Isla Grande de Chiloe, located in the south of Chile right on top of Patagonia is renowned for its beauty, cuisine and national parks. We spent a week here, following advice from guidebooks, blogs and locals.
Everything you read about the island’s spellbinding beauty is spot on. On the west side, battered by the Pacific winds and mist the landscape is rough, wild. Trees shaped by the winds, beaches that go on for miles, big cliffs and a feeling that nature is most definitely in control here.
On the east side the island is so close to the mainland that on a clear day you think that you can just stretch your hand and touch the Andes. Gone are the relentless winds and mist, you are now surrounded by rolling green hills and carefully manicured gardens.
When visiting Chiloe for the first time Darwin was shocked by the variety of potatoes on the island. They number 400+ varieties, the genetic source of 90% of potato varieties in the world. So if you get to Chiloe you better be ready to eat potatoes.
All guidebooks will insist that you try out Curanto. A dish of enormous proportions, it includes 3 different types of potato, 3 different types of meat (pork, chicken and beef) and about a kilo of shellfish. No-one warned us of it’s size so off we went, ordered two, a bottle of Chile’s finest Sauvignon Blanc and we waited. The waiter looked at with bewilderment when he saw us devouring the bread and motioned us to take it slow. We were soon introduced to Curanto, a dish which not only is it of noteworthy proportions but it’s cooked on the ground giving the seafood an earthy taste. Andy ate all of his. I could not finish mine. The black potato was ineddible, the one used to make mash was simply luch and creamy and the final one was tasteless. The meat was well cooked but the seafood was overcooked.
In Ancud we tried seafood and crab soups both of which came in a soup of parmesan cheese. Probably more cheese than you’d find in a fondue and yet the tastiest cheese so far in our adventure.
What to do
We spent a night in Ancud, waking up in the mist and spent the day exploring the city, the local museums and getting to grips with the local cuisine. Behind the craftsmarket we discovered a collection of workmens’ canteens where we sampled the seafood and parmesan soup mentioned above. There’s not much else to do in Ancud, the island’s beauties lie further south and inland.
Following recommendations from our sources we remained on the west coast spending a night at yet another camping site where we were the only ones and had the luxury of enjoying spectacular view; albeit in the freezing wind.
From there we ventured further south to the island’s capital city, Castro. Famous for its picturesque pallafitos the island’s capital if filled with backpackers and tourists all snapping furiously at Chileo’s traditional churches which are all protected by Unesco. Alas we visited two, one was being fumigated for termites and the other was hosting a funeral. We stayed at yet another deserted camp site, Santa Elba. The campsite is owned and run by Milton, a 70 year old topographer who designed Routa 5. He’s very hospitable and helpful – Gellan (our car) is playing up being a difficult child and all that so we have to spend an extra unscheduled night here before we set off yet again.
Our penultimate stop takes us to the Parque National de Chileo, on the western side of the island. The park offers a variety of activities: trekking, kayaking and is filled with tourists. The more adventurous people (ie us) drive further north from the big fancy entry to the park offering a cafeteria and free wifi and choose to trek the western sea side part of the park. The trek last for 4-5 hours and takes one past a series of indigenous villages made up of tin houses and little else. Whilst the guidebooks noted that the path is not well marked our experience is that it’s not marked at all. So armed with a sense of adventure, excitement and the all important app that translates English to Spanish and vice versa we set of on our two day trek. The trek takes you past sandy dunes, up steep hills and down arduous paths but in the end it rewards you with the pristine and totally abandoned Cole-Cole beach. A night’s camping, a slow morning, the shock at realising that we have run out of water and then the long trek back.
Word to the wise: pack more water and dont forget to put on sunscreen.
Which brings us to our last stop, Quellon. Quellon is at the end of Route 5 / Panamerican highway and nestles around a small, naturally protected port. Whilst the guidebooks suggest that the town might come as a disappointment we found just the opposite. We stayed at Los Paicos camping which overlooks the town and the Andes. We found a small cafe with decent coffee and Wifi. We found a lavanderia where we washed ALL our clothes and I got a mani and a pedi. We even found a place to fix our car fridge.
Where to stay:
Ancud: N/A [We would not recommend the campsite we stayed at]
Around the island: Ballena Azur
Castro: Santa Elba
Guellon: Los Paicos