Mythology and nature, exploring southern Chile’s forests

Day trip from Castro Chiloé to explore the Parque Nacional Chiloé, full of nature and mystery.

The heart of the Chiloé archipelago in southern Chile, Castro makes for an ideal base from which to explore the surrounding islands and countryside. One superb day trip from the city is to the Parque Nacional Chiloé, located an hour and a half by bus from Castro.

Crossing the width of Chiloé’s main island, Parque Nacional Chiloé sits on the Pacific coast of the island, overlooking endless sea. Buses from Castro headed to Cucao drop visitors at the gates of the park, making for an utterly convenient adventure.

Once entering the park’s gates, a compound of modest red buildings greets the visitor. Two different museums are the perfect starting off point to any venture into the park. The first small museum displays ancient objects and tools and gives a historical perspective on the island’s history. The second provides broad overview of native plants and animals to look out for; some highlights are the pudú, the world’s smallest deer, and the monito del monte, a cute tree-climbing marsupial.

Interspersed with details on local flora and fauna are displays of Chilote mythology and different mythical characters. While this might seem strange to an outsider, a host of bewitching and grotesque characters are a firm backdrop to life in Chiloé.

Take the trauco, a squat and vile forest dwelling gnome, who is often blamed for unwanted pregnancies among young girls. The cave dwelling invunches are equally harrowing creatures with deformed and twisted figures who feed on the meat of human corpses. These ghoulish tales will place any visitor excitedly on-edge before stepping into Chiloé’s native forests.

Several trails are clearly marked from the park entrance. Sendero El Tepual is an easy hour hike into a native forest of the region. A wooden walkway leads through dense forest thicket. Warped tree trunks and spooky vines curve this way and that while gigantic nalca plants that look like massive toadstools flop about. Helpful signage along the way describes both the trees and plants in view as well as the faeries and elves thought to hide amidst the forests.

Visitors can embark on a second short hike from the base of the park, along the Sendero Dunas de Cucao. This trail takes hikers through the woods and wild-berry bushes, to the waterfront where they can explore a foggy and desolate beach.

Walking back towards the town of Cucao, several restaurants along the road dish up traditional Chilote specialties. From the road, hourly buses return to Chonchi, a sizeable town on the interior coast of Isla Grande de Chiloé, directly across from Cucao. Other buses go directly to Castro.

Entrance to the Parque Nacional Chiloé is around US$ 4 (CLP 2,000). Buses to and from Castro are about the same price. During low season (April to November), fewer buses run direct from Castro to Cucao, so ask at the Terminal Rural in Castro (On San Martin and Ramirez) for seasonal times.