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Chilling in Chiloé


The tranquil island of Chiloé has few true attractions but it is the ideal place to kick-back for a few days and enjoy the open spaces and the long, long beaches.

Reached from the busy town of Puerto Montt by a combination of bus and ferry, Chiloé is South America’s largest island, more than 180 km long and 50 km wide, but its village atmosphere makes it seem much smaller. It is renowned for its cool damp weather and its warm-hearted people, who make their living in salmon farming or fishing.

The main settlements are Ancud, Castro and Quellón, spread out down the long and bumpy central island road, but if you are looking for a bit of peace and quiet then one of the nicest places to stay is in the community of Chonchi, just down the road from the island’s capital of Castro on the east side of the island, where fresh salmon is served up by the plateful at the Hostel La Esmeralda.

Heading in, the road soon reveals scenery of rolling hills and fenced fields. The colorful town of Castro is well worth a stop en-route, with its church, Inglesia San Francisco, sparkling in bright pink and purple, and its famous stilted palafito houses reflecting their vibrant colors in the still creek water below them. Chonchi allows easy access to the more natural and totally uninhabited west coast, which reveals the island’s wild side in the Parque Nacional Chiloé, an isolated area of forested hills and never-ending sandy beaches that is home to more than 100 species of birds and offers forest trails, a climb to a viewpoint overlooking the massive Lake Hullinco, and a long meandering trek along the deserted beach.

A sea tour is a must in this area. There are several local small motor-powered boats that will take you out past the salmon farms to chase dolphins, which are often seen playing in the wake of the fishing trawlers, then back to the coast to visit the colony of sea lions that take up residence on the rocks nearby. The island of Lemuy is another place to visit for a wander and Chonchi offers the easiest route here as the ferry terminal is just a short walk down the road. Arguably this is one of the safest places in the world to hitchhike, so while on the five-minute ride across to the island it is usually possible to secure a lift all the way to the main town, from where you can just walk the roads and take in the curvaceous hills and views of distant volcanoes before heading back to the beach for some more rest and relaxation.

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