Hands on travel
Exploring Chiloé’s iconic churches in southern Chile
This is Chile provides a day-long itinerary for exploring three of Chiloé’s unique UNESCO world heritage churches.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Iglesia de Dalcahue on Isla Grande de Chiloé. Photo by Gwynne Hogan / This is Chile.
Chiloé is Chile’s alluring southern archipelago just removed from the mainland south of Puerto Montt. Known for its unique flora and fauna, rich weaving traditions, and unusual folklore, one of the island chain’s biggest draws is its scattered UNESCO World Heritage churches.
Mirroring the archipelago’s unique heritage, the architecture of these sixteen churches mainly uses materials available on the island and manifests indigenous and Spanish roots. Seeing as most of the original architects were boatbuilders by trade, uncanny similarities exist between a boat’s vaulted hull and the airy arches of a Chiloé church ceiling.
All sixteen UNESCO churches cluster on the eastern face of Isla Grande de Chiloé and the islands beyond, making Castro, Chiloé’s capital, an ideal starting location. The ample public transportation between towns and nearby islands makes it simple for visitors to visit three or more churches in one day.
From Castro, all local transport is available from the Terminal Rural located on San Martin and Ramirez a few blocks from the main plaza. Before starting off, a tourist information center in Castro’s central plaza will provide you with helpful maps and can answer any questions you might have.
Sample Day: Dalcahue, Achao, Quinchao
While This is Chile offers the following possible day trip option, there are endless combinations of churches to visit. For more details about each individual church, read our overview of all the churches in Chiloé.
Castro – Dalcahue:
From the Terminal Rural in Castro, look for buses marked Dalcahue. These vehicles leave every fifteen minutes and the forty-minute ride costs about US$1.50 (CLP 700). Dalcahue is a quaint seaside town that overlooks the Isla de Quinchao across a narrow channel. Its port is speckled with bright boats, a vibrant artisanal market, and a ship-shaped restaurant jutting from the dock. Nine pointed arches decorate the portico of its stately grey church.
Dalcahue - Achao:
After visiting the church, wander back to the waterfront and you’ll find frequent barges shuttling cars and trucks from the main island to Quinchao. Most buses either waiting in the queue to board the barge or already on the barge will take you to Achao, about an hour from Dalcahue.
Achao is the hub of activity for the small island of Quinchao. From its eastern-facing port, boats ship off to a number of smaller islands closeby. Another bustling artisanal market aggregates products from Quinchao and smaller surrounding towns and islands.
As the oldest standing church of Chiloé, Achao’s church is well worth a visit. When originally constructed in the 18th century, builders did so without using a single nail, and instead used a series of wooden pegs. It’s wind-warn façade contrasts its dreamy, sky-blue interior that locals say was colored not with paint but with natural dyes.
Achao – Quinchao:
Finally, buses from Achao finish their routes in the tiny village of Quinchao, a sleepy scene with 360 degrees of tranquil bay views. Ironically, Quinchao is home to Chiloé’s largest church, although the population can’t be more than a few dozen. In summer months, a few restaurants cater to visitors offering a breadth of Chilote fare. The grassy meadow skirting the church, lush green hills encroaching, and an utter calm, make Quinchao a relaxing place to end your excursion.
Before leaving Achao make sure you know what times buses return from Quinchao, seeing as they are less frequent than transportation between other towns. Alternatively, you can ask the bus driver who takes you to Quinchao what time he returns.
Chiloé’s churches are open daily during the summer months (December, January, and February) and sporadically for mass and visitors during the rest of the year. The central tourist office in the plaza of Castro will have up to date information about what times the churches are open to the public.