Chiloe is a relatively small island southwest of Puerto Montt, in Chile’s tenth region. The island is well known for its sea food / fish, shellfish, palifito’s and for the friendliness of its people. Chiloe has always been one of Chile’s poorest regions but thanks to the investments by the salmon industry and the tourism sector, the island is gradually picking up.
We visited Chiloe by the end of March as most foreign visitors do. The months of January and February are very busy with local tourists and should be avoided. Usually in March the weather is still fine and it is easy to move around. Schools in Chile have started again, so most local tourist have left.
We traveled by car and crossed by ferry the Chacao channel . It is a quick and easy crossing, very well organised. From the ferry we saw several sea lions that were all around the boat.
Our first stop was an important one: we had heard that the small town of Caulin was selling the best oysters. It is however, not that simple to reach Caulin, it is no more than an hamlet halfway Chacao and Ancud. It can only be reached through unpaved roads and it is that small that we almost missed it entirely. Luckily one of the two restaurants in Caulin was open and we got what we were looking for, very very tasty oysters, some of the best we ever had. Just a simple dish: raw oysters straight out of the sea with just some lemon.
The town of Ancud has not much to offer for foreign tourists, other than the road that leads along the Pacific Ocean Coast. We drove the coastal road all the way south, some 30km, towards the pinguineras. In fact the road ends at the beach where in parts of the year you can take a small boat to see the penguins at an island just off shore. However,…… not in March. The penguins had decided to leave the place early this year. Like two years ago in Tierra del Fuego we again were not lucky with respect to penguins. Notwithstanding the lack of penguins, the beach was absolutely beautiful.
We continued our trip and the next two days we stayed in Castro in the brand new Hotel Diego D’Almagro. Not quite sure what to think about the name of this hotel. Diego was a conquistador who not only massacred many locals but he also betrayed his own people. Something similar to the “Rudolf Hess Hotel in Berlin”. Unthinkable.
Castro is a cool town. We had been here many years ago and in our recollection Castro was not that interesting. This has changed completely, it is a town worthwhile visiting. Castro is known for it “palafitos”, overwater houses.
The palafitos neighbourhood is in some kind of revival as many of them are converted into up scale B&B’s and coffee shops.
Castro is one of the traditional Chilean towns that has kept its local charm, it has not (yet) been taken over by the international chains: No Starbucks and no MacDonalds. Castro Cathedral is on the Unesco World Heritage List together with other churches in Chiloe. It is beautiful in its simplicity. The cathedral is all wooden and relatively bare for a Catholic church. For obvious reason, it is the only Catholic cathedral I have ever been to that has no candles.
Churches in Chiloe are in general quite interesting. Unesco describes the churches as “an unique example in Latin America of ecclesiastical architecture … and a successful fusion of indigenous and European culture”. We did not go on a church-tour but during our travels we found several more interesting churches.
Unfortunately Castro is also affected by architectural mistakes. Someone at the local municipality had given approval to build a shopping mall at the most inappropriate place. The mall was built on top of an hill in a neighbourhood with small shops and houses, a true eye sore.
Chiloe is an interesting island with beautiful spots and very kind people however, what sets it apart is the quality of the seafood. Earlier we wrote about the quality of the oysters but Chiloe has more to offer and the island is also well known for its choritos (mussels) which are exported all over the world. In Dalcahue we had piure, a weird kind of seafood but very tasty. Piure grows in a kind of rock like the picture below on the left. This rock has to be cut open with a knife and the piure (see below right picture) sits in the open holes. One eats the piurre straight after getting it out of the “rock”. The taste is difficult to describe, typical sea food with sense of iodine..
For the very brave I recommend to try to eat erizos (“sea urchin”) or picoroco. Not for the faint hearted. Carolina has been eating sea food her whole life and still struggles with erizos as their taste is unlike anything else. I struggle with picorocos. They don’t sell these shell fish at many places so when you have the opportunity, try it.