don’t mind the wet weather and isolated location. Multi-day kayaking tours are perhaps the best way to experience the area’s marine wildlife. Bookings can be complicated so it’s recommended you plan multi-day trip in advance rather than upon arrival (one of our destination experts can help you).
All photos belong to author.