When we first arrived in Chile, we thought we would make it all the way to the southern tip of Chilean Patagonia. However, after a couple of weeks we realized that both time and money were working against us (Chile is incredibly expensive) so we decided to save that for another trip and only go as far south as the Chiloé Archipelago. Chiloé is located just south of the Lakes District and is separated from the mainland by the Chacoa Channel in the north, the Sea of Chiloé in the east, and the Gulf of Corcovado in the southeast. If you look at a map of Chile and find the area where the land first seems to break up into the water, that’s where you’ll find Chiloé.
The largest island, commonly called Chiloé Island, is home to the two largest towns in the archipelago – Ancud and Castro. We decided to take a bus from Puerto Varas to Castro, which takes around 5 hours and includes riding the bus on a ferry across the Chacoa Channel, as it seemed to be a good base to rent a car and explore for a few days. Castro is a sleepy little town but is home to one of our new favorite restaurants, El Mercadito, which we loved so much we ate there two out of four nights, and palafitos – colorful houses built on stilts over the water.
Chiloé is most famous for its many wooden churches, 16 of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The churches were built in the 18th and 19th centuries entirely of native timber with extensive use of handmade wooden shingles. We visited several of the churches, and the craftsmanship is remarkable to see, but once you have seen a few of them you’ve pretty much seen all of them – especially since you can’t go in most of them (unless you’re just really into old, wooden churches).
The next day we got up early and drove north through Ancud to Puñihuil to take a boat tour out to see the Humboldt and Magellanic penguins that nest off the coast certain times of the year. The tour only lasts about 30 minutes and costs around $10 per person, but it’s definitely worth doing. We saw plenty of penguins, sea otters, flightless steamer ducks, and other sea birds who’s name I cannot remember.
After the tour we set out to find some of the Chilean Oysters we’d read and heard about. Chiloé is apparently known for them, but finding them isn’t as easy as one may think. After driving around in the general direction of one of the best known oyster restaurants for a while, we finally found it far down a really bumpy dirt road off the main highway. It was well worth the search as I’m sure these must be some of the best oysters in the world. They’re extremely fresh and taste clean and salty – just like the sea. And at $10 for 15, they’re quite the bargain so we each had 30.
After lunch we took the car ferry over to the smaller island of Quinchoa. We’d heard there was another good oyster spot over there and of course more churches. While we did find the churches, the oyster place was closed. However, the drive across the island is beautiful and well worth a trip. Quinchoa, like Chiloé Island, is covered with the Gorse shrub – a thorny shrub that has intensely yellow flowers all over it.
Our final day was spent just bumming around town waiting for our 15hr evening bus back to Santiago. We did finally get to try Curanto which is sort of like a low country boil consisting of clams, muscles, ham, sausage, and potatoes – quite delicious and ridiculously filling.
We really loved our few days on Chiloé Island and highly recommend going if you’re planning a trip to that part of Chile. While you won’t find tons of adventure, you will find a beautiful landscape, charming villages, and amazing food. It’s the perfect place to relax and leisurely explore for a few days.