Chiloe Island, Western Patagonia, Chile


Chiloe Island is a place of rural landscapes, sea-filled inlets that rise and fall with the tide, houses built on stilts, and, to a degree, an area where time “has stood still”. This is apparent with the appearance of Oxon-drawn carriages pulling seaweed-laden cargo along narrow, rural lanes and where farmers lay their crop to dry beside the road under the summer sun, to get ready for export to Japan. It is also a haven for shell-fish-loving people who may enjoy raw oysters freshly harvested in the nearby, clean bays of Pacific Ocean waters. It is a “humble” place, one could say “poor” in some areas.

The principal population centres are Ancud in the north and Castro, the local capital, about halfway down on the east.

Note: ExperienceChile.Org can arrange self-drive itineraries on Chiloe Island or private transfers to and from the Island. We can also include a fully all-inclusive program.

Why Come to Chiloe?

If you like rural settings, relative piece and quiet, a chance to see marine fauna up close, and appreciate local craftsmanship mixed into European architecture, which is prevalent in the historic wooden, Jesuit churches (16 of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites), legends and myths, folklore and food cooked in the earth (Curanto), then these would all be good reasons to visit Chiloe. A Curanto, by the way, is a platter of seafood, potatoes and meat cooked over hot stones in the earth and then covered for several hours. It can be very tasty. The interesting thing, however, is that the Curanto tradition is also a custom of Easter Island. Therefore, one has to ask, did this know-how come from Indonesia to Chiloe, or from Chiloe to Indonesia?

Click on map for larger image


Chiloe is the second largest island in Chile, after the Tierra del Fuego (which is actually half in Argentina), and the largest island of the Chiloe Archipelago, located in the far south of Chile just south-west of Puerto Montt, with its northern tip, separated from the Chilean mainland by the narrow Chacao Strait – a sea channel keeping the Island only a few kms from the mainland.

Access to the island is by short ferry crossing from Pargua on the mainland (57km south-west from Puerto Montt on the Ruta 5) to Chacao on Chiloe, and takes about one hour, often accompanied by dolphins and sea otters swimming close by.

However, at some stage in the future there will be a bridge built to connect mainland Chile to the island of Chiloe. Once this is completed the crossing time by car will be a matter of minutes, although one will lose, perhaps, some of the “romantic” nostalgia that comes with the ferry crossing.

Chiloe Road Distances Between Key Places
  • Ancud is 27km west from Cacao (landing point from the mainland).
  • Dalcahue is 66km south from Ancud.
  • Castro is 88km south of Ancud.
  • Chonchi is 30km south of Castro. At Chonchi, you can go west to Cucao, this is 38km km west of Chonchi, past Lake Huillinco, whereupon there is access to a long and large beach that gets pounded by the Pacific waves.
  • Quellon is 92km south of Castro and 180km south of Ancud.

What is the Chiloe Landscape Like?

Chiloe Tepuhueico Park Experience Chile

The eastern and northern sectors are very rural with a landscape very much like that of western England (think Cornwall and Devon), including small fishing villages with natural harbours that border the tidal inlets. There are a handful of coastal villages and towns on the eastern coast such as Quellon in the southeast (from where ferries go to Chaiten on the mainland – and on the Carretera Austral), Dalcahue and Chonchi.

The main city, Castro, which is the capital, is located about halfway down its eastern side, protected from the sea by islands and a peninsula, and the other town of significance is in the north called Ancud. The area north-west of Ancud, from a point called Puñihul (about 25km west of Ancud) is an excellent place from where to see a great diversity of marine fauna such as: dolphins, sea lions, sea otters, penguins and whales.

The southern half of the island is still considered to be a wilderness zone of native forest and swampy ground. There are no mountains in the sense of very high ground, but there are hills and a kind of “back-bone” of a higher hill ridge running from the north-western area down to the southwest area.

What is the Sea Called Around Chiloe Island?

The sectors of sea separating the Island from mainland Chile are, on its eastern shore, divided into two sectors north and south. The northern sector is called the Golfo de Ancud, and the southern sector is called the Golfo de Corcovado. Like the rest of Chile, all along its western coast is the Pacific Ocean.

How Big is Chiloe Island?

The Island measures 190km north to south and has an average width of 65km, covering 8,394km² (3,241sq mi).

Chiloe National Parks

Chiloe contains areas designated as reserves and National Parks. The main National Parks are the Tantauco National Park, in the south, which is actually under private ownership and The Chiloe National Park in the north, bordering the coast.

Chiloe Brief History

It was in the 16th Century when the Spanish conquistadors arrived to Chiloe whereupon they discovered the indigenous inhabitants of the Chono, Huiiliche and Cunco people. These native people navigated, with skill, the channels around Chiloe in wooden boats, like long canoes called “dalcas”.

Although Chiloe was visited by Spaniards Alonso de Camargo and Pedro de Valdivia, it was Captain Francisco de Ulloa who, in 1553, reached the Chacao Channel and went on to discover more of the islands and inlets around Chiloe. Thus, Francisco de Ulloa is recorded as the first European to have “officially” arrived to Chiloe. Later, in 1558, it was Spaniard Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza who claimed, on behalf of the Spanish crown, Chiloe as Spanish colonial territory. Chiloe derives its name from the Huilliche Language and means “place of seagulls”.

Jesuit Missionaries

The Jesuits arrived to Chiloe in the early 17th Century and proceeded to build numerous wooden chapels throughout the island. By 1767, when the Jesuits were “expelled” from the island there were 79 of these wooden churches. However, under the Franciscans, who arrived in 1771 even more churches were built. Today there are over 150 still standing with many declared as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.


It was in 1826 when Chiloe was absorbed into the country of Chile. This was 8 years after Chile declared independence from Spain. But, due to the inhabitants of Chiloe themselves vying for independence from Chile in 1820 and 1824, which obviously failed, Chiloe was not considered as part of Chile until the inhabitants accepted the reality that the island could not be politically independent from the mainland.


The inhabitants of Chiloe are referred to as “Chilotes” and in 1843 large numbers of the population emigrated further south to Patagonia, in search of work mainly. Some settled in parts along the Carretera Austral (see Puyuhuapi) and others in Punta Arenas.

In the 19th Century Chiloe was established as a base for Whalers from France and other countries and later the island was considered a base for the manufacturer of wooden railway sleepers, which were exported throughout the continent. This resulted in the establishment of the villages of Quellon, Dalcahue, Chonchi and Quemchi. Then, from 1895, the Chilean government gave away land to settlers from Europe as well as industry that needed areas to work from. A railway line was constructed, in 1912, between Castro, in the middle of the island, and Ancud in the north of the island (but this is not in service today).

Charles Darwin

Chiloe Darwin Centre Experience Chile

Chiloe is steeped in history. Charles Darwin spent some time here exploring and discovering new species of flora and fauna previously unknown to European cultures when his ship, The Beagle, ventured this way in 1839. Today a Darwin research institute located in the north of the Island, between Cacao (landing point from the Mainland) and Ancud, continues to study the flora and fauna and there is the Chiloe National Park, a large area of forest bordering the Pacific, preserving the natural flora as it has always been.

An Island of Myths and Legends

To this day there are century-old stories that center around the islands and sea in this area. For example, it is said that Chiloe was created when the water God called “Caicai Vilu” rose from the deep ocean like a huge serpent and created enough water to flood the lowlands of Chile. Then came the God of earth, “Trentren Vilu” who fought the serpent, and won, but it was too late for the newly-created islands to be joined back to the mainland.

The Witches

One of Chiloe’s most well-known, handed-down legends, involves a coven of male witches (wizards). In the 1880’s a sect of wizards was formed, but later brought to trial and it was from their confessions about what they practiced, and how, that came the origin of the stories.

For example, in order to become a member of the cult, called “The Righteous Province” one had to endure an initiation process that included: standing under a natural, cold, waterfall to wash away a Christian baptism, “sign” a deal with the devil, kill a loved one and use their skin as a purse in which to carry spells. It was believed that members could transform animals into other animals as well as having the power to instigate powerful spells and sorcery.

Mermaids, Trolls and Phantoms

If witches and wizards were not enough Chiloe was also the place for mythical characters like “El Trauco” (a troll) – a trickster, who also fulfilled the role as a scapegoat for unfaithful men. It was told that the troll had beautiful breath that women found irresistible and that he could lure women into the woods where he would have his way with them. Therefore, if a young virgin suddenly became pregnant, the troll was always the culprit.

However, on the “other side” was the “ugly” “La Fiura”, the wife of the troll who had awful breath and lived in the forest wearing only moss. She would entice young men to get close by bathing seductively in ponds, or under waterfalls before seducing them and then either killing them or make them “lose their minds”.

Sea God

Considering that water surrounds Chiloe Island and that it is also an archipelago, there are legends involving the sea. It is told that the sea-God “Millalobo” had the body of a seal, but the head of a human. The name means “gold wolf”, because his body was covered in gold. Supposedly “Millalobo” controls the marine life. He was married to a human called “Huenchula and has three children: La Sirena (a mermaid), El Pincoy and La Pincoya.

Ghost Ship (The Caleuche)

The ship, crewed by drowned sailors and fishermen, moves slowly amid the fog, and can navigate above or below the water line. Chiloe inhabitants have claimed that they have heard music and the sounds of parties emanating from the shup. They also say that often there are wizards and witches on board.

There are many more legends and myths that form part of the heritage of Chiloe and these have long prevailed in Patagonia literature. Author Bruce Chatwin referred to the “Imbunche” and the coven of male witches in his travel book “In Patagonia”; Jose Donoso also included reference to the same in his novel “The Obscene Bird of Night; and the “Giants of Tierra del Fuego” were the inspiration for the character of Caliban in William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”.


More recently, and perhaps the beginning of a legend, is the story of when a crewed yacht supposedly arrived from nowhere to Chiloe Island and some very tall, blond-haired people disembarked and walked around one of the villages. These people, it is said, asked to meet with anyone who was “seriously ill”. After a while, people with cancer and other terminal illnesses “were produced” and taken onboard the yacht.

The yacht set sail and then suddenly went off radar.

It was about a week later when the sick people returned completely cured of their illnesses.

The story goes that they were taken to an island where Extraterrestrials live and that here the sick people were treated with amazing, technologically-advanced cures.

Chiloe Main Places of Interest

Northern Area, Near Ancud

Puñihul (to see marine life)

This can be a half, or a full day trip depending on if you decide to have lunch at one of the beach-side restaurants and stop off elsewhere on the way here, or on the way back. The route directly west from Ancud will take you to Puñihul, which is about 25km away and requires a turn off left, which is sign-posted, from the main road. Here you can see Magellan and Humbolt Penguins, Otters, Cormorants and Sea Lions among other marine and bird life.

The final sector of the road that leads to the long, sandy beach is narrow and passing through undulating countryside. Upon entering onto the beach in your vehicle (either your own, or in a minivan with driver), you need to cross through a water-covered sector and then you will be on the sandy beach.

Depending on tide, you will board a novel high-rise platform on wheels which is man manoeuvred to the waiting boat. This boat is often waiting in half a metre of sea water and from there you board the long, open air vessel.


There is a very well-preserved Jesuit Church (San Francisco) on the main plaza of Chiloe as well as a handicraft market down by the water that sells a myriad of knit wear, woollen-weaved garments and brik-a-brack.

The Peninsula de Rilan

This is a stretch of land opposite Castro, with rolling, green hills, coastal inlets, tidal creeks, wetlands and woods. It is a nice place to come to see the views and nature.

Curaco de Velez Island

Curaco de Velez Island, served by a short ferry crossing from Dalcahue, which is about 25km north of Castro, is a hilly, rural island with small villages, beaches, coves, inlets and woods. The village of the same name as the island is a small place with a church by the plaza and adjacent, on the coast is a rustic-looking sea-food market where one can sit and enjoy freshly harvested, large, oysters.

Palifitos (Houses on Stilts)

These can be seen on the right-hand side just before entering Castro, as well as on the left-hand side when exiting south from Castro. Of course, they are also in other parts, but these two locations have a concentrated number of these houses together.

Chiloe Reasonably Accessible Archipelago Islands to Visit

In the island archipelago east of Castro there are numerous islands connected by ferries. If you have the time, of course, you can visit all those that have a ferry service, however, for the purposes of practically we are only highlighting some of the more accessible islands here below.

Aldachildo Church On Lemuy Island

Lemuy Island

Located south of Castro, and just past the village of Chonchi (home to the Chonchi UNESCO church) there is navigational access by ferry from Huicha. En-route to Chonchi is also the UNESCO church of Vilupulli.

Lemuy is home to nine, small villages. The ferry arrives to Chulchuy, on the south-western shore of Lemuy and from here are the locations for these UNESCO classified churches: Ichuac, Aldachildo and Detif. There are also remnants of a native Valdivian forest where there is a hanging walkway through the tree tops. In the south-eastern corner of Lemuy there is a narrow, almost sea level stretch of land that connects to an almost independent smaller sector of the island.

Caucahue Island

Caucahué Island

Caucahué if translated to English means “place of seagulls” (so watch out above your head!). This island is opposite the village of Quemchi, which is approximately halfway between Ancud, in northern Chiloe and Castro further south. To get here you need to divert east from the Ruta 5 to Quemchi.

On this island (population of around 638 inhabitants as per the 2021 census), are still native forests that come down to the sea. It is home to a variety of birds.

To get to the island it requires a short, 20-minute ferry crossing from Quemchi.

Quinchao Island

Quinchao Island

From Dalcahue, a village 25km north of Castro, is a ferry that takes visitors to Quinchao Island, where the village of Curaco de Veléz is located. This s a very small, quaint village dating back to 1660 and where the Quinchao Church is located. There is rolling countryside on this island as well as the Achao and Quinchao UNESCO Churches are to be found.

Aucar Island

Aucar Island

Located a little south of Quemchi, which itself is located on the eastern coast halfway between Ancud in the north and Castro further south, this island is actually connected to the mainland by way of a wooden footbridge. The island is cut off by the tide, thus it is only an island at high tide. On the island is a large botanical garden that contains all of the naïve flowers and trees of Chiloé.

Chiloe Accommodation

The accommodation options as well as levels of comfort and service, range from the simplistic, rustic level, to the top-end luxury level on Chiloe Island. However, in all categories there are not too many to choose from.

Ancud (Accommodation Options in and Around)

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