Many visitors have called Chiloé the “Ireland of Chile” because of its gently rolling green hills and the soft friendliness of its people. If you arrive with an open mind and a free schedule, you will undoubtedly be rewarded. Islanders will be happy to invite you into their homes, feed you and share with you the many secrets and sayings passed down through generations of insular existence.
Buses to Chiloé run directly from Santiago and most of the larger towns around the region such as Temuco and Puerto Montt. A 30 minute ferry ride across the Chacao Channel and a short bus ride bring you to Castro, the island’s main city, tucked into the western side of the island. A ramshackle maze of corrugated iron houses supported on nobbled trunks that rise from the water, Castro is well connected by microbus to the island’s 100 plus towns and various national parks.
The months of January and February are best to visit Chiloé because of the multitude of traditional parties and events which spring up in villages and fields across the island. On any given weekend there might be up to 5 different events.
Long isolated form the mainland, Chiloé was originally populated by the Huilliche tribe, descended from the Mapuche people of the nearby Araucanía region. Colonized by the Spanish in 1567, the local culture blended with those of the Andalucían horsemen and Jesuits who settled in the area, the remnants of which are still visible today in beret-style hats and woven wool trousers worn by Chilotes.
A little digging will overturn a rich mythology, unparalleled craftsmanship and building techniques, and forms of cooking which blend the boundaries between earth and sea, echoing the ancient rites of this sea-bound, agricultural people.
Chiloé National Park and President Piñera’s very own Tantauco Park cover a vast section of the western part of the island. Within these parks visitors can explore the forests and cliffs which span the western coast, one of the best places to watch humpback whales on their way to Patagonia.
This post is also available in Spanish