I always knew I wanted to visit Chiloé on this trip. Years ago I read an article about it in National Geographic. I don’t even really remember what it was about, but something about this island, the second largest in South America stuck with me. I envisioned old wooden churches, colorful houses on stilts and rough fisherman surviving off the wild seas. For some reason I thought Chiloé was rural, rustic and a difficult place to live.
As we crossed on the car ferry from Puerto Montt over to the island I was surprised at how similar it was to the mainland. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was a bit put off by the huge double lane highways and tourist focused towns. To be fair, the ferry spit us out near the capital Ancud, probably the most built up part of the archipelago so I knew immediately that we would have to make an effort to get more off the beaten path.
While in Ancud we decided to find a restaurant to eat the dish the island is known for, curanto. Curanto is shellfish, meat, potatoes and dumplings traditionally steamed in a hole in the ground with hot rocks and covered with nalca, Chilean rhubarb leaves. It sounded really good. In reality, the one we tried was just ok.
I hate to say it, but food in Chile leaves a bit to be desired for me. While they have amazing ingredients, I have been a bit underwhelmed by how they are prepared in restaurants. The meat in the curanto was delicious, but the clams and muscles got a bit dried out by the time we ate them, I think partly because they drain off the liquid and give it to you in a cup as a soup on the side. Also, I craved a bit of butter, or garlic, or some kind of spice or fat to zing it up a bit, it was all just a bit bland. Oh well, glad we tried it.
Chiloé National Park
From Ancud we decided to head across the island to the national park hoping to get into a more rugged and undeveloped part of the island. Parts of the drive were absolutely stunning, driving along the huge inlet like fjords where the ocean divided parts of the island into long narrow stretches.
We arrived at the national park entrance late in the day and asked the CONAF guard where we could camp. He suggested we take a dirt road to a stretch of beach and find a place to camp next to the ocean. It was a secluded, peaceful place and we spent two nights at it enjoying the isolation.
Overall, we were a bit underwhelmed by this national park, but the area around it and the drive out were worth it. The hiking was not that great and most of the national park cannot be accessed by foot so we could only see a small portion of it hiking, but we still enjoyed our visit and since it was so cheap to go ($1500 Chilean pesos), we had zero regrets.
Chiloe is probably most known for two things, the UNESCO World Heritage wooden churches and the colorful stilted houses on the water called palafitos. Castro is the place to see both these things. However, the churches are spread out all over the island, so seeing them takes a bit of driving but is worth the effort.
Exploring the smaller cities and churches around the island:
When we were talking to Marcus and Karen they told us of a coastal road on the map they took that was really beautiful. While we were looking at a local map, we also saw a few roads that were not on our open street maps on our Garmin so Sam and I decided to take the coastal road and then drive some of the “other” roads that were not on our maps. This would end up being our favorite part of our time on the island.
We enjoyed our time here and would have stayed longer, but we had reserved a ferry in three days and had a lot of driving to do so we had to take the ferry back to Puerto Montt and head towards the famed Carretera Austral!!!!!
We had planned to originally take the ferry in Quellon (southern Chiloe) to Puerto Chabuco to start our adventure down the Carretera Austral. We did not realize that there was only one ferry a week and that is would cost almost $300 US for us to take it to the mainland from Chiloe! The one ferry was also booked the week we were on the island since it is limited on space anyway, so it solved any questions about us taking it. We were not aware of the cost or the limited schedules (we don’t plan ahead enough I guess) so we had to back track off the island and come up with a plan for another way to start the drive down the Carretera Austral. In retrospect, I am really glad it did not work out because we ended up driving the entire Carretera Austral from top to bottom with our new plan and parts of the drive were so spectacular I am thankful we did not miss them! I love how the trip just unfolds in front of us, even set backs seem to always work out to an even better adventure.