Chiloé is Chile’s second largest island but has, until recently, remained relatively unknown except to Chileans. The country’s government has started pouring money into the island, resulting in new roads, a new ferry terminal and a recently opened new airport, now offering regular flights to/from the capital, Santiago. Located just off Chile’s southern coast, Chiloé (‘the Place of Seagulls’) is separated from the mainland by a narrow stretch of water, yet crossing to the island is like stepping back in time. The wild, western side of the island is mostly uninhabited and is home to one of the world’s few temperate rainforests. By contrast the northern and eastern sides are warmer, sheltered by the inland mountains, and are home to all of the island’s towns and agriculture.
This green, fertile island was originally settled by Spanish colonists in the 1500s, but by the end of the century the Spanish had been driven out of southern Chile, leaving the island cut off. The remaining Spaniards intermarried with the local population and created a distinctive society with a vibrant folklore.
Chiloé Island is best known for its charming wooden churches, many of which are protected by the UNESCO World Heritage List, as well as the ‘palafitos’ – stilt houses built out over the water, originally to avoid paying rent. The island’s capital Castro is the third oldest town in Chile, although sadly many of the historic remains were destroyed in a great fire in 1934.
The north west of the island is home to the Parque Nacional Chiloé, famed for its dense rainforest, beaches and spectacular coastal views. The region is also home to a fascinating array of marine life – blue whale, sei whale, Chilean dolphin, Peale’s dolphin, sea lion and marine otter – as well as Magellanic and Humbolt penguins.
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