Chiloe Island, Chile. Nope – we’d never heard of it either but we’re sure glad we didn’t miss out on it as we began our Patagonian adventure.
If you’re arriving in Chiloe Island as part of your Patagonian adventure or simply for a short break from the Chilean Lake District, then you’re in for a treat in this unique, mythical land unlike anywhere else in Chile.
Having driven from the Atlantic coast and across the Andes we expected something special to greet us on our arrival at the Pacific Coast. This was after all marking the start of our Patagonian journey in southern Chile.
But what we found wasn’t anything we expected. 2 species of penguin, dolphins cavorting right by the beach, island hopping and more old wooden churches than we’d ever seen anywhere, let alone all in one place!
Chiloe Island may not have the tropical feel of the other Chilean Pacific island, Rapa Nui but it’s equally unique. At least for this part of the world.
Rolling hills, lush fields bursting with corn and potato harvests and remote, deserted beaches.
Here’s everything you need to know about travelling to Chiloe Island, Chile.
Where is Chiloe Island
Chile’s 2nd largest island, (after Tierra del Fuego in southern Patagonia), Chiloe Island is a little over half way down Chile’s Pacific coast.
The island’s actual name is Isla Grande de Chiloé. Separated from the mainland by the Chacao Strait, the island is the largest of more than 30 making up the Chiloe archipelago.
That makes it prime for a spot of island hopping doesn’t it?
How to get to Chiloe Island, Chile
There’s no bridge from mainland Chile across to the archipelago so the only way onto the island is by ferry (unless you fly to Mocopulli from Santiago). The most popular route is from Puerto Montt.
The ferry terminal is in Pargua, about 60 kilometres south of Puerto Montt. If you’re driving, head southwest on Ruta 5 NOT southeast Ruta 7.
Car ferries run every 15 minutes or so and take about 30 minutes to cross. There’s no need to book in advance either. Just turn up. If you’re unlucky, you’ll queue for a few minutes.
Ferry tickets cost for a car 13200 CLP | $19 | £15 | €17 and 28300 CLP | $41 | £32 | €36 for a camper van one way.
Payment is taken on the ferry. Card payments aren’t accepted so make sure you picked up some cash in Puerto Montt.
If you don’t have your own vehicle, and haven’t rented one in Puerto Montt (which we’d highly recommend), regular buses run from Puerto Montt all the way to Ancud and Castro on the island.
The bus boards the ferry too and the 9000 CLP (around US $12) cost of the ferry crossing is included in your ticket.
If coming from Patagonia, Navier Austral operates ferries from Chaitén to Quellón on the south eastern coast of Chiloe.
The 4 hour crossing costs around 15000 CLP | $22 | £17| €18 per person one way plus 111000 CLP | $160 | £126 | €141 for a camper van.
Ferries also operate further south from Puerto Chacabuco to Quellón, useful if coming from Coyhaique and you want to avoid the drive.
Getting around Chiloe Island
Although Chiloe Island has some public transport between the main towns, we recommend hiring a car.
The main roads on the island are in good condition. The back roads become more narrow and you’ll even find a few tracks if you look hard. A 4 wheel drive vehicle is unnecessary.
A vehicle gives you the flexibility to cover a lot of ground in one day and still take advantage of all the photos opportunities along the way. And the most wonderful tourist attractions on Chiloe, aren’t served well by the buses.
Island hopping in a vehicle to some of the smaller islands in Chiloe archipelago is a breeze and cheap too.
You can hire a car from Puerto Montt or Puerto Varas.
Always use a reputable firm because you need assurance the car is well maintained and your insurance is valid. Click here for a no obligation car rental quote.
Tips for driving in Chiloe Island
The main roads between towns in Chiloe Island are in good condition. Once off the main routes, you’ll be driving on narrow country lanes.
Take care as always and we recommend never to drive at night. Street lighting outside of the towns doesn’t exist.
Ancud, Castro and Conchi have fuel stations so keep topped up as you drive through these towns. It’s more difficult to find fuel stations in the countryside and on the islands, though not impossible.
Chiloe Island weather and the best time to visit
When Charles Darwin visited Chiloé Island, he said, “In winter the climate is detestable, and in summer it is only a little better…”
Hey, this is Patagonia after all so you have to expect temperamental conditions. In fairness, it’s not as bad as Darwin made out.
Winter is wet. Very wet. April to September sees Chiloe’s rainy season and temperatures fall to around 5°c to 9°c. While you can visit Chiloe year round, avoid June if you don’t like rain.
Summer conditions feel far more respectable with temperatures in the low 20s°c and with much less rainfall.
Even so, it can rain year round on the island so make sure you pack for inclement weather, especially if you plan to go hiking. Waterproofs are a must!
December to March, the Chilote summer, is the perfect time to visit. Because Chiloe is yet to become a major tourist attraction, it doesn’t feel overcrowded even in the height of the season.
Check out our definitive guide to the regional seasons to find when to visit to Patagonia to do the things you enjoy most.
How long do I need to visit Chiloe Island?
The road running the full length of Chiloe Island is only 200 kilometres long. And at 65 kilometres wide, you don’t need weeks to explore the entire island.
We stayed on Chiloe Island for 6 days but we travel real slow. One of these days we sat out the rain. Another we spent chilling on a deserted beach, unable to drag ourselves away from the cheeky penguins and sunshine. Did we mention the weather is changeable?
To explore the island well with a balance between keeping occupied but without rushing, a 3 day trip will cover it.
Spanish is spoken all across Chiloe Island. To our ears the Chilean Spanish is unlike the Spanish we even vaguely understand.
We may still be trying to improve our Spanish after our language classes in Sucre but even so. Slow down guys!
If you’re a beginner too, ask the person you’re speaking with to slow down. You’ll have a fighting chance of communicating with them then.
Unlike the route along Chile’s Carretera Austral, Chiloe Island has plenty of ATMs. You can find most of them in Castro but most of the other towns, including Ancud, have at least 1 ATM.
Remember the cost of withdrawing cash is high in Chile. Wherever possible, pay with a credit card or debit card (con tarjecta) rather than with cash (effectivo).
Most restaurants, shops and hotels accept card payments in town. You’ll need cash in more rural areas if you want to buy anything though.
Popular things to do on Chiloe Island
- Explore Castro, the capital of Chiloe Island. Well known for the colourful, stilted wooden houses called palafitos and gaudy looking yellow and purple San Francisco church.
- Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Chiloe Island once had 150 wooden churches (!) While many are long gone, around 60 still stand and 16 fall under UNESCO protection.
- Nature spotting at the only place in the world where Humboldt and Magellanic Penguins hang out together. For many visitors to Chiloe between November and March, the pinguinera (penguin colony) near Ancud is a must see.
- Check out the last stronghold of the Spanish in all of South America at Castillo San Miguel de Ahui. And sleep on your own private beach while you’re there.
- Hiking and other outdoor activities on remote trails in Chiloé National Park.
Organised tours to Chiloe Island
While we encourage you to spend a few days exploring Chiloe Island independently, we recognise some prefer to have the organising done for them.
Fortunately, there’s organised tours so you can enjoy everything the island has to offer. Both these day trips leave from Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas on mainland Chile and include the ferry to Chiloe Island .
Chiloe Island tour | Enjoy a full day visiting the northern part of the island with its stilted houses, markets, and the Chiloe churches declared as World Heritage sites by UNESCO. You can also book this trip to leave from Puerto Varas. Book your Chiloe Island tour now.
Ancud, Caulin and the penguin colony | This day trip takes in Puñihuil beach where the Humboldt and Magellanic penguins hangout together. The rest of the day is spent exploring more of Ancud and the Spanish fort so ideal for history buffs and those interested in nature. Book your penguin safari now.
Our travel itinerary on Chiloe Island
This is the route we took over the 6 days we spent on Chiloe Island.
- Forts, beaches and penguins
- Sat out the Chiloe weather for gloomy photography
- UNESCO Church route and island hopping on the archipelago
- Exploring Castro
- (More) beaches, (more) penguins, pelicans and fresh seafood
- Monument to the end of the PanAmerican Highway (1 of several in South America) and ferry crossing to Chaitén
Chiloe Island itinerary
This 3 day Chiloe Island itinerary will help you plan your trip in advance. With the best things to do on the island, where to stay and driving advice too. Get ready to explore a unique side of Patagonia.
We’ve cut all the lounging out of how we actually spent our time on the island and added a couple of bits we didn’t do to put together this perfect 3 day itinerary for Chiloe Island. Read on to check it out!
Total distance driven | 283 miles / 453 kilometres
Day 1 – Ancud, penguins & forts
Catch an early ferry from Pargua for the 30 minute crossing onto the island. Make sure to keep an eye out for sea life – dolphins and sea lions hang out in Chacao Channel.
Spend the morning soaking up the laid back atmosphere in Ancud. Spend an hour or so wandering around the town, including the cathedral and nearby promenade.
Grab a late breakfast or early lunch Café Blanco, a real gem of a place! Don’t miss the hot chocolate, especially if you arrive on a renowned Chiloe rainy day!
From Ancud, drive to the pinguinera (penguin colony), the only place in the world to see both the Humboldt and Magellanic penguins together in the wild.
You can arrange a short boat trip to take you out to the rocky islands just off the coast. They’ll even provide all-weather clothing too.
If you want to save your cash, you can see the penguins here with a decent pair of binoculars.
Spend the rest of the afternoon at Fuerte Ahui, the last Spanish stronghold in South America.
Chances are you’ll have this place pretty much to yourself. So once you’re through with exploring the canons and walking trails head on down to the deserted beach below for an idyllic end to the day.
Distance driven | 59 miles / 94 kilometres
Where to stay near Ancud
Camper vans and campers can stay on the beach for free. For everyone else, you’ll need to drive back to Ancud. This adds 23 miles (37 kilometres) to today’s drive but reduces it by the same for tomorrow.
Check availability for accommodation in Ancud on booking.com.
Most stretches of road on this section are single-track, narrow country lanes and the track down to Fuerte Ahui is pretty bumpy. Take your time.
Main points of interest
Ancud, pinguinera, Fuerte Ahui
Day 2 – Island hopping, world heritage sites and palafitos
Have a light breakfast before driving to Dalcahue. Although this is the springboard for the afternoon activities, and the artisanal market is worth a browse, Dalcahue is known for its fantastic cuisine.
Family run restaurants operate side by side. Here the Mapuche and Spanish influence combine into a unique fusion of yumminess.
Lashings of hearty soups, traditional curanto and paila marina – a seafood stew adorn the menus, all accompanied by hunks of homemade bread to soak up the juices. Heavenly.
After lunch, catch the ferry across to Quinchao island. The journey only takes about 5 minutes and the ferry leaves on demand so no need to book.
Quinchao island has a remote, desolate feel. With rolling hills, fields of crops and the occasional drizzle, we could have been in a Welsh village instead of on the other side of the world.
The island has a sprinkling of UNESCO recognised 17th century wooden churches. Take a few hours to drive the length of the (small) island, in search of a few of them.
Arriving in Castro, you’ll be treated to the sight of the colours of the palafitos houses popping in the evening light. Built on stilts over the water and with direct ladder access to their moorings, these images are iconic to Chiloe Island.
Take an evening stroll around the town too and check out the brightly coloured facade of the San Francisco Church. I’m not sure about the yellow and purple combination mind!
Distance driven | 124 miles / 199 kilometres
Where to stay in and around Castro
Castro has a wealth of accommodation to suit all budgets.
For those fortunate enough to travel in Chiloe in a camper van or with some car camping gear, you could choose to stay on Quinchao island overnight. We stayed at a beach (for free), Playa Traiguén.
If you choose this option (and of course we’d recommend it), it’ll slow you down so you may need to add a day onto this itinerary.
The main road from Ancud to Dalcahue is in good condition. The roads on Quinchao are all pretty narrow and have lots of blind bends. Again, take your time.
Main points of interest
Artisanal market and food hall at Dalcahue, Quinchao churches and the wonderful palafitos in Castro
Day 3 – The Dock of Souls to the end of the Panam
The final day of this Chiloe Island road trip involves a bit more exercise.
Grab your walking boots, a flask of something warm and drive to Chiloe National Park.
While the national park is massive there’s a couple of accessible walking trails to hike on the island’s west coast. Spend a couple of hours here exploring where sand dunes, dense forests and the Pacific Ocean meet.
You could easily add another day onto your trip to explore the park on horseback or take on some of the longer trails.
Don’t miss the Dock of Souls art installation on the coastline here. According to local legend, after someone dies, their spirit travels to this place and calls the Tempilkawe, a mythical creature that sails in a ship.
For a fee (a few precious stones buried with the dead), Tempilkawe collects the souls of the dead and carries them across the water into the next life.
But, as in every legend worth its salt, Tempilkawe refused passage to some souls and here they remain.
Tormented for all eternity, their mournful wailing of the lost souls can still be heard in this place. Or is it sea lions barking you can hear?
Once you’ve worked up an appetite on the blustery west, head back to the sheltered east coast to the town of Conchi.
Conchi is a wonderful fishing village. Like much of Chiloe Island, the houses are all made from wood. Stop here for a fresh fish lunch in one of the dockside restaurants. Or if you’re camping, buy some fresh mussels, crab and fish for your beachside camp dinner.
The final leg of the road trip on Chiloe Island is to the kilometre zero monument of the PanAmerican highway in Quellon. Don’t let the fact there’s another 2 monuments to the same thing in Patagonia put you off!
Distance driven | 100 miles / 160 kilometres
Main points of interest
Muelle de las Almas (The Dock of the Souls), Conchi & end of the PanAmerican highway
Where to stay on day 3
Ferries cross to Chaiten a couple of times a week from Quellon. If you need to spend the night in Quellon, there’s a small number of simple hostels and guest houses in the town.
If you plan on heading back towards Puerto Montt, you can always stay in Castro again to break up the journey north.
Don’t forget to check out our definitive guide to Chilean Patagonia while you’re here
We loved our time on Chiloe Island, Chile.
It’s off the beaten track as far as Patagonia travel goes because most travellers heading south stick to the northern stretch of the Carretera Austral.
We think Chiloe Island brings something unique to Patagonia you really shouldn’t miss.
So now for the fun part. Get out there and experience Chiloe Island for yourself.
Explore the Chiloe archipelago by island hopping, dine on fabulous fresh seafood, hike in the dense forest of Chiloe National Park and photograph the colourful stilted houses in Castro.
Then crash out in the comfort of your camper van or hotel room with a weekend full of memories.
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