Things you need to know before visiting Chiloe Island

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If you’re arriving in Chiloe Island as part of your Patagonian adventure or simply for a short break, then you’re in for a treat in this unique, mythical land unlike anywhere else in Chile.

In our Chiloe Island road trip post, we shared our favourite experiences and places to visit on the island. And even a bit of island hopping too.

These are the essential things to know before you visit Chiloe.

If you're arriving in Chiloe Island as part of your Patagonian adventure or simply for a short break, then you're in for a treat in this unique, mythical land unlike anywhere else in Chile. These are the essential things to know before you visit Chiloe.

Where is Chiloe Island

The 2nd largest Chilean 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 there

There’s no bridge from mainland Chile across to the archipelago so the only way across is by ferry from Puerto Montt to Chiloe Island.

The ferry terminal is in Pargua, about 60 kilometres south of Puerto Montt – follow ruta 5 south NOT 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.

Payment is taken on the ferry in cash only.

Ferry tickets cost for a car 13200 CLP | $19 | £15 | €17 and 28300 CLP | $41 | £32 | €36 for a camper van one way.

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 $9 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 Coihaique.

Ferry to Chiloe Island from Puerto Montt

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.

Island hopping in a vehicle from Chiloe to some of the smaller islands in the archipelago is a breeze and cheap too.

Hire your car in Puerto Montt or Puerto Varas.

Deserted remote beach on Chiloe Island

Where to stay on Chiloe Island

Castro is the most popular town in Chiloe Island. Located about half way down the eastern coast, it’s a perfect stopover and base for exploring the whole island.

There’s hotels, hostels, cabins and Airbnbs all available in Castro so choose to suit your travel style and budget.

Better still, if like us you tour Chiloe Island in a self contained camper van, you have a whole plethora of free camping options open to you!

Take a look at our personal selection of accommodation from hotels and cabins to Airbnbs and campsites on Chiloe.

Best accommodation and places to stay in Chiloe Island

Throughout the itinerary, we’ve included places to stay along the way. If you’re travelling in a camper van, you get the best choices.

Just make sure you download the iOverland app before you get there and know how to use it offline.

Most accommodation in Chiloe centres around Castro.

With so much choice for such a small island, we’ve compiled a list of our personal recommendations for the best hotels, hostels and camping spots in Chiloe Island.


Weather and the best time to visit Chiloe Island

When Charles Darwin visited Chiloe 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.

Winters 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 go to Patagonia to do the thing you enjoy most.

Rainy weather on Chiloe Island

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. 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.


Our travel itinerary on Chiloe Island

For more detail, click here or on the image to open it in Google Maps.

This is the route we took over the 6 days we spent on Chiloe Island.

  1. Forts, beaches and penguins
  2. Sat out the weather for gloomy photography
  3. UNESCO Church route and island hopping on the archipelago
  4. Exploring Castro
  5. (More) beaches, (more) penguins, pelicans and fresh seafood
  6. Monument to the end of the PanAmerican Highway (1 of several in South America) and ferry crossing to Chaitén

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. Check it out!


Popular things to do on Chiloe Island

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Languages spoken

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.

Buy your Spanish phrase books here

A Latin American Spanish phrasebook is your passport to more enriching travels with the most relevant and useful phrases and vocabulary for everyday travel needs through South America - except maybe Brazil!

Books to read before visiting Chiloe Island

This is the one book we recommend you read before visiting Chiloe Island. It'll help with the rest of your Patagonian adventure too.


ATMs

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 has 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.

Patagonia Travel Tips

Patagonia Travel Tips

Important tips and resources for planning an incredible trip to Patagonia, based on our extensive experience travelling through the entire region.

Instructions

  1. Find our the best time to go to Patagonia for the things you enjoy.
  2. Book a cheap flight to Patagonia with Skyscanner. Better still, if you’re planning a long term trip, ship your camper van to South America like we did! 
  3. Plan a rough itinerary with an idea of how long you’ll stay in each place. But be flexible - Patagonia will get under your skin and you’ll wish you had more time. Get a copy of the Moon Patagonia travel guide to help you plan your itinerary.
  4. If you want to explore Patagonia in a rental car, make sure to book in advance. Especially if you travel between December and February. Get free comparison quotes with rentalcars.com.
  5. Check out our extensive and still growing guides to Patagonia for more information on both Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia with places to go, things to do and see & loads more.
  6. Book your accommodation in advance, at least for the first destination. For hotels, use booking.com. For apartments use Airbnb and get a discount on your first booking. For free camping, use the iOverlander app offline.
  7. Try to learn Spanish or at the very least have some basic phrases. English is widely spoken in the major tourist towns in the south, like El Calafate, El Chalten and Puerto Natales. Everywhere else, you’ll need some basic language skills to get the most out of your trip.
  8. Reserve your tours and activities in advance with Viator and Get Your Guide.
  9. Get your rucksack ready with our definitive Patagonia packing list.
  10. Go have the adventure of a lifetime!

Notes

We hope this helps you plan your travels in Patagonia. It’s an enormous region and one we completely adore. Yet we found it difficult to planning our first trip, so we've written so extensively about it to help you out!

If you have any questions about Patagonia, travelling in your own vehicle or even building your own camper van for overlanding, send an email to us at [email protected]

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If you're arriving in Chiloe Island as part of your Patagonian adventure or simply for a short break, then you're in for a treat in this unique, mythical land unlike anywhere else in Chile. These are the essential things to know before you visit Chiloe.
If you're arriving in Chiloe Island as part of your Patagonian adventure or simply for a short break, then you're in for a treat in this unique, mythical land unlike anywhere else in Chile. These are the essential things to know before you visit Chiloe.
If you're arriving in Chiloe Island as part of your Patagonian adventure or simply for a short break, then you're in for a treat in this unique, mythical land unlike anywhere else in Chile. These are the essential things to know before you visit Chiloe.