The island of Chiloé is a land filled with myths and legends. On top of the unique folklore and culinary traditions, there is an array of incredible wildlife and amazing sights that will blow you away. From the moment you first set foot on this extraordinary island, its unique identity will take you by surprise, and you will never want to leave.
On the island, you’ll be able to discover the colorful wooden churches, spot blue whales, countless birds and penguins, trek through stunning national parks, and much more. Here’s a list of some of the things you can’t miss on this incredible piece of land.
Admire the “Palafitos”
Probably the number one thing you must see while on the island are the houses on stilts, better known there as “palafitos”. The first of these houses were built for trade during the logging boom in the late 19th century and since then, they have been quite the attraction for tourists. In fact, Chiloé is well known for these colorful wooden houses perched over the water and so missing out on them would definitely be a shame. Don’t worry though, as they’re not difficult to find. They are located in Castro, the largest city on the island, just a 5 minute walk from the Plaza de Armas main square and the famous church of San Fransisco. The best place to snap a picture of them is from the Puente Gamboa.
Visit the churches of Chiloé
The wooden churches of Chiloé are definitely something worth seeing due to both the unique architecture, and the different colors that they are painted. It is said that the reason why the colors are so distinct, is so that they provide a reference for fishermen at sea.
What makes the architecture so special is the building techniques that the missionary Jesuits brought in the 17th century from Spain, mixed with Chiloé’s ancestral carpenters’ wooden boat construction method. The combination of the two brought these impressive nail-less churches to life. In place of iron nails, reinforced wooden joints hold the buildings in place, mimicking the techniques used for the construction of ships. Inside the Museum of Churches in Ancud, you will be able to see all of the different types of joint and methods used to make the buildings come to life. On the island, 16 of the 70 original churches are still standing, and each one of these has been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Enjoy a Curanto
The traditional dish of Chiloé, curanto, has become widely known and common all over the south of Chile and Argentina. It consists of seafood, meat, potatoes and vegetables and is traditionally prepared in a hole, about a meter and a half deep, which is dug in the ground. The bottom is covered with stones, heated in a bonfire until red. On the island, this dish is served almost anywhere and is a must-try during your stay.
You can actually take part in preparing the dish on the island where you can engage in the whole process from beginning to end. Starting with collecting of the rocks at the beach, digging the hole in the ground, cooking and covering the food, and then enjoying the dish several hours later. If you have the time… and the appetite, then you can’t miss out on this opportunity!
See the Penguins of Penguin Islands
27km from Ancud is the Monumento Natural Islotes de Puñihuil, a three-island site that aims to protect these penguins from extinction. It’s the only place in the world where you can see both Magallanes and Humboldt penguins in the same place. The boat trip to see the penguins is probably the most popular thing to do from Ancud, but with guaranteed views of hundreds of penguins, as well as some amazing views of the islands, who wouldn’t want to go? You will even get to spot some sea lions and possibly some dolphins, all for just $10.000 CLP!
Trek through Chiloé National Park
Hugging the Pacific coast, this 430km² (166 miles²) park is an evergreen forest that boasts a wide variety of Chilote wildlife, with birds, foxes and the world’s smallest deer, the pudú. With 110 different types of bird, this park is a birdwatcher’s paradise and it is definitely a good idea to bring binoculars if you want a closer look at them. Mixed with dense forest, sand dunes, and swampy green lands, you certainly won’t get bored of the sites during your hike. With the highest peak of the island being at 820m, the trails through the national park are not very challenging. However, the park is huge, so if you’re going just for the day, try not to venture too deep into it, as you want to make sure you have plenty of time to get back to where you are staying before the sun sets.
Kayak Around the Archipelago
Offshore from Castro, there are many small islands which form the archipelago. Although there are boat services which offer transportation to the bigger islands, some of the smaller ones are much harder to get to, and so the beauty of them cannot fully be appreciated. On a kayak, however, you get to experience them at your own pace and enjoy the views of the archipelago from the water. Kayaks are available to rent from Castro, Dalcahue (a beautiful town 30 minutes north of Castro) and other locations along the coast.
The other amazing kayak experience on the island is along the eerie Chepu River, near Ancud. This area used to be a forest, but the tsunami over 40 years ago created a spectacular drainage basin made up of 8 rivers, Chepu being the largest. The broken trees stick out of the river like something from a movie and in the morning, a thick layer of mist floats on the water which gives it an eerie feel. It is especially amazing if you get there early as the sun rises and creates an orange glow through the mist. As this river is not easy to get to, there are fewer providers who offer this experience. However, if you manage to fine one, it is guaranteed to be an experience you won’t forget!
Appreciate the Muelle de Los Almas
One of the newest attractions of Chiloé is an art installation tapping into the island’s indigenous mythology. Crafted by Marcelo Orellana Rivera, a Chilean wood sculptor and art professor from Santiago, this fascinating sculpture pays homage to the island’s native culture as well as its abundant natural forests, the source of the wood that made Chiloé’s boats and churches famous. The art piece is called Muelle de las Almas, or the “Dock of Souls”. To get there, you can catch a bus or drive from Castro to Chonchi, which takes about 2 hours, and from there, walk along a fairly easy 40-minute trail to the monument. Although it’s an incredible spot for photos, it can get very busy during the summer months and you may have to wait up to an hour to get a photo!
Go Whale Watching
Whale watching has become a not-to-be-missed activity for both young and old travelers visiting Chile. With over 4,000km (2,485 miles) of coastline, Chile is a great place to catch a glimpse of migrating blue, humpback, and gray whales. Thanks to the area’s unique topographical conditions and water depths, these incredible creatures come much closer to Chile’s coastline than in other parts of the world. Whale-watching season in Chile usually runs from December to March, when whale populations are making their long migration from the warmer latitudes where they mate and give birth, to the krill-filled waters of southern Chile. The western coast of the Parque Nacional Chiloé and Quellón in the southeast of Chiloé are the best places to spot them. Boat tours to see them in both of those locations are available daily, subject to weather conditions.
By Ellie Weatherly