Why Chiloé Island is a must on your Chile itinerary
March 29, 2018
Mystical windswept Chiloé island is filed with magical realism and is reminiscent of lost villages and lush backdrops which seem to step right out of the literature of Garcia Marquez, Allende or Carpentier.
A logical stop between Pucón & southern Patagonia, this second largest island in South America is just a 25-minute ferry ride from the port of Pargua to the town of Chacao at the northern tip of the island. Geographically it is relatively close to the mainland, but it remains far far away in terms of culture, identity and traditions. The group of islands that make up the Gran Isla de Chiloé evolved pretty much independently of the conforming influence from Santiago, allowing a rich and diverse culture to weave mythical tales and cultivate unusual gastronomy. Add to that mix the pockets of wild terrain, never ending beaches, mist and shingle-clad churches, untamed wildlife and unique flora and fauna and you have the perfect recipe for an adventure of discovery.
Until just a handful of years ago, many Chileans themselves had not ventured over to the island. Now Ancud and Castro have popped up on the radar as possible holiday and long weekend destinations, and for those who choose to dare, the rewards are great.
A little similar to daily life in Chiloé, developments have moved slowly, but the new airport which opened about 5 years ago near Castro in the center of the island changed accessibility forever. Latam flights now connect Santiago to Chiloé via Puerto Montt. Construction of a controversial access bridge to connect the mainland to the island is still in progress. However, while ever the ferries still run please do choose that option. If you are lucky dolphins will leap from the water beside the boat, and penguins making an appearance too to welcome visitors to their domain.
Within its 180 km long and 62 km wide parameters, the island has a lot to offer, so here go our top tips:
Penguins at Punihuil Natural Monument – the only place in the world where you will see Magellanic & Humbolt penguins nesting together. A spectacular 30-minute boat trip to these tiny islands to see the penguins up close. Sea birds and otters will accompany you on the journey. Located on the western tip of the island, close to Ancud, access is by public bus or private guided tours.
San Antonio Fort in Ancud – built by the Spanish in the early 19th century and boasts impressive views over the main bay of Ancud. A solemn spot to reminisce about the loss and destruction caused by the 1960 earthquake and resulting tsunami that carved a new bay and also took many lives.
UNESCO heritage site churches – the churches of Chiloé have enchanted locals and visitors alike for decades. Introduced by the Jesuits in the 17th century, continued by the Franciscans in the 18th & 19th century, this unique form of wooden ecclesiastical architecture is known as the Chilota School of Architecture. With over 150 examples strewn across the island, 16 to date have been name heritage sites by UNESCO.
Palafitos – these distinctive wooden houses built on sticks over the shallow water of the coastlines of Chiloé make for magical photography opportunities. A classical image of the island, the best examples can be found around Castro.
Myths and legends – an important spiritual culture based around witchcraft, ghost ships and forest creatures with bad breath, this mythology has guided generations of Chilote folk for decades, and even provides a perfect excuse for infidelity!
Curanto – a wild and wonderful dish slow cooked in a hole in the ground. You can expect succulent shellfish, meat, chicken & potato cakes to emerge from the steaming heap covered with giant gunnera leaves. You can also find a version cooked in a pot in the local fish markets, look out for "curanto a la olla", or "Pulmay".
Oysters – thousands of tonnes of fresh oysters are produced in the many hectares of oyster beds along the coastline of Chiloé island. A delicious must, with lemon juice or hot spicy sauce! Your choice!
Amazing fish & seafood – locos (abalone), sea urchins, mussels, clams, oysters, Chilean seabass, King Clip, hake, salmon, king fish, the list is endless, all fresh and most definitely to be eaten while on the island.
End of the highway from Alaska – Quellón at the very southern tip of the island marks the end of the Panamerican Highway, Ruta 5, which starts in Alaska and runs all the way through the Americas right down to Chiloé.
Blue whale watching – during the last couple of decades Chilean scientists made an important discovery. Blue whales use the krill abundant waters off Chiloé to feed during the southern Summer months (December to April). The area is called the Golfo del Corcovado, private trips are available.
Accommodation – from homestays to newer luxury options, Chiloé offers something for every type of traveler.
Just a meer hop south from Pucón, spend some time at Lake Lodge first before heading off to the wilds and mysteries of Chiloé island!