Exploring Patagonia – Mystical Island of Chiloe, Chile
As u huge nature lover and admirer I had Patagonia on my list for a very long time (and still have it). This year finally I got a chance to visit Chile in summer and the first thing on my list was to tick off a road trip to the Lake District that is considered to be the beginning of this vast Patagonian area. Because of the time limitations, we decided to explore some parts of the mystical Chiloe island and the surrounding towns of Lake Llanquihue on the mainland.
The best way to get to the island of Chiloe is to take the short flight from Santiago to Puerto Montt. From there you can rent a vehicle and drive directly to little port Pargua to catch up on a 15-minute ferry to port Chacao on Chiloe. It is very easy to follow the way, just make sure you put in the gas before as finding a gas station can be tricky.
Probably you are thinking why Chiloe and where is this place? Because this magical island is a land of myths, unique folklore, and architecture, blessed by beautiful wild nature. This island is still the world for itself and you won’t find many tourists there, mostly backpackers and campers. And that makes it even more special and unique.
As soon as we were out of the airport we were on the two-way empty road surrounded by lush green trees, endless fields of yellow dandelions and in the rear mirror, we could see the white peak of Osorno Volcano and a dark peak of Calbuco that had last erupted in 2015. This was the first time in my life to be so close to volcanoes.
From Chacao port we drove all the way down to the city of Chonchi as we planned to visit the Dock of Souls (Muelle de las Almas) located in Chiloe National Park. We had a short stop in Castro, which is considered to be the capital city of Chiloe, to see the famous yellow church of San Francisco, over-water wooden palafitos, and to try a traditional dish called Curanto. As I am not really into churches, I was more excited to see palafitos, however, without the tide they don’t look beautiful, so I didn’t get a chance to take any photos.
Once we finished with the main square and the church, we quickly checked the restaurants on TripAdvisor and the closest one with good reviews was Nueva Galicia, located next to the little port where they serve Curanto. Curanto is a mix of gigantic mussels and clams, chorizo, chunks of meat, potatoes, and chapalele (potato bread) served on hot stones with hot soup and tomato and pickled onion salad. Curanto is more a method of cooking seafood and meat than an actual dish and although we were waiting for it for quite some time, once the dish arrived we dived into it as we were starving.
As we were not sure where we will be each day we decided to look for accommodation on the go and we booked a room while we were waiting for the food to come. After we filled our bellies, we continue to drive down to Chonchi where we finally arrived in the evening hours. It was a bit tricky to find the house and the part of the road was not paved, but once we finally got there we fell in love with it. The beautiful wooden house named Karukinka was located on the hill overlooking the lake surrounded by forest and horses. Inside it was even more beautiful, it was decorated with wooden objects, paintings, plants and books. Our hosts moved here 15 years ago from Santiago and they build everything together. We booked the loft which was also an atelier full of paintings, brushes, and books.
The next morning we woke up early and we had a simple breakfast made from local ingredients with windows overlooking the lake and field with horses. During the conversation we had with Mauro, our host, he suggested us to visit some other places than the ones we were planning and we decided to follow his advice. So instead of going to Muelle de Las Almas, we decided to go hiking in the National Park of Chiloe to explore the impressive landscapes, beaches, and wilderness of this magical island. Thick mosses and shrub-heavy forest covers the park where Charles Darwin walked almost 200 years ago. Before the end of our walk, we found ourselves at a huge beach full of flowers, and while we were approaching the ocean, I noticed people dressed up in white clothes and that made me wonder who are those people and what they are doing. The host told us that there was a full moon party in this area the night before. Besides the full moon party, this island is full of myths about mystical creatures, warlocks, and witches so seeing people in the field dressed in white was a bit awkward. We decided to check closer what is happening so we walked towards them expecting to see some sacrifice or spiritual dance, but, unfortunately (or luckily?) it was just a karate club doing the training in the middle of nowhere. 🙂
After the morning hike, it was time to go back to the North, but this time we opted for a different road. Franco wanted to visit a little island Aucar in the city of Quemchi where he camped 20 years ago. To get to the island we had to walk across the long wooden bridge and there was a little wooden church (Isla de las Almas Navegantes) with a beautiful graveyard. Even though it was crowded this place looked really beautiful, so we made a plan to visit it again in the morning as it was already getting dark and we had to find a place to a sleepover.
The third day was our last day on the island and probably the most beautiful one. In the morning Franco came to an idea to visit the cave of warlocks, but our search ended up in a fight. After an unsuccessful search for the Cave, we decided to follow the instructions from our host and to visit another “Dock of the Light” instead of “Dock of Souls”. We drove between the fields of wildflowers to the place called Chepu where we embarked on a boat that would take us down the river Chepu to the Dock of Light (Muelle de la Luz). I was left speechless while sailing on the dark blue river, surrounded by lush green hills and sunken forests created by the 1960 earthquake that sank the originally forested land by two meters. The weather was good and the sun was shining so the whole experience was even more majestic. Although, it was a bit cold so if you are planning to visit the Lake District in summer, make sure you bring some warm clothes as well.
After a 20-minute boat ride, we had to walk for 15-20 minutes to Muelle de la Luz dock. There are no words to describe the beautiful wild landscape, dark-sand volcanic beaches, the power of the untamed ocean, the wildflowers growing on the rocks, or the deep blue color of the Chepu river. You forget everything on this island, you just stand there admiring the wilderness, the wind, air, and the water. And you ask yourself why the hell you live in a big polluted city when you can actually live here?! Your mind is in peace, your body is energized, your lungs are full of pure, fresh air and you feel happy and fulfilled. In one moment this landscape reminded me of Wuthering Height’s book from Emily Bronte.
After we finished our little tour to this remote part of the island it was time to go to the Penguin colony further North. Around 4 pm we have arrived at the little city of Punihuil where we bought tickets for the organized boat tour to see the penguins. The tour was starting at 5 pm and our little boat was full of very excited kids and we had a guide who was explaining the life of penguins and the system of the colony. Although he was talking in Spanish I could still understand a bit and F. was translating the rest.
For a moment I felt like I was in Sir David Attenborough’s documentary exploring this wildlife sanctuary of the animals in the furthest parts of our beautiful planet Earth. It felt like a dream to be here and to experience the beauty of the wilderness and the natural world. We saw marine wildlife, including 2 species of penguins that come to nest every summer: Magellanic and Humboldt Penguins, sea lions, pelicans, Gaviotas, etc. The sun was shining, the kids were laughing, the sea had this beautiful darkest blue color and the skies were clear. I think penguins and Dock of Light were the highlights of the Chiloe road trip. This day was just perfect, however as it was already 6 pm and we still had to catch the ferry and drive back to the mainland.
And what about mystical creatures and legends that are part of this island? Let me tell you about the ones I liked the most.
First is El Trauco – a short, ugly male creature, without feet, that arouses sexual desire in women, but is aggressive towards men. He only attacks women when they are alone in the forest and he puts a spell on them and makes them pregnant. This legend was also used in many cases to justify unexplained pregnancies (when nobody steps out as a father) of the young girls of the island.
The next one is the story about El Caleuche – a phantom ship that sails around the island at night. It shows up as a bright beautiful ship with the sounds of a party and it is crewed by the drowned who are brought to the ship by mermaids. They also say that warlocks are making parties on this ship and the evil mermaids are bringing the bodies of sailors.
And the third one is the legend of El Imbunche – a first-born son less than nine days old that was kidnapped by, or sold by his parents to, a Brujo (sorcerer) who transformed the child by breaking his right leg and twisting it over his back. When the boy was three months old his tongue is forked and magic cream was applied over the boy’s back to cause thick hairs. During its first months, the Invunche was fed on black cat’s milk and goat flesh, and then with human flesh from cemeteries. Although these stories sound scary, they are still just part of mythology and legends.
THE AVERAGE COST OF CAR, FOOD, ACCOMMODATION AND SIGHTSEEING:
- National Park of Chiloe – Entrance fee for locals is 2,500 pesos (around 3 $) and for foreigners 5,000 pesos (around 6$)
- Muelle de la Luz (Dock of Light) – boat ticket is 7,500 pesos per person (9 $)
- Penguin Colony – boat tour 7,000 pesos per person (8 $)
- Rent a car – 30,000 pesos per day (36 $)
- Accommodation – starting from 30$ per night
- Food in the restaurant – starting from 8$
- The ferry in one way – 13,500 pesos (around 16$)
In the next blog post we go to Lake District on the mainland.