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Isla Grande de Chiloé - Island of Legend and Lore

Things to do and See


fishing boats Ancud Chiloe Chile

Fishing boats in the harbor of Ancud, Chiloe, Chile

The Chiloé archipelago is considered part of the Northern Patagonia area of Chile as well as the southernmost reaches of the Lake District, or Region X, Los Lagos. The Isla Grande, or Big Island, is a verdant, forested island of great natural beauty. It is the second largest Chilean island,(after Tierra del Fuego) and the only one settled. See this interactive map of the island.

The home of the Huilliche Indian tribe, the island was settled by the Spaniards who thought it a hardship post as supply ships from the Viceroyalty of Peru arrived only once a year. The Indians lived by farming and fishing, as the current residents still do. The eastern side of the island, facing the mainland of Chile across the Golfo de Ancud in the north and Golfo de Corcovado in the south, is broken up into a myriad of coves and inlets. The offshore islands are a haven for wildlife. The western side of the island, facing the Pacific Ocean is remote, with only two roads leading to it. The interior is heavily forested.

Part of the attraction of Chiloe is the wealth of mystery and folkloric legenda and myths that permeate the misty, foggy reaches of forest and remote beaches. The mythical lore results from the cultural mix of ethnic beliefs and the Catholic faith brought to the island. There are ghost ships, goblins and witches who dine on recently interred corpses. Two popular legends are the beatufiul nude mermaid, La Pincoya who lures men to the sea, and a short, squat ugly troll, El Trauco, who lures women to the forest and impregnates them. It's a handy explanation, with no questions asked, for men coming back from the sea... .

Isolated for many years, the residents, called Chilotes, developed self-reliance, but many have left the island for a more secure lifestyle. Those remaining continue their traditions and are slowly building up a tourist infrastucture. Chiloe is becoming an increasingly popular destination for walking, biking, fishing, paddling and birding.

Chiloe's three main towns, the new capital Ancud is in the north, Castro, the former capital, on the east, and Quellón on the southern tip, offer most of the island's tourism amenities, but a visit to the smaller communities, particularly to visit the islands many churches, built first by the Jesuits and then the Franciscans, is worth your time. There are several hundred wooden churches, using pegs instead of nails, and many are listed by UNESCO as cultural heritage sites.

Base your stay in Castro, founded in 1567, Of particular interest:

  • The wooden Iglesia San Francisco de Castro on the Plaza de Armas brightens the day with its colorful exterior. See these photos.
  • The Museo Regional de Castro displays an eclectic mix of Hulliche relics, farming equipment and moderm items.
  • The famous palafitos, or houses on stilts, along the waterfronts and mud flats. See photo.
  • Many of the buildings on Chiloé are covered with wooden shingles called tejuelas cut from the Alerce tree, to keep put the rain.
  • The Feria Artesanal, along the waterfront, offers local handicrafts, particularly woolens and basketry.
  • The annual Festival Costumbrista Chilote, held annually in February, celebrates the island's folklore and legends.
  • Rent a kayak to paddle about the islands, or take a boat tour to visit the many bird and marine colonies on the islands further from shore. Several tour agencies offer river and sea kayaking adventures.

    Of particular interest in Ancud, founded in 1767 to protect the cdoastline:

  • The Museo Regional de Aurelio Bórquez Canobra, also called the Museo Chilote or Regional Museum, displays a fine array of ethnographic and historical items, photographs, and folkloric representations. Art, maps and scale models of the various churches are particularly interesting. The giftshop offers woolens, carvings and pottery, as do some of the local shops.

    In Dalcahue:

  • Chiloé's best crafts market, the Sunday Feria Artesanal, offers woolens, wooden crafts and basketry. You'll find ponchos, socks, scarves, sweaters and more.
  • Church and the typical Chilote wooden architecture.

    In Chonchi:

  • The three story tower of Iglesia San Carlos de Chonchi and the multiple arches, built in the 19th century though the town was founded by Jesuits in 1767. There was once more to the town, but a tsunami following an earthquake in 1960 destroyed the beach area. Nevertheless, Chonchi is picturesque and called the "three-floored city" for the way buildings are built into the hillside.

    In Quellón:

  • Beautiful beaches surround this peaceful, attractive town.

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