It is not a spelling error – the island of Chiloe does exist and it is in Chile. Although its name is strikingly close to that of its country, its culture, cuisine and architecture is actually quite different. Despite the fact that Chile is a long, long country, its culture and food is pretty much similar throughout. The island of Chiloe though, is an exception. Visiting Chiloe is like exploring a very different place and is nothing like what you will see in the other parts of Chile.
First things first, the island of Chiloe is still not physically connected to Chile. In fact, there was a huge protest when the government wanted to build a bridge connecting Chiloe to mainland Chile. Chiloeans wanted to remain an island, surrounded only by sea. To them, this would help them preserve their uniquely Chiloean culture, while keeping out influences from mainland Chile. So, what makes Chiloe so special? Here are six unique things to do in Chiloe, which you cannot find in mainland Chile:
1. Visit the wooden churches
A wooden church might not sound so unique. What about a wooden church built entirely without nails, with more than 200 years of history? It is only in the island of Chiloe that you will find these beautifully preserved wooden churches, some still standing tall without a single nail. I remembered walking in the church of Achao, stunned by the detailed woodwork and construction of the church. Just by interlocking various wooden panels, the Chiloeans were able to build churches with vastly spacious interiors and incredibly high ceilings.
2. Walk around the small, sleepy towns
Chiloe is a huge island, but its population is small and spread out. There are many towns with just two or three main streets. In the afternoons, and especially after a storm, the streets are empty except for a few wild dogs. Do take a walk around the towns because the architecture of the houses is something you cannot find in mainland Chile. Almost every house is built out of wood, with colourful furnishings and some with intricate woodwork above the doors and on the roofs. There is so much to see, especially if you are a fan of architecture.
3. Get drenched
The island of Chiloe receives the most amount of rain in Chile annually. Chiloe is battered by the strong Pacific storms for more than half a year annually. That means that you will need an umbrella if you plan to visit Chiloe, even if the sun is shining before you step out of the house! Be warned though because the umbrella will not be of much use. Most Chiloeans just walk in the rain with their rain jackets because they know… The umbrella does not work against the strong winds that accompany the heavy storms.
4. Watch sunset over the Pacific
If you are lucky to visit Chiloe on a dry day, go watch sunset over the Pacific Ocean! Although there is a high chance of cloud cover, the views over the mighty Pacific Ocean are stunning and unforgettable. The rugged coast, wild winds and rough waves make a great composition against the fiery red sun over the horizon.
5. Indulge in the delicious milcao
I have to admit, I am not a fan of Chilean food. In fact, until today I still do not know what is a Chilean dish. However, I still dream about the food from Chiloe. Once you leave the stormy island, it will be almost impossible to find Chiloean food. Most people will recommend that you try to curanto, which is a seafood dish buried in the ground and cooked in earth. Yes, the curanto is amazing, but it is also something you do not usually find. For the daily indulgences, you have to try the milcao, which is a mashed potato pancake with roast pork filling. Warning: the milcao is addictive. I remembered gobbling down three milcaos in a day, just because I failed to resist the temptation…
6. Visit the palofitos during high tide
The palofitos, or stilt houses, are a rarity here in the Americas. In fact, they are so strange that people come specifically to the island of Chiloe just to see them. During the high tide, the seawater floods the palofitos and you will find the houses hanging over the seawater. The palofitos become exceptionally beautiful when the sun shines their reflection onto the calm waters. The perfect mirror image of the palofitos on the sea is the best memory you can take away from here.
Definitely, Chile is known for its beautiful Patagonian landscapes. However, do not miss its less pompous side too. You will not find towering snow-capped mountains and mighty glaciers in Chiloe, but an island full of a unique Chiloean culture. There are many unique things to do in Chiloe, things which strangely cannot be found in mainland Chile. Do not miss that out as you plan your Chilean trip around the famous Torres del Paine or along the Carretera Austral. The island of Chiloe is another beautiful ecosystem that is worth exploring.
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