Sometimes when you’re travelling, the place where you stay is as much of a draw as the destination itself. When you’re really lucky, the accommodation is its perfect complement, with its architecture and setting helping to draw out the sides of a place you never expected. The luxury lodge at Tierra Chiloé is one of those rare places.
Chiloé is one of those destinations in Chile that deserves to be far better known. It’s the third largest island in South America, hanging off the jagged Chilean fjords with one face to the Pacific Ocean, but it’s far lower down the recognition stakes when it comes to Patagonia. I’m as guilty of that as anyone. It took me several trips to Patagonia to finally make it to Chiloé, but now I have, I’ve become an enthusiastic convert.
A side trip to Chiloé makes a perfect addition to time spent in the near Chilean Lake District. You can access it easily from the Lake District’s main hub of Puerto Varas, but most people will fly direct to the island’s main airport at Castro, or on the mainland at Puerto Montt. Either of those options place it just a couple of hours’ flight from the capital Santiago, and only a shade longer from Punta Arenas – making it easy to connect with time in Torres del Paine.
I was already familiar with Tierra’s luxury lodges in the Atacama Desert and Torres del Paine, so Tierra Chiloé made the obvious base to explore the island from. Tierra will pick you up you at the airport with a private vehicle to transfer you to the hotel. I was coming from the mainland so opted to take the ferry from Puerto Montt. Doing this meant I felt like my adventure started the moment I was on board. While it’s a regular car ferry rather than a wildlife cruise, I saw several sea lions and dolphins on the short crossing (less than half an hour), as well as plenty of interesting birds.
From the ferry terminal at Chacoa it took two hours to transfer to Tierra Chiloé via Ancud. This lively town made a complete contrast to what was awaiting me – a beautiful and contemplative hotel in what felt like one of the most reclusive spots on the island, overlooking the Pullao wetlands.
Much like its sister properties Tierra Chiloé is a picture of both style and substance, with a radical design that sits beautifully in its hilltop surroundings. Designed by the Santiago architects Mobil Arquitectos, the building seems to literally float above the ground. Its great wood and stone length supported by a simple glass box and a few well-chosen plinths that quietly evoke the palafitos, or traditional stilt houses that Chiloé is famous for.
The hotel has just 24 rooms, with spacious wooden communal areas and a large dining room: all perfect places to relax in with a glass of wine after a day’s exploring as I would soon discover. All areas overlook the bay and rolling green hills, ensuring there isn’t a bad view in the house. There is also a gorgeous spa with a steam room, sauna, indoor and outdoor pools plus a menu of treatments for an extra charge.
Tierra lodges are famous for the level of service they offer. From the moment you’re offered a welcome pisco sour cocktail on arrival, nothing is too much. I had left my plans on the island deliberately open, knowing that the local guiding team would have the best recommendations. Over my cocktail I decided on a trip to the Pacific side of the island.
Where Tierra sits in tranquil countryside showing Patagonia’s gentle face, Tepuhueico National Park was more like the epic landscapes I’d come to expect from the region. Great ocean waves crashed against jagged cliffs, backed by huge dark forests. This was the Patagonia of the imagination.
On the following days I took to the water twice. The lodge has its own private pier that’s a perfect drop in point for using one of their kayaks. I went solo paddling by myself for a few hours, and yet wasn’t alone for very long. For part of the way I was accompanied by a pod of Chilean dolphins!
Also moored alongside the pier is the Willichue, Tierra’s private wooden boat. This was an awesome vessel to take guests to the surrounding smaller islands, giving access to parts of the island that few can benefit from. We headed out southwest to visit Chelin, a tiny island with just 250 inhabitants, boasting a UNESCO church and the local cemetery, with tombstones imitating the village’s very own wooden shingled homes.
Even though it was drizzling with rain and the tiny island felt moody & mysterious, the creature comforts of a stay at Tierra did not dissipate when we were on board. On embarkation to begin the day, tea, coffee and a second breakfast was on offer. After the short walk of the island, within the comfortable and cosy interior of the boat, we feasted on a warm lunch full of local delicacies. After that, there were homemade cakes & brownies to cap it all off.
Again, the boat trip offered more opportunities to see the local marine life in the Gulf of Corcovado. If I had been visiting in February or March, my guide told me I would even have had a chance of seeing a blue whale. It felt astonishing, but the Chilean government designated it a marine protected area in 2022 because of its importance to local and migratory whales.
Back on dry land, there was also the option of horse-riding and mountain biking, as well as more in depth cultural tours. As with every Tierra hotel, the guiding standards are incredibly high, with the team bringing to life the places you visit and enlightening you on the island’s flora, fauna, history and culture.
What makes this a special place? I was overwhelmed by the sheer tranquillity when I arrived. The sounds of the birds singing, the rolling waves below, and the complete serenity all around all lulled me into a deep pace. This felt like a place to slow down and take stock, to appreciate the smaller details of Patagonia.
The beauty of Tierra is where it fits within an itinerary. It can be the perfect entry into Patagonia and the first stop on your adventure; surrounded by water, greenery and wildlife. Alternatively, it can be a perfect retreat after hiking in Torres del Paine, where the quieter gentler pace is more appreciated. This sentiment was echoed by a lovely couple I met from Atlanta who had just arrived after completing the Luxury Camp W Trek and loved their 4 night stay, taking in the local sights with the odd spa treatment to cap off a wonderful 2 week trip in Patagonia before flying back to the US.
Some people on their Chilean tour manage to squeeze in a day on Chiloé, seeing the stilt houses of Castro, a few of the island’s UNESCO-listed wooden churches and eating a quick seafood lunch before heading on to Aysen or the Lake District. It’s a fun enough experience but it really does a disservice and runs the risk of leaving you feeling a little underwhelmed.
Chiloé definitely deserves more than a day. Tierra Chiloe enables you to go deeper to see the delightful intricacies of the island, whether that’s the contrasting scenery of the east and west, the local people & culture, wildlife, the food or simply just the peace & calm. If you plan to spend two, three or four days getting off the beaten track and exploring the island, I can highly recommend trusting Tierra to ensure your stay is a unique one.