Since we first read about Chiloe, we had been excited to visit. After months of eating tinned or packaged food in Patagonia the thoughts of fresh shellfish, salmon, ceviche and more had us drooling. So our plan was to eat! Well, rent a car, explore the islands unique churches and houses, kayak a sunken forest, hunt for pre-colombian artefects on beaches and of course eat along the way.
After the events of our 30 hour trip to get to Chiloe, we disembarked the ferry at 5 am in the town of Quellón. Nothing much can be said about Quellón yet Steven managed to hunt down a couple of deep fried empañadas and some instant coffee before boarding a bus to Castro, the main city of the island. With our Dutch friends we rented a car for the following day, leaving us 24 hours in Castro before completing the following route of the island over 3 days : Castro – Delcahue – Achao – Quemchi – Chepu – Ancud – Castro
Below is a breakdown of what to do and see with only a couple of days on the Island.
What to do in Castro ?
Arriving in our hostel we were delighted that the owner greeted us with breakfast and the first cup of real coffee in months. Thumbs up ! 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 spend hours walking around town checking out the houses and graffiti and this is exactly what we did.
We used this time to also check out the palafitos, traditional wooden houses built on stilts above the water. We actually walked around town several times in order to see the palafitos during different times and tides of the day. We found out the low morning tides were the best moment to see the reflections of the palafitos in the water while the sun would light the houses with a golden touch.
Along the route we stopped for coffee in the cute little Cafe Montt, empañadas in town and our first ceviche in the Mercado Municipal.
Also worth a mention is the towering central point in the main square, San Francisco church with its popping yellow.
Chiloe by Car
After a cold night sleeping in Castro (wooden houses are not the warmest) we were on the road the next morning. Our first stop is a little town that blew us away. Delcahue is a quiet place. Life mainly takes place around the artisanal market where we walked along looking at the homemade crafts and also picked up some amazing smoked chili called Merken.
While curious seals wait for a treat from visitors in the picturesque harbor, the real star here was for us to be found in an unassuming building. Located beside the craft market, we first walked in not knowing what was there and then the aromas hit us. We walked around this little building which contained around 8 restaurants, all ran by families. We found giant mussels, amazing seafood soups and dish after dish of fish. Steven tucked in to a paila marina, a soup containing all types of shellfish and big red balls otherwise known as sea pineapple (sea squirt shellfish) and while Jenny is intolerant to shellfish she ordered a Poroto Granado, a traditional country side stew made with pork, beans and cranberry. Both were accompanied by bread and a surprising garlicky herb sauce. To this day, this has to be one of the best meals we have had in all of South America.
Next up we crossed from Delcahue over to the small island of Quinchao by tiny car ferry and headed to the town of Achao. Along the way we visited many more churches and got to town just before sunset. To say the town was empty would be an understatement. All of the shops and restaurants were closed. We forgot it was Easter weekend and the only place with people was the local church. We even got refused in a Bed and Breakfast because the owner could not buy food for breakfast and then ran away before we could say anything. That night we ate nachos and homemade guacamole, the only food we found… The next morning we drove through the famous Chiloe fog and made our way back to Delcahue were we had breakfast and a V60 coffee on the beach.
The reason for our next stop, Quemchi, was that we read and were recommended a restaurant that makes a great Curanto and “the best” empañadas in Chile. Curanto is all types of seafood, shellfish, meet, potato and vegetables cooked in a pit in the ground. It is difficult to find a restaurant which still makes the traditional way and we were told Quemchi would be our best chance. Unfortunately as we reached the town everything was once again closed. This time it was because the towns water pump had broken and the mayor had decided that the best way to avoid contaminated water was for not using toilets. Therefore he required all of the restaurants to be closed! By the sounds of it there would be no curanto and no lunch for us in Quemchi if it wasn’t for a French man who owned a cafe in town and approached us as we were moaning about being starving. He sneaked us in and gave us fantastic homemade cakes (torta de Hoja) and specialty coffee! Merci.
This was enough to keep us going to our next stop – the nearby small island of Aucar also known as the “island of the navigators souls“. The omnipresent fog and the foot bridge, the only way to access this island, gave a mysterious and even mystical atmosphere.
About the churches
Chiloe is famous for its churches. Being an island, Chiloe 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 colonizers came and converted the islanders one of the first things they did was to build churches. However, the priests in charge were unskilled and only knew how they wanted the churches to look, not how to build them. This meant that the local fishermen had to think of how to make a curved roof. They decided to make it the only way they knew, using the designs their fathers had used for generations and flipped them, literally. They built upside down boats as roofs.
Visit any church and this design is obvious from the outside and inside. It is the only place in the world where churches are made like this. There was once 150 churches on the island, 16 are now classed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and tours can be taken to visit them all.
Now it was time to get some kilometers under our belts and cross the island to the west, to Chepu. This is when things started to feel like home. The rolling green hills and cows reminded us all of Ireland.
The reason for going all this way was that we hoped we could see the sunken forests. What is a sunken forest? In 1960 an earthquake hit Chile and caused the land to drop a little in Chepu. This was followed by a tsunami which engulfed part of a forest and never retreated. The salt water killed the trees and over the years they have started to fall. This created a crazy sunken forest which we heard we could kayak through. We reached Chepu and found Ecolodge Chepu Adventures where we rented our kayaks. After a few freak outs, getting stranded on hidden tree stumps and imagining the water could be filled with man eating crocs, we were back on dry land and making our way to Ancud where we would spend the night.
The following morning we woke up early to drive slightly further north and visit a couple of forts that were built to defend Ancud from outsiders or pirates. It is still possible to see the original canons, walk along empty beaches in a search of pre-colombian artefacts or arrows (that we didn’t find) or spot hummingbirds. This was a nice chilled day together before we all split and went our separate ways.
That night we were back in Ancud and excited about our second opportunity to try curanto in a good restaurant. We had a beer while watching the sunset, showered and put on our best backpacker clothes and went for dinner. As we got there the owner told us the place closes at 8pm. It was 7.45 and he didn’t want to serve us! Every other place was also closing. Heartbreaking. We decided to make homemade pizza which kind of saved the night.
The next morning we all split up and unfortunately we left the island without ever trying the specialty we were dreaming about.
Cost and useful information
Currency (average) : €1 = 714.20 CLP
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)
Hostel in Castro : 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)
Chilean food at Delcahue market : 3500 CLP (€4.90)
Kayak sunken forest : 10000 CLP (€14) per hour – EcoLodge Chepu Adventures
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