When Darwin visited Chiloé in 1835, he described the island as “the border of Christianity”, both in the geographical and spiritual sense. The brilliant researcher was marveled by the co-habitation achieved between Mapuche Indians and the Spanish conquerors over three centuries. This relationship has helped bring about a culture which can be appreciated today in the small wooden chapels and the fascinating domestic mythology.
Castro, Isla Chiloé, Chile
The wooden chapels of Chiloé are considered as UNESCO world heritage sites for their cultural significance, blending native and Spanish beliefs into the churches. Each chapel has southern-facing front doors to protect them from the rain. The weather in Chiloé according to Charles Darwin is, “in winter the climate is detestable, and in summer it is only a little better. I should think there are few parts of the world, within the temperate regions, where so much rain falls. The winds are very boisterous, and the sky almost always clouded: to have a week of fine weather is something wonderful.”
Iglesia San Carlos de Borroneo, Chonchi – Chiloé © Nick Leonard
Many of the buildings and houses on Chiloé also take advantage of the wooden architecture, and are often covered with wooden shingles called tejuelas cut from the native Alerce tree, to create roofs that can withstand the frequent rain showers in the region. You can find many houses of this type in the area of Llanguihue and Puerto Montt.
Typical wooden houses in Castro © Nick Leonard
The Chiloé archipelago is considered part of the Northern Patagonia area of Chiloé as well as the southernmost reaches of the Lake District. The beautiful Chiloé Island is located south of Puerto Montt. It is linked to the mainland by ferries which cross the Chacao channel.
The eastern side of the island, facing the mainland of Chile across the Golfo de Ancud in the north and Golfo de Corcovado in the south, is broken up into a myriad of coves and inlets.
Chiloé’s three main towns, the new capital Ancud is in the north, Castro, the former capital, on the east, and Quellón on the southern tip, offer most of the island’s tourism amenities.
Ancud Port at Sunset
Quellón port, Chiloé
Must Sees and Dos in Chiloé:
The famous palafitos, or houses on stilts, along the waterfronts and mud flats at San Juan, Chiloé.
The Feria Artesanal Market, along the waterfront, offers local handicrafts, particularly woolens (scarves and sweaters) and basketry.
Chiloé people survive on farming and fishing, so dine on their traditional meal; curanto, prepared traditionally in a hole in the ground over hot rocks. The dish includes mussels, clams, beef, pork, chicken, sausage, and potatoes topped off with chewy pancakes called milcaos. You can order a variation in a restaurant where it is cooked in a pot and called pulmay.
Preparing the Curanto
Puñihuil, the only place in the world where Humboldt and Magellan penguins nest side by side. Unfortunately you are not allowed to leave the boat, because the breeding grounds are protected. The area is very rich and supports many other species, including three species of nesting cormorants (Red-legged, Rock & Imperial), Kelp Geese, three gull species, skuas, Blackish and Magellanic Oyster Catchers, sometimes sea otters and flightless steamer duck.
Visit the Chiloe archipelago and kayak from £561.
“Kayak from island to island with specialists in this beautiful lake district, visiting fishing villages on the way. You’ll have the opportunity to relax in the evenings back at the picturesque stilt house hostel and enjoy dinner in a nice sea front restaurants where you can try the delicious Curanto dish”.