The Chiloé archipelago is considered part of the Northern Patagonia area of Chile as well as the southernmost reaches of the Lake District, or Region X, Los Lagos. The Isla Grande, or Big Island, is a verdant, forested island of great natural beauty. It is the second largest Chilean island,(after Tierra del Fuego) and the only one settled. See this interactive map of the island.
The home of the Huilliche Indian tribe, the island was settled by the Spaniards who thought it a hardship post as supply ships from the Viceroyalty of Peru arrived only once a year.
The Indians lived by farming and fishing, as the current residents still do. The eastern side of the island, facing the mainland of Chile across the Golfo de Ancud in the north and Golfo de Corcovado in the south, is broken up into a myriad of coves and inlets. The offshore islands are a haven for wildlife. The western side of the island, facing the Pacific Ocean is remote, with only two roads leading to it. The interior is heavily forested.
Part of the attraction of Chiloe is the wealth of mystery and folkloric legenda and myths that permeate the misty, foggy reaches of forest and remote beaches. The mythical lore results from the cultural mix of ethnic beliefs and the Catholic faith brought to the island. There are ghost ships, goblins and witches who dine on recently interred corpses. Two popular legends are the beatufiul nude mermaid, La Pincoya who lures men to the sea, and a short, squat ugly troll, El Trauco, who lures women to the forest and impregnates them.
It's a handy explanation, with no questions asked, for men coming back from the sea... .
Isolated for many years, the residents, called Chilotes, developed self-reliance, but many have left the island for a more secure lifestyle. Those remaining continue their traditions and are slowly building up a tourist infrastucture.
Chiloe is becoming an increasingly popular destination for walking, biking, fishing, paddling and birding.
Chiloe's three main towns, the new capital Ancud is in the north, Castro, the former capital, on the east, and Quellón on the southern tip, offer most of the island's tourism amenities, but a visit to the smaller communities, particularly to visit the islands many churches, built first by the Jesuits and then the Franciscans, is worth your time. There are several hundred wooden churches, using pegs instead of nails, and many are listed by UNESCO as cultural heritage sites.
Base your stay in Castro, founded in 1567, Of particular interest:
- The wooden Iglesia San Francisco de Castro on the Plaza de Armas brightens the day with its colorful exterior. See these photos.
- The Museo Regional de Castro displays an eclectic mix of Hulliche relics, farming equipment and moderm items.
- The famous palafitos, or houses on stilts, along the waterfronts and mud flats.
- Many of the buildings on Chiloé are covered with wooden shingles called tejuelas cut from the Alerce tree, to keep put the rain.
- The Feria Artesanal, along the waterfront, offers local handicrafts, particularly woolens and basketry.
- The annual Festival Costumbrista Chilote, held annually in February, celebrates the island's folklore and legends.
- Rent a kayak to paddle about the islands, or take a boat tour to visit the many bird and marine colonies on the islands further from shore. Several tour agencies offer river and sea kayaking adventures.
Of particular interest in Ancud, founded in 1767 to protect the cdoastline:
- The Museo Regional de Aurelio Bórquez Canobra, also called the Museo Chilote or Regional Museum, displays a fine array of ethnographic and historical items, photographs, and folkloric representations. Art, maps and scale models of the various churches are particularly interesting. The giftshop offers woolens, carvings and pottery, as do some of the local shops.
- Chiloé's best crafts market, the Sunday Feria Artesanal, offers woolens, wooden crafts and basketry. You'll find ponchos, socks, scarves, sweaters and more.
- Church and the typical Chilote wooden architecture.
- The three story tower of Iglesia San Carlos de Chonchi and the multiple arches, built in the 19th century though the town was founded by Jesuits in 1767. There was once more to the town, but a tsunami following an earthquake in 1960 destroyed the beach area. Nevertheless, Chonchi is picturesque and called the "three-floored city" for the way buildings are built into the hillside.
- Beautiful beaches surround this peaceful, attractive town.
Parque Nacional Chiloé, on the western side of the island, is still pristine woodland of native and coniferous trees. It looks much like it did at the time of Charles Darwin's visit. In summer it's a popular spot for hiking and horseriding. You'll see various forms of wildlife, including the Chiloé fox, pudu and hundreds of species of birds, including the Chiloe Wigeon Anas sibilatrix . You'll want to see:
- CONAF Visitor Center for the display of flora and fauna, Hulliche exhibits, early mining industry and local folkore.
- The Museo Artesanal in a traditional Chilote house exhibits farm implements, and household artifacts. Note the fireplace in the middle of the floor. With reed filled walls, many houses burned.
- The penguin colony, the only place where Humboldt and Magallenic penguins co-exist.
- The Sendero Interpretativo El Tepual is a winding trail through the forest.
- The Sendero Dunes de Cucao is a trail leading to dunes on a white sand beach. The path lcontinues to a Huilliche community at Lago Huelde. There are rustic shacks, refugios and camping.
When to Go:
Chiloé's climate is maritime, damp (read wet and rainy), changeable but mild. The west coast is more inclement, with wilder weather. The east coast is more protected and milder. Charles Darwin said: "In winter the climate is detestable, and in summer it is only a little better. I should think there are few parts of the world, within the temperate regions, where so much rain falls. The winds are very boisterous, and the sky almost always clouded: to have a week of fine weather is something wonderful." Water resistant footwear is recommended for any walking on the soft and sampy ground. Summer (December to March) visitors are more likely to run into crowds sailing the Patagonia fjords, but Chiloé is an any-time destination. Summer, with the flowers blooming and many of the towns celebrating their local fiestas, is a good time to visit.
By bus and ferry from Puerto Montt to Ancud, via Pargua on the mainland and Chacao on the island. Watch for dolphins, sea lions, cormorants, pelicans and penguins on the thirty minute trip. The ferry ride is included in the cost of the bus ticket. There is also a ferry from Chaitén on the Carretera Austral to Quellón and another from Puerto Chacabuco. There are small airports at Castro and Quellón.
Don't miss the abundant seafood and typical curanto. Prepared traditionally in a hole in the ground over hot rocks, the dish includes mussels, clams, beef, pork, chicken, sausage, and potatoes topped off with chewy pancakes called milcaos. You can order a variation in a restaurant where it is cooked in a pot and called pulmay.
Share your Chiloé experiences on the forum.