Chile has no shortage of worthy destinations, but there’s one that increasingly captures the imagination of intrepid travelers: the island of Chiloé. Why? Let us count the ways.
1. The fascinating, timeless culture that comes from its isolation. Chiloé is so close to the southern coast of Chile, yet feels so far removed, with still no bridge linking the island to the mainland. Traditional palafitos—colorful waterfront homes on stilts—punctuate a wild landscape of rocky coastline, forest, and emerald-green rolling hills. Locals tend to call themselves Chilotes, rather than Chileans, and many continue to make a living as fishermen and farmers. Daily life here is imbued with a mystical spirituality that blends Catholicism (introduced by 16th-century Spanish colonizers) with indigenous myths, populated by trolls, witches, and ghost ships.
2. The culinary delights, starring fresh seafood. The waters around Chiloé teem with salmon and shellfish, and they feature prominently in island staples like a heaping bowl of curanto, a stew that often includes clams, ribbed mussels, sausage, and potato. To eat like a Chilote, you should also look out for cancato, stuffed salmon with chorizo, onion, and cheese, prepared on a grill. Start your search at food markets, where you can sample a variety of in-season dishes, from seafood empanadas to milcao, a bread made of fried or steamed potato. Remarkably, Chiloé counts more than 300 types of potatoes!
3. The UNESCO World Heritage churches. On Chiloé, almost everything has a connection to the sea. Shipbuilders constructed many of the island’s iconic wooden churches, and the designs reflect the techniques of their craft (vaulted ceilings; interior carvings). They positioned the churches on hilltops so as to be easily seen by navigators and to reduce any risk of flooding. The arrival of Jesuits spurred the building boom in these churches, which are an outstanding example of Chiloé’s mestizo culture. UNESCO has recognized 16 churches in particular for their unique cultural value—and they continue to play a role in community life today, from hosting religious festivals to encouraging the practice of minga, essentially volunteer work.
4. The immersive adventures. A memorable day in Chiloé might begin with a trek to Muelle de las Almas, a seaside cove where a local artist installed a bridge—inspired by the traditional belief that the souls of the dead sail away from this site. Up next? Kayaking to mussel farms in the inland waters, with stops to explore tiny islands and lunch with the locals. The all-inclusive resort Tierra Chiloé even features a special excursion to an organic farm run by Sandra Nayman, a native who’s very proud of all that Chiloé has to offer. Horseback riding, dolphin encounters, and biking are among the many more activities available.
5. The opportunity to relax and indulge. After an activity-packed day, it’s enticing to know you can retreat to Tierra Chiloé—an intimate luxury lodge with floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase its scenic location overlooking the Pacific. Rooms here feature local cypress as well as island handiwork, namely, rugs handwoven from sheep’s wool, wicker baskets, and wooden carvings. Treat yourself to some quality time at the small spa or in the winetasting room, and toast your Chiloé adventures by an outdoor fireplace with an Ulmo Sour, a pisco sour made with honey found only in southern Chile.