An off-the-beaten-path guide to Chiloe Island

posted in: Chile, Patagonia | 2

Since we first read about Chiloe Island, we had been excited to visit. After months of eating tinned and packaged food in Patagonia the thoughts of fresh shellfish, salmon, ceviche and more had us drooling. So our plan was to eat but also to rent a car and explore the island.

Here is an off-the-beaten-path guide to Chiloe Island. Visit its unique churches and houses, kayak within a sunken forest, hunt for pre-Colombian artefacts on remote beaches and of course eat along the way.

Chiloé Island is one of the most lesser known places in Chile and yet, one of the most interesting. Explore the UNESCO World Heritage wooden churches, go kayaking within a sunken forest, discover a unique landscape in Chile and taste incredible seafood. #chiloe #chile 
https://talesfromthelens.com/

An off-the-beaten-path guide to Chiloe Island


How to get to Chiloe island?

Chiloé is the largest island of the country of Chile. It is found in the Pacific ocean in Northern Patagonia, about 1200 km south of Santiago de Chile. Despite its remoteness on the map, the island is easily accessible by local transport.

From the North: Puerto Montt to Chiloe island

The closest city on the continent is Puerto Montt, a city we wouldn’t advice to stay in, but an unavoidable stop towards Chiloé if you travel by bus, north to south. From the main terminal, you can catch a bus for CLP 6,500. Note the bus will take the ferry across the Canal de Chacao but the fees are included in the ticket. You can also take a night bus from Santiago de Chile to Ancud. It should take around 15 hours.

You can also take a 1.5 hour direct plane from Santiago de Chile (SCL) to the airport Mocopulli (MHC) with Latam airlines. Note this company offers special prices to Chilean-residents only which can mislead you upon checking prices. Count minimum €100 for this flight as a non-resident.

From the south: Coyhaique to Chiloe island

If you are travelling from the south of the country you will need to take a ferry from Chaiten to Castro or from Puerto Chacabuco/Puerto Cisnes to Quellon. 

Both routes are operated by Navira Austral, a local ferry company that links the most remote parts of the Chilean fjords. 

Taking the ferry can take up to 24 hours, but it is a great reward as you will have the chance to navigate through the incredible landscape and you may have the chance to spot marine wildlife such as blue whales and dolphins. 

RELATED: Taking a ferry through the Chilean fjords


map itinerary chiloe - off the beaten path

How to visit Chiloé island ?

The north of the island is well connected by local bus between the main towns Castro and Ancud. There are local shuttles to smaller villages but those are less frequent. It is probably best to rent a car in order to have the freedom to visit remote beaches, Spanish forts, sunken forests and the Unesco churches of Chiloe that are not reachable by local transport.

What makes Chiloe so special is its sparse landscape and the rolling hills that are covered by its legendary fog. You can only encounter this in the less accessible part of the island. If you fancy experiencing what Chiloé has to offer, a self-guided tour of the island is the key.

We have crossed paths with hitch-hikers, but they told us it wasn’t easy to get a ride as there is almost no traffic heading to the touristy areas. 

As far as we are concerned, we teamed up with other backpackers and rented a car altogether to minimize the cost of the rent and fuel. We think it is the best way to visit the island. To find a car or travel mates, check into a hostel and ask around if any would be interested in renting a car with your for a few days.

On the right, you will find our itinerary. We rented a car for 5 days – Cost CLP 120 000 – Petrol : CLP 23 400


What to do in Chiloe island?

Castro: woodwork and palafitos

Lovers on handicrafts and woodwork will adore Castro. Home to fishermen and carpenters, the city has evolved to be made entirely of wood. Each building is different in its shape, design and colour. You could easily spend hours wandering around town, looking at the houses.

Chile - Chiloe island - Castro pilotis wood

Next up on the list it to find the palafitos, traditional wooden houses built on stilts above the water. To see the reflections of the palafitos in the water while the sun lights the houses with a golden touch, it is best to go at low tide. And if it coincides with sunset, you are bound for an incredible view.

The palafitos can be found all along the coastline, but for the best views head to the Mirador Gamboa in the south of the town, and to the Indura Market on the Panamerica heading north.

Inevitably, if you walk along the Rio Chacra, you will find cafes, hotels and restaurants built on stilts house that you might be able to visit.

Also worth a mention is the towering central point in the main square, the San Francisco church with its popping yellow and purple painting. The church of Castro was one of the first on the island built in attent to convert the local indigenous population to Catholicism. 

The current church was finished in 1912 after the previous ones had burnt down. You can visit for free. We would also recommend to come by at night to see it entirely lit.  

Where to eat in Castro?

For a good lunch on fresh fish head to the Mercado Municipal near the harbor. You will find local fishermen selling already made Ceviche and stalls where to buy fresh vegetables, fish and cheese!

If you are not a fan of raw fish, head to the bus station. In the small park earby you will find a truck selling tasty empañadas. And for those willing to cook in their hostel, the main road will be your go to, to find stores, butchers and bakery.

Where to stay in Castro?

There are a few hostels in Castro that tend to get fully booked during the high season. The cheapest one will be found in the centre town near the main square (Plaza de Armas). We stayed at 
Hostal Backpacker Chiloe Sur which is fine for single travellers. Couples may prefer the 
Hostal Plaza Chiloe for more privacy.

If you prefer staying in a palafito have a look at Palafito hostel or Palafito Azul.


Dalcahue: craft and amazing food

Dalcahue is a quiet place that is on most tourists list a the departure of the ferry heading the island Achao. However, if you are a foodie like us Dalcahue and will blow your mind (and taste) away.

Life mainly takes place around the artisanal market where you can find homemade crafts and buy some amazing smoked chili called Merken. But while curious seals wait for a treat from visitors in the picturesque harbor, the real star here is found in an unassuming building. Located beside the craft market, we first walked in not knowing what was there before being hit by the incredible aromas for the local dishes.

This little building containe around 8 restaurants all ran by families. You will find giant mussels, amazing seafood soups and dish after dish of fish. Our pick? Paila marina, a soup containing all types of shellfish and big red balls otherwise known as sea pineapple (sea squirt shellfish), and Poroto Granado for those intolerant to seafood like Jenny. This traditional country side stew is made with pork, beans, noodles and cranberry. An explosing of flavour.

Both dishes were accompanied by bread and a surprising greenish garlicky herb sauce. To this day, this has to be one of the best meals we have had in all of South America. Count about CLP 4000 per dish (€5).

Ferry Dalcahue – Quinchao Island

The Island of Quinchao is really close to the main island of Chiloé but taking a ferry is necessary to cross over. The ferry is really short, about 5 to 10 min and is as frequent as there is demand from cars, trucks and pedestrians. 

To get to Quinchao Island, head to Dalcahue located only 30 min drive from Castro, and present yourself at the ferry ramp. From the main road “Freire”, you will find signs indicating where the departure of the ferry is. 

Cost: CLP 2 500 per car one way. Free for the passengers.


NEXT READ: Puerto Varas, the beautiful lake distric of Chile


Quinchao island : the oldest wooden church

The island of Quinchao feels remote and desolated. Exactly what you would expect from a small island in the south of Chile. Here, you won’t find much tourists, only locals living a peaceful life rythmed by the weather and the farming seasons of salmon and potatoes.

Visiting Quinchao is however, inevitable for one good reason: the wooden churches scattered around and recognized as World Heritage sites by Unesco. Unique example of ecclesiastic wooden architectures in South America, the churches of Chiloé serve as witness of a carpentry tradition carried since the 17th century by the local population.

The UNESCO World Heritage Wooden Churches of Chiloé Island

Being an island, Chiloé was one of the last places in Chile to be visited by outsiders. For years the island developed its own customs, beliefs and skills independent to the main land. When colonisers came and started to convert the islanders, one of the first things they did was to build churches.

However, the jesuits in charge were unskilled and only knew how they wanted the churches to look, not how to build them. The local fishermen in charge of the carpentry work had to find a wau to build curved roofs. Inspired by their only knowledge of boats structures, they adopted the designs their fathers had used for generations and flipped the hulls upside down to form the roofs.

There was once 150 churches on the island, 16 are now classed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

If you had to vist only one it would be the church of Santa Maria de Loreto de Achao, found in the small town of Achao located 15 km south of the ferry. It is the oldest one found in the archipelago and it’s faded blue interior, is truly beautiful.

The other places to visit on Quinchao

You can drive around the island to find more churches and remote beaches. Most of the island is covered by private farms and other than the main paved road crossing the towns of Curazo de Vélez, Achao and Quinchao, you won’t find much. 

We would recommend to also visit the church of Quinchao and if you have time head south to see salmon farms and appreciate the gorgeous landscape and views of the ocean.

Staying on Quinchao Island

You will find a few hostals on the island that won’t be advertised online. Do not expect much luxury, the island is remote and rooms to let are usually offered by locals trying to make a bit of money from tourism. 

Be aware that places like this tend to shut down during holidays such as Easter and gets crowded on weekends with local Chileans visitors.

 

Chile - Chiloe island - sunset achao

Quemchi: more culinary specialities

Quemchi is a small but lively fishermen’s town, you will probably be able to walk around in about 30 min. Head to the peer for the best views and to the beach to find the colourful fishing boats parked on the sand at low tides. Also, don’t miss the small main square to admire the vibrant local church painted in yellow and red. One of our favourite. 

Other than the above, one of the main reasons to head to Quemhi, is to try Curanto. Curanto is made with all types of seafood, shellfish, meet, potato and vegetables cooked in a pit in the ground. Despite being a typical dish of Chiloé, finding a restaurant serving it is difficult as it is mostly made amongs family members at home or at the beach.

However, in Quemchi we were recommended the restaurant El Chejo. They also make the “best empañadas” in Chile according to the locals. Unfortunately for the city water pump had broken down and all the restaurants in town were closed when we visited.

We still managed to find a place to snack on delicious chilean cakes and pies. For the best Torta de Hoja find the cafe on the first floor of the “shopping mall” – the owner is french and is a passionate of speciality coffee. 


Aucar Island

Ony 5 min drive south of Quemchi is found the small island of Aucar that unleash itself from the main land at high tide. Probably because of its mystical look in time of dense fog, Aucar is also known as 
the island of the navigators souls. It gets its nickname from the Francisco Coloane, a chilean poet.

The islands hosts an old wooden chapel, a cemetry and a botanical garden ran by the local school kids. But what makes Aucar so special and intriguing, its the 500 m long pedestrian wooden bridge that seems endless when the bad weathers comes in, and the island disappear in the cloud. Assurely the only time we would hope for a foggy day. 


Chepu: kayaking in the middle of a sunken forest

Now, it is time to leave the east coast and get some kilometers under your belts. To visit Chepu, you will need to cross the island the west and follow a long paved and empty road across rolling hills. No need to say that in this landscape we were immediatly transported back home in Ireland.

The reason to go all this way is to go kayaking within a sunken forest. Something you probably would have never thought of, but an exceptional experience. And if you hoped for a dense fog in Aucar island, it is time to hope for sun because it feels really creepy to be kayaking in dead forest on a cloudy day…

The Sunken forest of Chepu

In 1960 an earthquake hit Chile and caused the land to drop near in Chepu, on the west coast of Chiloé Island. This unfortunate event was quickly followed by a tsunami which engulfed part of a forest of the sunken land. The water trapped, it has to date never retreated.

Over the years, the salt water killed the trees creating a strange scenery that seems to have come from a Tim Burton’s movie…

The sunken forest is home to an important wildlife and it is perfectly safe to venture in its midst with a kayak.

To visit the forest that looks like a swamp dotted by dead trunk, you will need to go to the Ecolodge Chepu Adventures where you can rent kayaks but also spend the night. The view from the lodge is astonishing and it is an excellent place for nature lovers and birdwatchers. Cost: CLP 10 000 (€14) per hour.


Ancud: hidden forteress and remote beach

Ancus id the largest town of Chiloé. It is also the closest to the continent with an easy access to Puerto Montt by ferry and highway. But Ancud is pretty and watching the sunset over the sea from the fortress of the city (Fuerte San Antonio) is an excellent way to end a beautiful day on Chiloé Island.

We would recommend to stay two nights in Ancud and use the town as a base to visit the nearby forts that were built to defend Ancud from outsiders and pirates. For this, head to the north west of the island to find among others the “Bateria Balcacura”, “Fuerte de Chaicura” and “Fuerte Ahui”. There, it is still possible to see original canons used in the 18th century, walk along empty beaches in a search of pre-colombian artefacts (that we didn’t find) or spot hummingbirds. 

Where to stay in Ancud

For the backpackers but also group of friends and even families, we would recommend the hostel 13 Lunas. Quiet, great atmosphere, friendly staff, splendid views, comfortable rooms and bed, hot showers, huge kitchen well furnished and AMAZING breakfast. For Patagonia, it’s a miracle!

Make sure to check the reviews online and look at availabilities. It is a reknown place to stay and we can absolutely vouch for it! – booking.comhostelworld

Chile - Chiloe - Fuerte Balcacura

Cost and Useful information

Currency exchange (average) : €1 = CLP 714.20

Transport

  • Boat to Quellon w/ Navira australe : 17,500 CLP (€25)
  • Bus Quello – Castro : 2000 CLP (€2.80)
  • Bus Castro – Puerto Varas : 6500 CLP (€9.10)
  • Rental car for 5 days : 120000 CLP (€168)
  • Petrol : 23400 CLP (€32)
  • Ferry to Achao (return) : 5000 CLP (€7)

Accommodation:

  • Hostel in Castro (Hostal Backpacker Chiloe): 10000 CLP pp / pn (dorm – €14) – breakfast included (bread, jam, ham & cheese + moka pot coffee)
  • Hospedaje in Achao : 8000 CLP pp/pn (double bedroom – €11.20)
  • Hostel in Ancud (13 lunas) : 14000 CLP pp/pn (dorm – €19.60) – breakfast included (bread, jam, juice, choice of eggs, coffee)

Leasure:

  • Chilean food at Dalcahue market : 3500 CLP (€4.90)
  • Kayak sunken forest : 10000 CLP (€14) per hour – EcoLodge Chepu Adventures

PLANNING A TRIP IN PATAGONIA? FIND BELOW ALL OUR GUIDES


Chiloé Island is one of the most lesser known places in Chile and yet, one of the most interesting. Explore the UNESCO World Heritage wooden churches, go kayaking within a sunken forest, discover a unique landscape in Chile and taste incredible seafood. #chiloe #chile 
https://talesfromthelens.com/

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About the Author

Jenny, Tales From The Lens writer & photographer

Jenny, 32 & French, is passionate about travel and photography. For the past 8 years, she has taken two long-term trips through Oceania and Latin America while also travelling to Antarctica, North America and Europe. She has visited more than 50 countries and set foot on every continent!

She is very organised and likes anything that she can optimise! She always finds the best itineraries or tricks to avoid spending too much time or money.

Jenny is also a wildlife enthusiast who loves volunteering for animal conservation projects. Don’t get her started talking about whales or else she may never shut up!

Wishlist: Svalbard, Alaska and African Savanna.

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Halit

I feel lucky to find your blog thanks for these beautiful pictures. We will be in Chile in september 2018

Jenny

And us to have you as a reader Halit. Are you going anywhere special in Chile and for how long? We would love to hear about what you are planning on doing there.