The Big Island of Chiloe and its (archipelago) are located south of Chile and has an area of over 9,000 km2. It is located in the 10th Region de los Lagos and has a very particular geography and climate, with a mountain range that runs through it from north to south and is known as the Cordillera del Pirulil and Cordillera del Piuchén. It also has smooth hills and plains, where activities such as agricultural crops and forest plantations take place.
It also has interior channels such as the Chacao Channel, which separates the island from the mainland of Puerto Montt. Other important channels are Caucahué, Quicaví, Dalcahue, Quinchao, Queilén, San Pedro, Yelcho, among others.
The climate of Chiloe is classified as rainy maritime temperate, with average temperatures of 11º C and rainfalls that are more abundant in the western part of the island, asthe ones in the higher parts of the mountain range. It is characterized because it rains throughout the year, with cold wind chills. This allows the existence of lush greenery as nalcas, myrtles, quila, larch and tepú, representatives of the Valdivian evergreen forests.
Because of the intervention of man, you can now find thorny bushes that were used to make fences, but they expanded throughout the island. Chiloé is also characterized by the 400 varieties of native potatoes that are cultivated and some of them have given rise to different varieties of potatoes in the world.
In Chiloé you can also find native fauna, with endemic species like the fox and pudú chilote. Other species in this area include dolphins, sea lions, horses and chilote sheep.
Because of its relative isolation from the mainland, in Chiloé great culture was developed, mythology and various folklore to the rest of the country, which can be seen in their music, their dances (cueca and chilote vals), its colorful legends and unique architecture, which can be observed mainly in their churches.
Another of its particularities is their constructions with palafittes over wooden pilars in the water, mainly built in ports such as Castro and even today you can find some homes with this particular style.
It is believed that the first settlers of Chiloé arrived through the Bering Strait, about 8000 BC. The oldest human remains that are found on the island are in the town of Ancud, and date from between 5000 and 6000 years old.
The chonos and then huiliches inhabited the islands of the (archipelago) and many of the traditions of the area were inherited from these groups, such as curanto, a meal that is cooked in a hole in the ground, which was prepared by the Chonos. For their part, the huilliches were farmers and developed crops such as potatoes.
Subsequently in the time of the Spanish conquest in 1540 Alonso de Camargo sighted the coast of the island and Pedro de Valdivia years later led an expedition to collect geographic information, under the command of Captain Francisco de Ulloa, who came to Canal Chacao in 1553. In 1567 the city of Castro was founded.
Later, despite the battles between Spanish and Mapuche, the island was considered a strategic point for Spain. In 1748 the Municipality of Chiloé was created, which was dependent of Lima instead of being under the General Captaincy of Chile. In 1608 came the first mission of the Jesuits, who founded the first church of Castro in 1612, in order to evangelize the natives. It was the Jesuits who conducted chapels throughout the archipelago, so now you can find more than 150 churches scattered throughout the island.
Now in the late eighteenth century, the Camino Real, a land route that joined Valdivia and Chiloé facilitating trade was created. After the Independence of Chile, the island became the supply center for foreign whalers and the leading producer of railway sleepers in South America.
In 1843 the schooner Ancud, of the Chilean Navy took possession of the Strait of Magallanes, which until then had no effective sovereignty. This allowed the emigration of chilotes towards the Patagonia Argentina which then re-entered into Chilean territory and settled in Aysen and Magallanes.
In the late twentieth century, salmon farming increased on the island, opening Chiloe to a modern lifestyle that exists throughout the country.
Where to go
It is the first major town of Chiloe when accessed by crossing the Chacao Channel. It is the second largest city on the island after Castro, and stands out for its cultural and historical heritage.
Its attractions include several National Monuments, such as Castillo de Ahui o Fuerte Agui, located 26 kilometers from Ancud, corresponding to remnants of the Spanish colonial fortresses of the time, like Fort San Antonio, and Fort Chaicura and the Fuerte y Polvorín de San Carlos.
In the Gulf of Ancud there are 18 stone fish weirs, which were built with stones or nailed sticks where at low tide you could catch lots of fish, crustaceans and molluscs.
The city has the Costanera Salvador Allende, a trip that allows you to see a beautiful view of the bay and in it are there are several forts and parks.
In Ancud there is also a colorful craft market where you can buy local products, such as woven and carved woodwork.
It is the most important city in the Big Island of Chiloé, its capital and where most of the services, trade and Mocopulli airport are located, which allows direct connection to the mainland.
Here activities such as the Festival Costumbrista Chilote are performed in the Parque Municipal de Castro, with gourmet, artisanal, agricultural and folkloric samples.
In its surroundings, there are interesting places like Nercón, where the Iglesia Nuestra Señora de Gracia de Nercón is located, considered a World Heritage Site.
Also the Rilán Peninsula is located here, which separates the Quinchao Island of the area through the Chacao Channel. Here you can find nice resorts like Quento, Yutuy and Tongoy. In the village of Chelín we found the church Nuestra Señora del Rosario, which is a World Heritage Site.
In Castro we find buildings on palafittes, in the sectors of Gamboa and Pedro Montt.
Another attraction is a great craft fair that is located by the sea, where you can buy all kinds of products produced in the area such as carvings, weavings, sheep wool dyed with vegetable fiber, and other jewelry. Here you can find restaurants with typical food, to enjoy fish and seafood overlooking the port and the sea.
Curaco de Vélez:
This town is located on the island of Quinchao and features churches and museums with interesting collections and historical traditions of the area, plus shops and a craft fair.
This is another important city of the island, known for its craft fair and churches, all considered World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. These are the Church of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Dalcahue, the Church of San Juan and the Church of Tenaún.
The area between the Carretera Panamericana (Panamericana Highway) and the Pacific Ocean in Dalcahue belong to the Anay sector or south of the Chiloé National Park and has forests and natural areas.
Parque Nacional Chiloé: (Chiloe National Park)
This area is located on the west coast of the Big Island of Chiloe and comprising the sectors of Chepu, located in Ancud (northern area) and Anay (southern area), crossing the towns of Dalcahue, Castro and Chonchi. Most of the park is located in the Cordillera de Piuchén, but also has areas of Valdivian forests, dunes and peatlands.
To access the Anay sector you must enter through the entry of Cucao. In this area there are camping areas, nature trails and a museum. It is a place of beautiful beaches, surrounded by nature, rivers and lakes.
Besides this, in the same zone of Anay, near the Colecole River we find a myrtle forest of singular beauty, part of the Valdivian forest vegetation present in the area.
To get to the Chepu sector, there is an entry in Ancud, through Puerto Anguay where you must navigate through the Chepu River to reach the National Park.
This area is known for its beautiful beaches of Queilen and Lelbun, which are located in the Gulf of Corcovado. They are located on the east side of the island and besides spas you can be visit the Pio Pio Lagoon, the Acui Island and the Tranqui Island .
It is the last resort of the island and is located at kilometer 0 of the Carretera Panamericana (Panamericana Highway). It is a major port, with great shopping and fishing activities. Among its attractions are Llauquil Artisan Fair, InchinCuiviAnt Museum, the Austral Islands and the Chaiguao beach, among others.
Located on the southern end of the Island of Chiloe and is a private park open to the public. It has more than 118,000 acres of forests and natural areas, which is a wildlife habitat such as chilote foxes, seabirds and even manage to spot humpback whales from the coast.
It has trails for hiking and camping areas, but there is no food service or changing areas, so it is recommended to carry supplies and warm clothing.
It is said that Chiloe is a magical place, and that all who visit come back. Whether for its unique landscapes that mix the lush nature of the Valdivian forest with white sandy beaches and beautiful sunsets, or its rich mythology legends and stories that have been passed from generation to generation, the Big Island has many attractions to visit and enjoy.
The first town worth visiting is Ancud, at the northern end of Chiloe. This port has several historic remnants of Spanish forts, which were built to protect the island from attacks by pirates and privateers. Several of them can still be seen on the Costanera Salvador Allende, which also allows you to enjoy a panoramic view of the bay of Ancud.
This zone has a large craft fair, where you can see and buy another on of the unique attractions of Chiloé: its crafts. Its sheep wool fabrics dyed with natural fibers is highlighter along with their woodcarvings works, works in leather and various objects made of seashells, all with the stamp of magic and legend that characterizes the island.
Continuing south, we find the most important city of the island, Castro. It is a dynamic port where cruises around the world arrive, where there is a great amount of commerce, an attractive craft fair, folk festivals, and restaurants serving typical chilote flavors: curanto, seafood, fish and preparations made on the basis of the most abundant food on the island: the potato.
The milcao, a kind of fried bread made with grated potatoes, and chapalele, which has a similar processing but cooked, are an essential part of the cuisine of Chiloé and can also be served in the Mercado de Castro, which also sell cheese and jams made from natural ingredients of the area and can see the different shapes and colors of the chilota potatoes. All these flavors can be enjoyed in the Castro Costumbrista Festival, held every year in February.
One of the elements that make the island of Chiloé unique are its churches. There are more than 150 in the entire archipelago, several considered National Monuments of Chile, and 16 which are World Heritage Sites of the UNESCO. In Castro we can find one, the Church of San Francisco de Castro, located in the Plaza de Armas and is known for its colorful façade, with its high towers with stained glass and its wooden interior.
Castro is also highlighted by the presence of houses built on palafittes, which can still be seen in the areas of Gamboa and Pedro Montt.
From Castro it is possible to move to the Island of Quinchao where the town of Achao located with its famous church Santa Maria de Loreto de Achao belonging to one of the 16 churches considered Heritage Sites. From here you can reach Curaco Velez, another beautiful area with panoramic views, a craft fair and chilota architecture with tiles made in larch.
Close to this area is the town of Dalcahue, with a beautiful church, museum and library, plus a colorful craft fair where you can buy souvenirs of the island. In the surroundings you can visit natural areas such as the Tocoihue Waterfall.
60 kilometers from Castro is the Chiloé National Park, which offers more than 40,000 acres of native forest, trails, camping areas, beaches, lakes, rivers and natural areas ideal for outdoor activities. You can access Cucao where the start of the tours in the park begin.
10 kilometers away from Castro to the northeast, you can also see the Rilán peninsula, famous for its traditions, such as custom celebrations. It is a wetland area, ideal for the observation of flora and fauna, especially Putemún and Puyao.
Because of the beauty of the place several boutique hotels have been installed as well as rural lodgings, where you can do many countryside activities.
En Rilán también se ubica otra de las iglesias emblemáticas de Chiloé: Santa María de Rilán, exponente de la arquitectura chilota, al igual que muchas casas del sector.
From Castro you can also take a boat tour that takes you to small surrounding islands such as Chelín and Quehui, where you can learn about traditional chilota life with rural activities and excursions, horseback riding, sailing, etc..
To the east of the Big Island are the beaches of Queilén and Lelbun, found in the beautiful zone of the Gulf of Corcovado. Other attractions of the area are the Estero Paildad, Acui Island, the Refugio para Navegantes (Shelter for the Sailors), the Pio Pio Lagoon and the Tranqui Island.
To the south of Chiloé you can tour the Tantauco Park, which is accessed through Quellón, the last resort of the island, which also is in the kilometer 0 of the Carretera Panamericana (Panamericana Highway). The entrance to Tantauco Park is found next to Chaiguata Lake and offers hiking trails, camping areas and the ability to fully enter into the lush and magical nature of the island.
The major cities in Chiloe such as Ancud and Castro have bank branches, ATMs and other shops that accept credit cards. In rural or remote areas it is recommended to carry cash to cancel purchases because some places may not accept credit cards. You can change money in Puerto Montt, located 87 kilometers north of Ancud, crossing the Chacao channel. On the island of Chiloé there are no money exchange houses.
To reach Chiloé you can take a domestic flight from Santiago to El Tepual Airport in Puerto Montt, and then cross the Chacao Channel to reach Ancud, covering 90 kilometers.
Another option is to take a direct flight to the Mocopulli Airport in Castro, located just 20 kilometers from the city.
There is also the option of taking an interprovincial bus from Santiago or from major cities of the country. To have an idea, the distance between Ancud and Santiago is 1109 kilometers, about 11 hours of travel.
In Chiloé there are interprovincial buses connecting the towns and islands with the larger cities of the country. These small buses travel the winding roads of the island and cross the channel in ferries to reach the more remote areas.
In the cities there are minibuses and taxis to move on its streets.
It is also possible to rent a car at Mocopulli Airport, located in the area of Dalcahue, 20 kilometers from Castro.
The telephone code for Chiloe is 652. To call from abroad you must dial the country code for Chile, which is 56, then the code of Chiloé and then the telephone number.
Where and what to eat
The chilota gastronamy is just as famous as its traditions and mythology. In this area you can taste unique flavors made with local ingredients, such as potatoes, prepared in different ways and used as a side in almost every dish.
It was formed from the merger of of Mapuche and Spanish cuisine, with Argentinian influences as well.
The famous Curanto is one of the most emblematic preparations of the traditional cuisine of Chiloé. This dish that traces its origins to the chonos, who were early settlers of the island, is prepared in a hole in the ground, filled with hot stones. Many different types of meats are put inside such as beef, lamb, pork and sausages as well as fish and local seafood, including clams, mussels and piures. Finally, all these foods are covered with nalca leaves and covered with more stones that the heat cooks it and it is done in about an hour and a half.
The chilota cuzuela is another traditional preparation, prepared with seafood, potatoes and cabbage, including piures and other types of seafoods. You can also add lamb offal and other vegetables.
The chapaleles and milcaos are prepared with potatoes. The chapaleles are made with potato and flour cooked in water and are served with sweet or savory dishes. The milcaos on the other hand are made with grated potatoes to which traditionally greaves (chicharones) are added and then fried.
Also, tortilla embers, which is soft bread cooked on the grill, with or without greaves are prepared.
As for liquors, Chiloé is famous for its Licor de Oro, which is prepared with buttermilk, honey and other flavorings. Others are some types of chicha made with apple, mistela of myrtle, chicha of cauchague and beet liquor, among others.
It is worth choosing a tipycal food place. Some of them are the Mercado de Castro (Castro Market), the waterfront in Ancud, and of course the "picadas" or small restaurants that can be found in all areas of the island where you can really taste the flavor of the traditional chilota cooking.