A First Timer's Guide to Chiloe Island

Chiloe Island is the main island in an archipelago off Chile’s Pacific coast. It’s known for its stunning landscapes, harsh weather and scrumptious seafood. With 4 days to explore, we made the most of our first time in this magical coastal paradise.

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WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT CHILOE?

While Chiloe is the big island, the region consists of smaller offshoot island towns that are worth exploring if you have the time. Chiloe has a Ruta de Islas (Island Route) that you can use as an easy way to identify important landmarks if you’re not sure where to go.

Each one has unique characteristics, but you can pretty much guarantee it will have at least one historic church to its name. Chiloe is also famous for its Ruta de Iglesias (Church Route), made up of beautiful historic churches that frame each city’s central plaza.

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GETTING TO KNOW CHILOE’S ISLANDS

But when I visited, I didn’t necessarily follow any specific route, but rather, mapped out my time based on some restaurants and points of interest that had been recommended to me. Here are the important islands you should consider visiting during your time in Chiloe:

ANCUD

This island town is typically overlooked for its more popular sister town called Castro. But I highly encourage you to consider giving it a chance. We found wonderful places to eat, a beautiful coastal walkway and felt it was a great introduction to Chiloe. It’s also a perfect stop over to see the famous penguins of Chiloe (more on that below).

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DALCAHUE

I tacked on Dalcahue at the tail end of our trip, so I didn’t get a chance to explore as much as I would have liked to. That being said, it seemed like the perfect offering between big town services with small town magic. It’s also a great place to take ferries to check out some smaller islands like Achao and Quinchao.

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castro

I wouldn’t be able to talk about Chiloe without recommending a visit to Castro. But, I’ll be honest - I really didn’t like it here. Castro is really big, seems kind of shady and lacked the charm of the smaller towns we visited. What it does have going for it are the palafitos (houses on stilts) that dot the seashore as well as highly rated restaurants in its vicinity.

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CHONCHI

Located on the eastern end of the island close to Castro, Chonchi was a welcome surprise, since it didn’t really show up on any “Must do” Chiloe lists. While we were blown away by the kindness of the locals we met there, it’s also a practical stop for gas and cash if you’re headed to a small town like Cucaco.

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CUCAO

Cucao is probably best used as a stop over if you want to visit Chiloe’s National Park or the Instagram-friendly Muelle de Almas. I can’t explain how lucky I feel to have stayed two nights in this tiny little place; it’s remote even by Chiloe’s standards. Cell service is slim to none, there are no gas / bank services and only a handful of restaurants that have mysterious opening hours. But it’s goddamn beautiful.

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WHERE TO STAY IN CHILOE

Hey, that rhymes!

The two places I suggest below are the most stunning locations I’ve ever stayed in, and will likely ever experience. They’re not on any kind of Top 10 list, and I wouldn’t want them to be. They deserve to be treasured and appreciated the way I did when I first saw them. I hope you do too.

Paihuen Yurts & Turismo
Ancud

This was my first time staying in a yurt, and the experience was nothing short of spectacular. Louis has built a beautiful one-room yurt on his property, with every amenity you can think of that comes with it.

The best part?

It comes with its own private wood burning hot tub situated in the middle of a creek that runs through the backyard. You can’t ask for a better experience

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PALAFITOS CUCAO
cucao

When my friend recommended this property, I didn’t quite realize how remote and secluded it would be. It looked nice from the photos, but that’s about all I knew.

But this self-described hostel is on the water, just steps from Chiloe’s National Park. And it’s the perfect getaway to truly disconnect while exploring this island. Enjoy the tranquil glassy waters, juxtaposed against the lush green mountains, with wild horses and birds roaming the land.

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THINGS TO DO IN CHILOE

Here were some of my favorite experiences during the trip, but there are countless other pockets to be discovered during your time here.

Muelle de Almas
Cost:
$1.500 CLP entrance // $2.000 CLP parking (cash only, bring small bills)
Legend has it that this is where souls were taken to the afterlife. The bridge can only be reached via a 35min - 2 hour hike (depending on weather), and takes you through ever changing Patagonian landscapes.

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Visit the Punihuil Penguins
Cost:
$7.000 CLP per person, varied timings
While you’re in Ancud, make sure you head to the Penguin-sighting tour organized by a small team of Chilean wildlife experts. The best time to visit is in the summer (Jan - Feb) where you’ll see all the baby penguins emerge from their caves. But when we went in November, we still saw plenty of the adorable little guys hopping all over the place.

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Chiloe National Park
Cost:
$4.000 CLP entrance for foreigners, closes at 6:30pm (but you can jump the fence easily if you’re locked in)
This park is extremely well-maintained and the trails are really easy for anyone in any shape to try out. My favorite trail was the Sendero de Playa, which, as the name suggests, ends in a secluded beach right next to wild horses. The photos really don’t do this place justice.

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Visit all the churches
Cost:
Free
Each island town has its own church, each with a unique style to it. It’s the perfect respite to take a few minutes to meditate and reflect on your time in Chiloe.

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Don’t let a list hold you back from making your own memories. Make your time count in Chiloe.
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