After the Galapagos Islands, the Chiloé Archipelago might just be the most fascinating group of islands in South America! The archipelago is comprised of more than 30 islands and islets, the biggest of which shares its name. Chiloé Island, along with its 29 smaller siblings, captures the imagination of even the most accomplished world traveler.
Chiloé might still be a technical footnote alongside the more renowned bucket list Chile destinations of Torres del Paine, San Pedro de Atacama, and the wine regions, but we argue it is no less impressive. In this article, we detail exactly why and how to add Chiloé to your next customized Chile tour, and all of the fabulous things not to miss while there!
Where is Chiloé and how to get there?
The Chiloé archipelago lies on Chile’s Southern Coast, only about 100 kilometers away from the major northern Chilean Patagonia city of Puerto Montt. So, if you are starting your private Chile holiday in Santiago and are also interested in visiting Patagonia, you can take the quick and easy flight to Puerto Montt first, which lasts about an hour and forty minutes.
After spending some quality time in the Chilean lake district of Patagonia (for those especially keen on fishing, kayaking, hiking, and horseback riding), you will make the short trip southeast to a quaint town called Pargua. From Pargua, you will take a mere 25-minute ferry ride to Chiloé Island, which is again the largest in the archipelago and can be considered home base.
And if you want to visit Chiloé before traversing Patagonia? The great news is that LATAM offers direct flights from Santiago to Chiloé about four times a week, which adds only about fifteen minutes in the air. With this option especially, it’s really not such a headache nor intense time commitment to add this up-and-coming Chilean destination to your curated travel itinerary.
One final and important note about how to get to Chiloé is that you must also know which part of the archipelago most interests you. Our expert travel designers can help you with this, because beyond Chiloé Island, aka “The Big Island,” you can explore many of the other islands via the three main cities within the Chiloé Archipelago: Ancud, Quellón, and Castro.
Some islands worth mentioning here include 1) Tranqui for the outdoor adventure lovers, 2) Quinchao for history buffs, 3) Aucar for the poets and philosophers, and 4) San Pedro for the honeymooners. You can access all of these islands and many more from a ferry ride (some as short as five minutes) from one of the aforementioned main port cities.
Why you should visit?
Hopefully, we’ve already piqued your interest with this exciting variety of possible mini-destinations within the Chiloé Archipelago. And there’s yet another reason to consider an immersive experience on Chiloé Island in particular: the one-of-a-kind architecture. We’re talking lively mobile houses built into the shoreline on stilts and covered in colorful wooden tiles.
These houses called “mingas” truly are the only of their kind. The word and concept “minga” is central to Chilote culture to this day. Minga means that if you ask for help, you will always offer something in return. So, reciprocity is built into the archipelago’s society, quite literally!
When a Chilote family moves, the entire community rallies around them. They will either transport the minga across the island’s landscape on rolling tree trunks or to another side of the archipelago and attached to a boat. This endeavor is accompanied by local dishes and becomes a meaningful social event.
In addition to mingas and this community upliftment, Chiloé claims some of the most breathtaking ecclesiastical architecture on Earth. Sixteen of the remaining sixty and utterly unique churches were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000. Jesuits and Mercedarian missions employed highly-skilled local craftsmen to fashion these larger-than-life churches entirely of wood – there isn’t a single nail to be found!
What to do?
Considering the wealth of culture, history, and natural splendor in Chiloé, this is somewhat of a loaded question. You could spend upwards of a few weeks exploring every nook and cranny of the archipelago, but we also know that the perfect vacation often needs to fit into a limited timeframe. This is why we want to highlight the five following activities in particular.
See penguins in Punihuil Beach
If you are traveling from October to March and want to interact with as much wildlife as possible, we highly recommend a tour of the lively Humboldt & Magellanic penguin colony on Punihuil Beach. Punihuil is only about a 45-minute drive from Ancud, and this time of year is especially fun because it’s mating season for these funny tuxedo-clad waddlers. A must if you plan to travel with kids!
Discover a rainforest in the Chiloé National Park
Chiloé National Park spans over 100,000 acres on the western coast of Chiloé Island and encompasses a wide range of ecosystems and protected species. Here, you will find desolate dunes, swamps, peat bogs, and temperate rainforests waiting to be explored. If you are an adventure traveler focused on regenerative tourism, the hiking trails of Chiloé National Park are calling your name!
Dive into local myth
When traveling to Chiloé with Kuoda, you will have a local private guide. So, if you are interested in the rich mythical tales of Chiloé, they will be sure to weave some captivating living legends into your tours to provide a more authentic experience.
When hiking through the lush forest trails beware of the dwarf El Trauco, and listen for the haunting song of La Pincoya at night, the mermaid who protects the sea. You can even get up close and personal with the wizardry and witchcraft of the area at the Ancud Regional Museum.
Try the local cuisine
Across Chile, people covet Chilote cuisine for two dishes in particular: milcaos & curanto. Reminiscent of a potato latke, a milcao is a savory potato pancake made with both grated and mashed potato and seasoned with an array of local spices.
While milcao is more of a snack, curanto is a hearty main dish of sausages, seafood, chicken, pork, dumplings, and vegetables, all cooked to perfection in an underground pit with hot stones (similar to the Peruvian Pachamanca). The curanto is so much more than a meal, it’s an entire experience!
Embark on a kayaking adventure
The Chiloé Archipelago contains lakes, channels, and bays, so it’s no wonder that Chileans consider this area some of the best kayaking in the entire country! And within Chiloé, many argue the prime spot for kayaking is in Chepu, a wetlands area and tidal river just about an hour and a half from Castro.
In Chepu you will start your adventure with your private guide kayaking down the river, and into the ocean, where you will be met by a sunken forest! The range of scenery here is unparalleled, and especially if you start rowing in the early morning just in time to catch the sunrise.
How to enjoy Chiloé with Kuoda
At the end of the day, we know hand-crafted travel, and a trip to Chiloé deserves all of those special unexpected details that come with a bespoke journey. We only work with the most enthusiastic local guides, who are natural storytellers and plan every trip based on your specific interests. Contact us today to get the ball rolling on your exclusive Chile vacation!