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Coquimbo, Chile: Escaping to the Tranquil Cove of Guanaqueros

Growing up with all four seasons, I shouldn’t have been so surprised by how much winter in the Valle de Elqui would affect me. After all, I fled the brutal, snowy winters of New England for the desert climates of northern Chile.

In Boston, you are able to escape inside to central heating and (mostly) insulated walls and windows; not so much in the Valle de Elqui. When winter’s chill sets in, it creeps into your bones.

Just like a dog, I would sit out on a warm rock by the river to absorb the few warm rays of sunshine before the sun dipped behind the mountains of the valleys and the cold came back full force.

Unlike in the US, where you can sprint from heated building to heated building and keep a decent level of productivity, the cold of northern Chile made me want to hide under the covers all day. When I had to get work done, I parked myself next to the space heater, wrapped in a blanket, alpaca shawl, and wool handwarmers, drinking mate.

These dramatic day and nighttime temperatures jarred me into living by the seasons again, recognizing that each moment is temporary, noticing how my energy ebbed and flowed between seasons.

By midwinter in July, I was exhausted, mentally, physically, and spiritually. I was ready to escape to Guanaqueros.

Traveling to Guanaqueros

At this halfway point in my year living and working in the Valle de Elqui, the old was dying out in order to make room for the new. The eagerness and anticipation of a new job and new style of life had faded as things got real.

Like so many international teaching programs, there was lack of clarity between the two organizations I worked with. Like so many families, my host family faced a medical challenge that dominated our home life. Like so many city dwellers, I was shocked by the inconsistent internet connectivity in the mountains. Boy, did I learn to adjust expectations.

So when I planned our mid-year retreat to check-in, evaluate, and set goals for the second half of the year, I knew we had to head to the beach. The open ocean and gorgeous seaside scenery was going to serve us well.

En route to Guanaqueros from Coquimbo, we started appreciating the long coastline with its sharply descending cliffs and sparsely populated beach resort villages. The Pacific beckoned to us with blue waters and clear blue skies.

Tranquil Guanaqueros

Arriving in Guanaqueros, we were thrilled with how tranquil the village is. During high season in the South American summer (December to February), the beach would be packed. But midwinter we were nearly the only people strolling along the sand.

Leaving the desert mountains for a bit, we needed to just listen to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach and feel the sun starting to melt away our stress from so many recent changes. After living in San Diego and Lima, I know how important the ocean is to restoring my peace of mind and I seek it out whenever possible when I need to settle my thoughts (exhibits A, B, C, and D!).

Our visit happened to coincide with the 2015 Copa América championships, which meant that people were mostly glued to their TV, rooting for Chile’s selección to win.

(And win they did! These hills were resounding with cheering, honking, and loud celebrating a little later on that night! It was fun to see the glory of a win in such a small town.)

Because Guanaqueros is so small, the services for travelers are all situated along the main road. Restaurants, small convenience stores, and lodging are all within walking distance of the beach.

Because Guanaqueros is a town geared towards Chilean travelers, most of the lodging options are “apart hotels,” small apartments with kitchens and bunk beds. Most Chileans travel with their extended family or with their friends and their families and cook many of their own meals.

For the fish-lovers, Guanaqueros has a number of restaurants dedicated to serving up the freshest food, but as a vegetarian, I opted for this amazing fresh salad (with the ever-present papas con mayo) and a giant empanada.

Although we came to Guanaqueros to get work done, we decided to hold several of our sessions while walking and talking on the beach. You can’t miss the opportunity to see a beautiful sunset over the ocean when you get it!

The skyline turned pink as the sun disappeared behind the hills, creating a beautiful glow that reminded me of the amazing sunsets I experienced in Tortugas in northern Peru and on Easter Island.

What we needed most at this mid-winter moment was to connect – to connect with the country beyond our tiny towns in the Valle de Elqui, to connect with each other outside of our normal routines, to connect with the moment through our experience of nature’s beauty.

I mean, what’s better about being in a town where all there is to do is walk along the beach and watch the sunset. That’s serious relaxation – when there is literally nothing else to do, you appreciate the views so much more.

I mean, really. Can you believe that no one else was there? I suppose it helps that the homes are built into the hills with these great views each and every day! 🙂

Although I’ve managed to capture many moments of my year in Chile, this one happened to slip by me. But I think it serves as a nice metaphor for what I’m feeling right now, waiting for spring to finally arrive after a long, snowy winter in New England.

It’s normal to get quiet, go within, disappear for a bit as the days get shorter and the cold gets deeper. But there comes a moment when you see the light at the end of the tunnel and you start feeling that stir within, setting new goals, moving forward.

It’s taken me several stints living abroad to understand that I need lots of time to process my experience, to appreciate everything I went through, and especially how much I learned from creating new routines, perspectives, and relationships while living in another culture.

Back when I used to shoot film, the process of developing the photos took some time and required patience. No instant gratification like today; instead, I found myself reliving my trip when I received my prints, organized them in my photo album, and finally shared them with friends.

Maybe that’s why I like revisiting my photos a year or two later, when I’ve had time to integrate the memories, and I can appreciate the emotion coming through.

For us, Guanaqueros marked the halfway point of a crazy year, and we left with renewed energy and optimism for what lay ahead. And what do you know? Things got significantly better as we moved into a new season, taking with us all the lessons we learned, and leaving behind anything that was weighing us down.

Maybe you’re not looking for a transformative beach experience (but let’s be honest – beach escapes are always about transformation!). You should still make an effort to get to Guanaqueros if you’re spending any time in La Serena during your trip around northern Chile – the seaside views and low-key vibes are worth it.

Recommendations for Guanaqueros, Coquimbo, Chile:

  • If you’re looking to truly experience the seaside vibe of this part of the Chilean coast, skip the urban beaches of La Serena and Coquimbo and head to Guanaqueros. To get to Guanaqueros, head to the bus station in Coquimbo and then look for the buses to Tongoy and Guanaqueros or get a colectivo (shared taxi) to Guanaqueros. The shared taxi should cost about CLP$2500 per person.
  • Guanaqueros is a fishing cove located down the cliffs to the beach, so en route you’ll experience amazing views of the ocean – have your camera ready!
  • Guanaqueros has several small stores where you can buy snacks, wine, and other supplies, but if you anticipate cooking a lot, you probably want to go shopping in La Serena or Coquimbo.
  • For food, there are several restaurants, but the best option is probably the market with several food stands, where food is fresh and inexpensive.
  • I recommend staying in Hostal Akitespero, which has a very friendly owner and comfortable mini apartments with kitchens.
[Guanaqueros, Coquimbo, Chile: July 3-5, 2015]

Valdivia, Chile: Wandering the Riverside Towns and Old Spanish Forts in Niebla and Corral

Views from Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Views from Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

When I was in Ancud on the island of Chiloé, I met a traveler from France who was inspirational. In her late 60s or early 70s and fluent in Spanish and English in addition to French, she was backpacking on her own, getting off the beaten path, exploring independently, connecting with people by staying in hostels. So when she recommended I get out of the city of Valdivia and visit beautiful Niebla and Corral, I listened.

Niebla

Views from Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Views from Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Thanks to the wonders of public transportation, it is easy to visit Niebla and Corral; you can take a local bus to Niebla, and frequent boat ferries are available to take you over to Corral. (Alternatively or additionally, you can visit tiny Isla Mancera, which is one of the stops for the ferries and also has an old fort and views of the water.)

Views from Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Views from Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Upon arrival to Valdivia, I knew that I would spent my first full day heading outside the city to make sure I got a chance to get to know the deep blue rivers and emerald green forest landscapes for myself. We found the correct local bus and within 30 minutes, we found ourselves getting off the bus at the tiny main plaza in Niebla.

As it turned out, the old Spanish fort in Niebla was closed due to a strike; the employees of government-run museum were protesting unexpected changes to laws governing working conditions for employees of the ministry of culture. So although I have lovely pictures from the cliffs of Niebla, I didn’t get to see the inside of the fort or the views from the highest, most strategic points.

That said, we did stumble into a jazz performance in Niebla’s tiny little church and chat with one of the artisans selling her jewelry in Niebla, so it was worth it!

Beach in Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Beach in Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

From there, we walked to Niebla’s beach, located in a secluded little cove on the water. Although the water was still fairly cold at the beginning of summer, I could see how this would be an excellent place to visit in late January or February, at the height of Chile’s summer.

Beach in Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Views from Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

We walked up and down the beach to take in the waves crashing on the beach and appreciate the views of the wide expanses of river. As I have kept repeating in all of my posts about southern Chile: SO MUCH BLUE! 🙂

Feria Costumbrista, Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Feria Costumbrista, Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

From there, we walked over to the Feria Costumbrista a few blocks away. In Spanish, costumbrista describes local or regional customs, food, and folklore; basically, traditional culture. Each town in Chile hosts an annual feria costumbrista, where stands offer typical Chilean foods and music and dance are performed throughout the day and especially at night. In the Valle de Elqui, this meant eating lots of churrascas; in southern Chile, this meant empanadas and German-inspired kuchen and pastries. All in all, it was a perfect place to eat lunch before continuing on our way.

Boat Ride to Corral

On the Boat to Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
On the Boat to Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

After appreciating Niebla’s small-town charms (basically, a southern counterpart to my life in northern Chile’s desert mountains), we continued our journey to Corral, where the goal was to see one of these old Spanish forts. We took another bus to the passenger ferry dock in Niebla, and within a few moments we were on board.

On the Boat to Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
On the Boat to Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Naturally, if you’re not a frequent boat passenger, you want to head to the front of the boat where you can really experience the feeling of flying through the water, waves rippling out all around you.

On the Boat to Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
On the Boat to Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

We were lucky enough to be joined by this adorable fellow tourist and her family, who found the trio of foreigners (US, Australia, and Brazil) quite fascinating. 🙂

Corral

Views of the Fort on Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Old Spanish Fort, Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

After a quick stop on nearby Isla Mancera, we reached Corral, where we were able to get even more perspective on the very typically Valdivian landscape (that’s why they call it Valdivian rainforest, right?).

Views of the Fort on Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Old Spanish Fort, Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

We walked up the steep hills to Corral’s fort, which is run by the regional government so was not on strike. We were free to wander around the grounds, looking out over the old cannons and trying to imagine what life would have been like for these Spanish colonists all those centuries ago.

Views of the Fort on Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Old Spanish Fort, Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Lucky for us, we didn’t have to imagine too much; in the summer, the fort hosts daily reenactments of a major episode in Valdivia’s history, a conflict where Chile defeats Spain (Chilean military nationalism is a big part of the nation’s story, as I saw in Arica as well!). I enjoyed the hard work of the actors, so if the timing is right on your visit, I would suggest you try to catch it.

Views of the Fort on Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Old Spanish Fort, Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Besides that, there is not much to do in Corral besides appreciate the views from the fort. So I’m going to let the next few photos speak for themselves.

Views of the Fort on Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Views of the Fort on Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Views from Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Old Spanish Fort, Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

While we were waiting for the reenactment, we wandered a little further up the hillside, where we spotted these views of the recently restored plaza. (You can see the passenger ferry dock on the left side.)

And that’s about it for Corral! After an enjoyable tour of Castillo de San Sebastián de la Cruz (the official name of the fort), we had some ice cream and took a ferry back to Niebla. All in all, visiting Niebla and Corral was a perfect way to get another perspective on these small towns that had a significant role in the cultural, political, and military history of the Los Ríos region.

Recommendations for Niebla and Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile:

  • Buses to Niebla leave from the center of Valdivia on Ruta 20 – you can see the number or a sign with “Niebla” in the window of the bus. You can also flag down these buses at other bus stops; ask a local for the nearest stop. These buses also go to Isla Teja and pass by Cervecería Kunstmann. If you are ambitious and leave early enough, you can try to visit all these places on the same day. The Valdivia/Niebla trip costs $600 CLP each way and local stops are around $400CLP.
  • Make sure to ask for directions to Niebla’s beach; this gives you a chance to experience both the cliff-side views and get down into the water if you’d like.
  • Niebla’s Feria Costumbrista seems to be open year-round, so it’s a good place to eat a quick, inexpensive lunch of traditional Chilean meals, particularly empanadas. I saw a stand with vegetarian papa rellena (filled potatoes) but we were there too early in the day to get them.
  • Ferries to Corral leave from Niebla’s passenger dock regularly and cost $800 CLP per person each way. Life preservers are provided. Some of the ferries stop at nearby Isla Mancera, which is another possible destination if you’re interested in seeing all the forts in the area.
  • Niebla’s fort museum is part of Chile’s national DIBAM network and has free entry. But this also means it is affected by strikes of state employees, just FYI!
  • Corral’s fort is run by the regional government and costs $1500 CLP to enter (as of January 2016). This includes the reenactment of a conflict between Spain and Chile every afternoon (at least during the summer) and you can leave to have lunch and walk around and come back as long as you still have your ticket.
  • Besides visiting the city of Valdivia and Isla Teja, there are other ways to experience the gorgeous landscape of the rivers region: you can head to Parque Oncol, just 30 kilometers from Valdivia as well as the beautiful beaches and reserve in Curiñanco. I had to head to Santiago for work so didn’t get a chance to visit, but they came highly recommended by a local Chilean friend as well as fellow travelers, so I’d make time to go if you can. They are also accessible by bus.
[Niebla and Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile: January 6, 2016]

Valdivia, Chile- Wandering the Riverside Towns and Old Spanish Forts in Niebla and Corral

Valdivia, Chile: Appreciating the Riverside Views, Forests and University Culture of This Unique City and Nearby Isla Teja

Views over the River, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Views over the River, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

As my travels around southern Chile over Christmas and the New Year came to a close, I decided I wanted to squeeze in one last stop: Valdivia.

Although Valdivia is only a few hours from the nearby Araucanía and Los Lagos regions, the city is sometimes skipped by travelers, as it requires detouring away from the Panamerican Highway towards the ocean. In my opinion, it is well worth a visit in order to expand your understanding of this important city and its role in Chile’s history.

Views over the River, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Views over the River, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Today, Valdivia is home to one of Chile’s most important universities, the Universidad Austral de Chile, so it maintains a college town vibe. With strong German influence, artisanal breweries abound in the surrounding region and are some of the area’s biggest draws for tourism. Many of the hillsides of nearby towns house ruins of old Spanish forts.

On top of that, Valdivia’s ecology is unique; it is surrounded by rivers and the temperate Valdivian rainforest, which I’d first seen at the Ojos de Caburga near Pucón as well as in the Parque Nacional Chiloé. Finally, it is the site of the infamous 1960 earthquake that leveled the city and caused tsunamis that wreaked destruction throughout Chile.

Views over the River, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Views of the River, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Today, Valdivia is a modern Chilean city, and most of the downtown areas echo the development of other cities in Chile. To experience Valdivia’s riverside character, you have to be sure to take a boat ride, either from the docks next to the market area or by visiting nearby towns Niebla and Corral (subject of my next post!). Before these bridges were built, boats were the primary form of transportation around the different towns along the river!

Plaza, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Main Plaza, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

When I visited Valdivia, I made sure to check out the main plaza and commercial district, as well as Esmerelda, home to many popular restaurants and bars, but I actually spent most of my time exploring the islands outside the city.

Mercado

Open Market, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Open Market, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

I was excited to head out early in the morning to check out the open market located right next to the river. Southern Chile has amazing fruit and vegetables, especially the berries in season during my visit in early January! I ended up buying delicious little plums, perfect for an afternoon’s wandering.

Mercado, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Open Market, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

There are many stands selling just about any type of produce you can work, and you can also buy herbs like the ever-popular merken, smoked chile pepper produced by the Mapuche around nearby Temuco.

Artisan Market in Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Artisan Market, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Next to the outdoor market, you can find a building housing several floors of artisan wares, most of them built from local wood from the booming forestry industry. I also managed to find a store selling several different types of artisanal beer, a good stop for anyone who doesn’t have time to travel to the breweries on the outskirts of Valdivia.

Universidad Austral de Chile & Isla Teja

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

After the markets, I walked across the bridge to Isla Teja. In the olden days, Isla Teja used to be separated from central Valdivia by the river, so its German-descendant inhabitants tended to speak more German than Spanish. Today, Isla Teja is connected to downtown Valdivia and you can walk, drive, or take a local bus.

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

My first top on Isla Teja was the Universidad Austral de Chile, one of the largest universities in the country. As you can see above, the entrance is lined by majestic trees leading you towards the campus.

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

This university reminded me a lot of the college campuses in the US, with expanses of green lawn for students to sprawl on during the school year. I enjoyed wandering through the campus looking for the entrance to the Universidad Austral de Chile’s botanical gardens.

Botanical Gardens on Isla Teja

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Botanical Gardens, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

As it turns out, I wandered into the botanical gardens through one of the side entrances used by students and professors who duck into the botanical gardens for a quick stroll or as a shortcut around the campus.

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Botanical Gardens, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Wandering through the shaded forest lined with all kinds of species of trees, I was reminded of the forest paths in New England, where I’m from. It’s easy to spend a couple of hours wandering around, enjoying being in nature.

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Botanical Gardens, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

For those interested in learning more about the species that make up the botanical gardens, there are several trees and sections of trees labeled with signs, but I was more interested in enjoying the shade on such a hot summer day.

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Botanical Gardens, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Botanical Gardens, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

I spent a little while reading underneath the trees, avoiding the heat of midday, and then I continued on foot to my next destination on Isla Teja, the nearby museums. As it turns out, the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo was closed during my visit, so I headed to the anthropology museum, Museo Maurice van de Maele.

Museo Maurice van de Maele

Museo Histórico y Antropológico Maurice van de Maele, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Museo Histórico y Antropológico Maurice van de Maele, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Since I had read about Valdivia’s unique heritage, I was curious to check out the Museo Histórico y Antropológico Maurice van de Maele, a small but comprehensive museum located in a historic building across the river from downtown Valdivia.

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Museo Histórico y Antropológico Maurice van de Maele, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

As you can see, it has great views, and the property has several remnants of an earlier time, including old carriage cars.

Museo Histórico y Antropológico Maurice van de Maele, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Museo Histórico y Antropológico Maurice van de Maele, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

The first floor of the museum has several exhibits explaining the history of the region and the German settlers in this area, including period pieces like those you see in the photo above. The second floor houses an exhibit dedicated to the Mapuche, including their famous silver jewelry, as well as a gallery of old maps. I felt this was the perfect size for a museum – enough to give you background on Valdivia but not overwhelming.

Airesbuenos Hostel

Airesbuenos Hostel, Valdivia, Chile
Sunny Dining Room, Airesbuenos Hostel

One of the highlights of my stay in Valdivia was the Airesbuenos Hostel, a hostel that really embraces the spirit of hostels, that of community, sustainable living and travel, and sharing resources. In the commercial district of Valdivia, the hostel is like an oasis, with a green backyard filled with edible plants, an herb garden located on the patio, and open kitchen on the patio, and welcoming rooms inside.

Airesbuenos Hostel, Valdivia, Chile
Outdoor Patio and Herbs, Airesbuenos Hostel

I particularly liked the breakfast nook, and the fact that they offered loose leaf tea along with their homemade granola served every morning.

Friends at the Airesbuenos Hostel, Valdivia, Chile
Travel Buddies, Airesbuenos Hostel

On top of that, on my first night in the hostel, I randomly fell into what became a deep, personal, and transformative conversation with the two lovely ladies pictured above. Even though I enjoyed my trip to Valdivia, the spirit of sharing I felt among the guests reenergized me to pay attention to my intuition as I puzzled out my next steps for life after working in Chile, and made the detour totally worth it.

La Última Frontera

Lunch and Beer at La Ultima Frontera, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Vegetarian Sandwich at La Última Frontera, Valdivia

On the recommendation of one of my former students from Valdivia, I headed to the well-known café, restaurant, and bar, La Última Frontera. La Última Frontera is one of those quintessential places catering to the college student crowd, while welcoming people of all ages, including foreign tourists who want to check out its unique menu and quirky decor. I went for one of the giant vegetarian sandwiches – the term can be used loosely for filling barely contained by bread!

Lunch and Beer at La Ultima Frontera, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Quirky Art All Around, La Última Frontera, Valdivia

Lunch and Beer at La Ultima Frontera, Valdivia, Los Ríos, ChileAlthough they have ample seating space outside on the patio, I decided to escape the sun for a little while and enjoy a table inside in this quiet nook in the back. The walls were decorated with interesting photos showing the vibe of the place, and even the bathroom was covered in quirky memorabilia. The front room of the restaurant is different, with walls made of dark German wood, giving more of a brewhouse ambiance.

Because La Última Frontera is so welcoming, I saw people having meals, doing work over a couple of beers, and hanging out with their families in the fresh air. I decided to order a local beer even though I’m not a beer drinker and enjoy it slowly, reading my latest book. It was a perfect way to spend my last afternoon in Valdivia and I’m thankful for the recommendation.

 

Street Art in Valdivia

Graffiti, Valdivia, Chile
Graffiti on Isla Teja, Valdivia, Chile

AStreet Art in Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chilelthough Valdivia is a college town, I didn’t actually see much mural art around the streets of Valdivia. I spotted this crazy mushroom on plywood in an abandoned lot on Isla Teja and couldn’t resist taking a picture.

To the right is a mural honoring the Mapuche culture of southern Chile. This was surprising to me as Valdivia has stronger ties to its German and Spanish heritage; nearby Temuco and Villarica are where the Mapuche tend to live. That said, I thought this was a beautiful mural and a nice tribute.

Recommendations for Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile:

  • Valdivia is easily accessible from other destination in southern Chile. From Santiago, you can take TurBus; if you’re coming from Chiloé, Cruz del Sur buses also head to Valdivia. You may also make connections from Temuco, Pucón, and Villarica, or transfer to a bus heading to Valdivia in Osorno.
  • Make sure to check out the outdoor market located right on the river near downtown Valdivia. There is also an artisan market nearby, and boat tours are constantly being sold right there from the dock.
  • Be sure to give yourself time to visit Isla Teja, where you can find the Universidad Austral de Chile, its botanical gardens, and the Museo Histórico y Antropológico Maurice van de Maele. The botanical gardens are free, although you may have to pay for parking, and the museum entry cost $1500 CLP in January 2016.
  • As mentioned above, I highly recommend staying at Airesbuenos Hostel at García Reyes 550, walkable from the bus station, and eating at La Última Frontera at Vicente Pérez Rosales 787. Because Valdivia has such a cool café culture, there are plenty of other neat cafés lining the streets around the main plaza.
  • Buses to Isla Teja leave frequently from the center of town – ask at the hostel and they’ll mark the stop on the map. You want the buses heading to Niebla. Buses continue on past the Kunstmann beer brewery in Torobayo, another popular destination, as well as Corral and Niebla, islands famous for their Spanish forts and beautiful beaches and views.
  • If you’re just going to Isla Teja, you can easily walk across the bridge – I walked to and from the botanical gardens and museum on foot.
  • Even if you’re not a beer drinker like me, make sure to at least try one of the brews from the region. It’s a big part of the culture and a neat experience, different from the way people drink in the rest of Chile.
  • Besides visiting Valdivia, Isla Teja, and nearby Niebla and Corral, there are other ways to experience the gorgeous landscape of the rivers region: you can head to Parque Oncol, just 30 kilometers from Valdivia as well as the beautiful beaches and reserve in Curiñanco. I had to head to Santiago for work so didn’t get a chance to visit, but they came highly recommended by a local Chilean friend as well as fellow travelers, so I’d make time to go if you can. They are also accessible by bus.
[Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile: January 5-7, 2016]

Valdivia, Chile- Appreciating the Riverside Views, Forests and University Culture of This Unique City and Nearby Isla Teja

Chiloé, Chile: The Forests of Parque Nacional Chiloé and the Oceanside Town of Cucao

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

On my last full day in Chiloé, I experienced all of the things the island is known for: its changeable weather, its lush forests, and its privileged location on the Pacific Ocean. Waking up in Castro, the moody clouds foretold rain, but the journey to Cucao was going to take about two hours, so with any luck the skies would clear and we’d be blessed with the glorious summer sun.

With Marilene, my travel companion from my time in Puerto Varas and Ancud, we headed up the hill to downtown Castro to take the regional bus to Cucao. On the way, the skies opened up and we got completely drenched, which was more amusing than anything else. That’s Chiloé for you! We bought tickets for the next departure, waited about 15 minutes, and soon were on our way inland to Cucao.

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Entering Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

As I mentioned, Chiloé is known for its extremely fertile land and green landscapes, some of which I’d seen during my visit to Puñihuil with its detour through beautiful fields and farmlands. But if you’re visiting Chiloé, you definitely need to visit the national park, located on the other side of the island bordering the Pacific Ocean.

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

What many people don’t know about Chiloé, as well as southern Chile in general, is that it used to be covered with amazing native forests filled with biodiversity. Due to the way Chile’s economy and society developed over the past few centuries, most of these native forests have been cleared away and have since filled in with new growth, or secondary forests, including species that have been imported from other parts of the world over the years.

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

Parque Nacional Chiloé hosts one of these second-growth forests, but it is well-worth visiting to get a sense of the lushness of nature given the right conditions – and the massive rainfall on Chiloé! Like most government-operated parks in Chile, there are clearly marked, clearly determined paths through the national park, with trees labeled along the way so that you can get a sense of what you are looking at.

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

After so much time in the deserts of northern Chile, I was fascinated by all the beautiful foliage, which reminded me of my native New England and Marilene, of the forests of France.

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

We wandered through the forests, coming out to a clearing in the marshland just as the skies themselves cleared and started revealing blue skies beneath the clouds.

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

In this part of the park, the landscape changes to these beautiful reeds, and you can climb on a viewpoint to get a sense of the vastness all around you.

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

I’m not sure exactly why the landscape changes so suddenly – were these lands left bare and filled in by other species, dried out by the occasional sun? There are ferns and forest flowers everywhere, worth inspecting closely (as you can see that I did).

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

The last loop of this trail through the national park leads to the tallest trees hosting the most common species found on Chiloé. The coigue, pictured above, is known as Dombey’s beech in English, and is one of the native species found in Chilean and Argentine Patagonia.

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, ChileAs we finished our loop through the forest, the sun shone down in full force, creating beautiful light through the leaves of the trees above us.

This made the rest of the day a lot more pleasant, as we had a chance to really see the colors of the national park and appreciate the views over the landscape.

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

Looping back along the path, we retraced our steps towards the entrance. I should mention that the paths through the national park are easy and accessible for just about everyone – and there’s even a shorter path near the entrance for the very young and people who may not be able to walk several kilometers. It’s a nice walk for a few hours, as long as you’re not expecting to go trekking!

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

It was totally worth climbing to the top of the viewpoint to see the views of the hills descending into the indigo blue waters. As we visited during the beginning of summer, the foliage was filled in with green leaves, making the views particularly striking.

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

Because the clouds had lifted, we were able to get another perspective on the farmlands in the distance. If you look carefully, you can see a bird above the silo off towards the horizon.

Posing at Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

Of course, we had to commemorate our explorations with a selfie. Marilene is an excellent travel companion and I’m glad our journeys intersected. As two foreigners living in Chile, we had a lot to talk about – and a lot of experiences to process.

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

Back at the entrance to the national park, we ate our picnic lunch before exploring the other main path leading towards the ocean.

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

We were in for a treat; this path led through fields of cheerful yellow flowers. I was in heaven, snapping pictures left and right of the bright flowers under my much-loved blue skies.

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

Throughout the day, we kept spotting this giant leaf-like plant. Any idea what it is?

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

Of course, we can’t forget the beautiful, ever-changing clouds – Chiloé is a perfect place for cloudspotters like me.

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, ChileParque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

As we approached the ocean, I heard the low hum of the waves crashing, even asking myself what that was, until we came out to a viewpoint and realized it was just the ocean from a distance!

Views of the Pacific Ocean from Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

As you can see, the route from within the national park descends to the beach along another clearly marked path. (For what it’s worth, this part of the national park is accessible from a path that opens along the main road through Cucao, although I think it’s worth paying the entrance fee to support the preservation of the forests.)

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

I loved the views as we walked towards the beach with the green-tinged cliffs off in the distance. For me, this was the highlight of the day.

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

Check out those fields covered in wildflowers and nature’s palette in all its glory!

Views of Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

Let’s not forget the imposing clouds towering over the wide-expanses visible all around us!

Views of the Pacific Ocean in Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Pacific Ocean, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

After a ten minute walk, we arrived at the beach, where we decided to relax for a while, just taking in the amazing views all around us. There were a few other people walking along the shore, but it was incredibly peaceful.

Views of the Pacific Ocean in Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Pacific Ocean, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

Just nature, being beautiful, no big deal. This is probably my ideal way to experience the Pacific Ocean – miles of near-empty beaches, wandering barefoot through the sand.

Views of the Pacific Ocean in Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Pacific Ocean, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

I loved the reflective surface of the ocean and watching other people explore the coastline. I can still remember the feeling of standing in the water and just realizing the vastness of the earth all around me. One of those unforgettable travel moments that remind you how much you have to be thankful for.

Beach in Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Pretty Designs in the Sand, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

Cows at the Beach in Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

After lounging for a little while, we headed back towards Cucao to begin our return to Castro. We spotted the cows just chilling on the beach like we had been a few moments earlier.

Views of Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

As you can see, the national park’s path border nearby farmlands, making it impossible to get lost even if you wander up and down the shore for a while.

Views of Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

After a couple more glances at the fascinating colorful landscape around me, we returned through the forest on our way back to Cucao proper.

Parque Nacional Chiloé in Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

We took one final detour and ended up seeing more beautiful trees. I suggest spending a leisurely day wandering around the national park – it’s small, but it’s worth spending a restorative day breathing the fresh air and appreciating the simplicity of nature.

Parque Nacional Chiloé in Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

Back through the fields of flowers, we found our way once again to the main road and walked towards Cucao rather than back through the national park.

Kuchen and Tea in Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Parque Nacional Chiloé, Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

Lucky for us, the bus stop is actually outside one of the restaurants located outside the park in tiny Cucao, and we had just enough time for some tea and a snack. I was curious to try the other type of kuchen, this one topped with a barely sweet custard and blueberries. Mmm.

As you can see, visiting Cucao is an excellent idea for a day trip during a stay on Chiloé – just be sure to take the path to the beach as well as the paths through the forests!

Recommendations for Cucao, Chiloé, Chile:

  • Buses to Cucao leave from Castro’s regional terminal on a regular schedule, about every 30 minutes to an hour. One way fares cost $2000 CLP and if you buy round trip tickets, it costs $3500.
  • Cucao is tiny, and the bus drops you off in front of the national park and leaves from in front of one of the restaurants on the main road. The road continues after the last stop; this is where you can find the pathway to the beach.
  • There are some lodging options in Cucao including a hostel, and it would totally be worth staying there for a night or two if you plan to enjoy a bit of a retreat from the city or want easy access to the beach. If I could do it over again, I would have gone directly to Cucao upon arrival in Castro, and then stayed in Castro on my way back.
  • Parque Nacional Chiloé is run by CONAF, Chile’s national park service, and that means that it has all the installations you could need, such a bathrooms, a small visitor’s center, some facilities for kids, and clearly marked paths. Here’s the website. Admission for foreigners costs $4000 CLP.
  • I suggest bringing a picnic lunch to enjoy on the beach – we would have eaten there if we had realized how close it was! You can also eat at the restaurant or just have a snack as we did. Like everywhere on Chiloé, prices are very reasonable.
[Parque Nacional Chiloé/Cucao, Chile: January 4, 2016]

Chiloe, Chile- The Forests of Parque Nacional Chiloé and the Oceanside Town of Cucao

Chiloé, Chile: Exploring Dalcahue's Sunday Artisan Market and Its Classic Church

Feria Artesanal, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile
Feria Artesanal, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

One of the interests that guides my travels throughout South America is my love of textiles and fiber art. Whether it’s knitting, crochet,  weaving, or embroidery, if a region has a specialty, I want to visit that place and learn more about their art. In Peru, this passion brought me to Ayacucho to walk through stalls bursting with beautiful flower embroidery and to Huancavelica to appreciate the multicolored masterpieces (and yes, a few came home with me as well).

After a year in Chile, I knew that sheep’s wool was southern Chile’s specialty. In Santiago, I’d picked up a knitted poncho from Chiloé, so I was looking forward to visiting the island and seeing more of what its artisans had to offer.

That’s what brought me to Dalcahue, a small town located about an hour from Castro, Chiloé’s capital. Dalcahue is known for its large Sunday market filled with stands after stands of woven and wooden goods made by locals, as well as hosting one of Chiloé’s most easily accessible wooden churches.

Views of Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile
Boats in Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

Dalcahue is a small town on the Isla Grande de Chiloé, just across the water from the smaller island of Quinchao, known for the picturesque towns of Curaco de Vélez and Achao. Its privileged location means that it has beautiful views of the water and the green island just a short ferry ride away.

Views of Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile
Boats in, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

Dalcahue is probably one of the most visited small towns on Chiloé because it is easily accessible on the buses that leave from the municipal terminal in Castro and walkable, with all the main sites within a short distance on pleasant paved roads. If you start early, you can visit Dalcahue and nearby Isla de Quinchao in a day, with plenty of time to get lunch at a local restaurant offering beautiful views over the water.

Feria Artesanal (Artisan Fair)

Feria Artesanal, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile
Feria Artesanal, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

As I mentioned, I headed to Dalcahue because I’d read that the Feria Artesanal was the best and biggest market on the entire island, selling goods from every corner of Chiloé. The market is housed in an open building, with stands selling a variety of textiles, mainly knitted ponchos, hats, and socks, and woven bedspreads, tablerunners, and tapestries. Chiloe’s wool is a thick, coarse sheep’s wool either sold in natural colors or dyed in bright primary colors, giving the textiles a distinctive Chilote style.

Feria Artesanal, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile
Feria Artesanal, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

I spent an hour or so wandering the stands at the artisan market, considering a brightly colored blanket, and admiring the cute little souvenirs. Because Chiloé is often very cold, the island’s style is designed for warmth and functionality though there are some artisans making more stylish clothing, ideal for a Santiago winter.

Outside the main building, more informal artisans have set up their booths with jewelry and other interesting wares, and behind the markets there is another building with many small restaurants serving super fresh fish.

Feria Artesanal Manos Chilotas

Feria Artesanal Manos Chilotas, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile
Feria Artesanal Manos Chilotas, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

After considering my options at the main artisan market, I wandered towards the church, but then I spotted another small artisan market located right on the water, called Feria Artesanal Manos Chilotas, or the Hands of Chiloé Artisan Market. Intrigued by some gorgeous weavings hanging from one of the booths, I wandered over.

Feria Artesanal Manos Chilotas, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile
Feria Artesanal Manos Chilotas, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

As it turns out, this little artisan market is much more artisanal than its neighbor. These booths are run by the actual artisans, women that create their own designs and have much more refined, creative styles. As they explained, the bigger market has goods that are mass-produced for the commercial market, which was why nothing really got my attention. But this artisan market was filled with unique pieces and I ended up buying a couple of beautiful items.

If you visit Dalcahue, make sure to take your business over to these stands – you’ll find more interesting pieces and support the artisans directly. These women are keeping the traditions of Chiloé alive and infusing them with good taste – and the prices are still reasonable.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

From there, I headed over to Dalcahue’s small plaza in order to see the heart of the town and especially its church, the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

Dalcahue’s church is one of the 16 wooden churches now on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, although there are many more than that on Chiloé. After checking out the Visitor’s Center and museum explaining the construction of these churches back in Ancud, I was curious to explore one for myself.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

Iglesia de Nuestra Señor de los Dolores is appealing because of its muted colors and traditional wooden construction. You can see the ship-building techniques and the wooden shingles characteristic of the Chilote construction methods a century ago.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

Although I’d been able to appreciate the attractive exterior of the church in Castro, I had yet to see inside one of Chiloé’s churches, so I definitely wanted to do so in Dalcahue. Entry is by donation, just S500 CLP (less than $1) to support the conservation of this historical buildings.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

Since it was just after Christmas, the church still had a little manger up which displayed small figurines resting on tiny weavings in the Chiloé-style. Adorable!

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

I appreciated the calming, subtle colors of the church’s interior and the solid construction of its supports, all made from wooden. Definitely a change from the stone cathedrals around the rest of South America, left over from the Spanish colonies centuries ago.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

It was surprisingly challenging to find a good angle to take in the entire church as it is located right on the main plaza with a tiny parking lot out front. You can see from photos of other churches on the island of Chiloé that these churches were functional and integrated into daily life of the townspeople, giving a sense of Chiloé’s down-to-earth culture.

Plaza in Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile
Plaza in Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

After checking out the church, I headed back through the plaza to the waterfront to look at the stores lining Pedro Montt. Although it’s not pictured, there is a cute little café on this street called Casita de Piedra. The café is upstairs and has big windows with views over the water, and the entry-level of the little house has a gallery with carefully curated artwork and textiles from Chiloé.

Streets of Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

Streets of Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

Besides that, there’s not much else to do in Dalcahue, besides appreciate its laidback, residential atmosphere. Buses regularly run along Freire, the main commercial street, making it easy to head back to Castro whenever your wanderings come to an end.

As you can see, Dalcahue is worth an afternoon’s exploration, especially on Sunday when its artisan market is in full swing. I felt like visiting Dalcahue gave me another perspective on Chiloé outside of its main cities. If I’d had more time, I would have liked to pop over to the Isla de Quinchao for the more rural perspective, but in the end I decided that I was more interested in getting over to Chiloé’s national park the next day.

Recommendations for Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile:

  • Dalcahue is located about an hour away from Castro on one of the buses that runs regularly from Castro’s municipal bus terminal. The fare cost $800 CLP each way in January 2016.
  • Dalcahue is best known for its Sunday feria artesanal, or artisan market, which is located down by the water on Pedro Montt. There are several signs around town pointing you in the right direction. There are several small restaurants selling fresh meals located next to the market, and informal artisans also set up shop in the small plaza next to the market.
  • Make sure to continue down Pedro Montt until you spot Feria Artesanal Manos Chilotas, a small building with open booths run by artisans who produce their handiwork in small quantities. I felt the quality of their work was much higher than the commercial market, and the vendors were friendly and happy to explain their techniques.
  • I also recommend having tea or coffee at Casita de Piedra, a cute restaurant with views of the water. I really liked the quality artwork on offer in their small gallery/shop at the entrance level; there are some unique items I didn’t see anywhere else.
  • Don’t forget to check out the Iglesia de Dalcahue, officially the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores. This is a well-preserved wooden church and entry is only $500 CLP (donation). After learning about the churches in the museum in Ancud, I felt seeing this classic example was worth the trip.
  • If you want to stay in Dalcahue, there are a few hostales in town, and there are also several shops, supermarkets, and a gas station for any needs you have.
  • From Dalcahue, many people take the ferry over to the nearby island of Quinchao to visit Curaco de Vélez, Achao, and Quinchao, especially to see the church in Achao. Since I’d traveled from Ancud to Castro earlier that day, I arrived in Dalcahue during the late afternoon and didn’t think I had enough time, but I suggest making coupling your visit to Dalcahue with the hop over to the island in order to get a broader perspective on life in Chiloé.
[Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile: January 3, 2016]

Chiloé, Chile- Exploring Dalcahue's Sunday Artisan Market and Its Classic Church

Chiloé, Chile: Visiting Castro, Chiloé's Colorful Capital City

Palafitos (Houses on Stilts) in Castro, Chiloé, Chile
Palafitos (Houses on Stilts) in Castro, Chiloé, Chile

In the public imagination, the island of Chiloé is known for several specific things: its moody clouds that cloak the islands throughout the majority of the year; the beautiful, brightly painted wooden churches located in towns throughout the island; the fishing boats located in every port whose fishermen catch seafood for Chiloé’s famous cuisine; and palafitos, or houses built on stilts. While the fascinating mythology of Chiloé and the natural wonders in its countryside drew me to the island, I have to admit that I really wanted to see the colorful palafitos too.

Castro is the capital of Chiloé and its most cosmopolitan, or should I say commercial, city. Located an hour or two from the ferry that drops you off on the island, it is the most popular destination for tourists as it provides a central location to travel by bus to many of the other interesting towns on the island, as well as Chiloé’s national park.

Palafitos in Castro, Chiloé, Chile
Coming Down the Hill Towards the Palafitos de Gamboa, Castro, Chiloé

After spending a couple of days appreciating Ancud and nearby Puñihuil, I headed to Castro to continue my exploration of the island. Due to my fascination with the palafitos, I decided to stay in one of the many palafitos now outfitted as trendy hostels in the Distrito de Gamboa (Gamboa District). Just a short walk down a long, steep hill from central Castro, this route provided me with my first, and arguably the best, views of the palafitos. When I arrived, it was afternoon and the tide was out, allowing me to see the palafitos rising up from sea level.

Iglesia de San Francisco, Castro, Chiloé, Chile
Wooden Church, Iglesia de San Francisco, Castro, Chiloé

As I arrived on a Sunday, I knew I wanted to quickly check-in to my hostel before heading to the weekly artisan market in nearby Dalcahue. On my way to the bus terminal, I knew I had to get a sense of Castro proper, so I decided to walk to the Plaza de Armas, the main square located in the heart of Castro’s commercial district.

Iglesia de San Francisco, Castro, Chiloé, Chile
Side View of Iglesia de San Francisco, Castro, Chiloé

Of course, I had to check out Castro’s Iglesia de San Francisco, one of Chiloé’s UNESCO-protected wooden churches. While the canary colored church looks as majestic as a cathedral, especially when seen from the side, it is actually not officially a cathedral (that distinction goes to the cathedral in Ancud). I loved the bright yellow paint coupled with royal purple towers.

Plaza of Castro, Chiloé, Chile
Plaza de Armas, Castro, Chiloé

Castro’s Plaza de Armas is one of the prime attractions in the city, with wide pathways designed for strolling and plenty of seating options, especially on sunny days like those I was blessed with on my visit.

Plaza of Castro, Chiloé, Chile
Walking Through the Plaza de Armas, Castro, Chiloé

As in many cities in South America, the Plaza de Armas is one of the busiest places in the city, and a perfect place to people watch. While the rest of Castro’s streets are crowded with pedestrians and traffic, the Plaza de Armas provides a little tranquility.

Views of Castro, Chiloé, Chile
Colorful Commercial Street of Calle Eusebio Lillo in Castro, Chiloé

After returning from Dalcahue, I headed down to Calle Eusebio Lillo, which is home to several hostales, restaurants, and Castro’s markets, a good place to buy both artisan goods from Chiloé as well as local foods, including Chiloé’s delicious potatoes and seaweed (yes, it’s delicious too!). Although I didn’t visit at mealtime, I heard rave reviews about Restaurant Travesía from a professional chef I met in Ancud, located in this district.

Views of Castro, Chiloé, Chile
Fishing Boat in Castro, Chiloé

After checking out the markets, I headed over to the harbor to watch the fishing boats. This is also where you can hop on a boat and take a tour of the palafitos in this district, which are only visible from the water.

Views of Castro, Chiloé, Chile
Boats in the Harbor of Castro, Chiloé

Although I opted not to take the tour, I’m sure the views would have been beautiful! Next time!

Mural in Castro, Chiloé, Chile
Mural Celebrating Castro’s Palafitos, Castro, Chiloé

While Castro has some unique aspects (such as the aforementioned palafitos), I found it to be a pretty standard commercial city, much like La Serena, near where I lived in northern Chile. Since I had already fallen hard for Ancud, Castro couldn’t quite capture my heart.

That said, I liked how its street art celebrated Castro’s unique urban landscape, like this mural of the palafitos. It reminded me of Valparaíso’s art depicting the city’s colorful hills.

Sunset in Castro, Chiloé, Chile
Sunset over the Palafitos de Gamboa, Castro, Chiloé

For that reason, I decided to spend most of my time appreciating the views over the water as seen from the palafito I stayed in. While the sunset provided nice views of the rosy clouds, I was in for a special treat the next morning.

Morning Clouds in Castro, Chiloé, Chile
Moody Morning Rainclouds from the Palafitos de Gamboa, Castro, Chiloé

On my second day in Castro, I woke up early and noticed these amazing rainclouds over the water. In case you’re new to my site, I’m obsessed with clouds (especially when they reveal blue skies hiding behind!). The calm waters provided perfect mirror-like reflections of the many shades of grey, which were accurate predictors of the downpours I got caught in later that morning!

Mural in Castro, Chiloé, Chile
“Let’s think about the world as seen from Chiloé, not Chiloé as seen by the world”

Always in search of new perspectives on the city I’m visiting, I wandered down the long route by the water, heading downhill to the palafitos on Gamboa. At the top, I spotted this mural with a very important message for Chilotes, encouraging youth to define themselves and their relationship with the world, instead of only letting the messages come from outside.

Views from Castro, Chiloé, Chile
Walking Towards the Gamboa District, Castro, Chiloé

From there, there is a gentle walk down the hill, providing great views of the palafitos and a much calmer, quieter route from the center of town. This was a good way to appreciate Castro’s charm.

Palafitos (Houses on Stilts) in Castro, Chiloé, Chile
Palafitos in the Late Afternoon Light, Castro, Chiloé

Yes, the palafitos are just as picturesque as the pictures suggest, and I do recommend staying in one if you don’t mind spending a little extra cash for the experience.

Views from Castro, Chiloé, Chile
Seabird from the Palafito, Castro, Chiloé

For a day or two, it’s worth it to wake up to these lovely views over the water. On my last day in Castro, I was greeted with clear blue skies, which is how I got the picture that leads this post. I also enjoyed sitting outside in the morning sun and watching the birds playing on the palafitos.

If I’d had more time before continuing my journey, this would have been a perfect day to spend enjoying a leisurely lunch in one of the cafés located in the palafitos, so I suggest giving yourself a few hours to enjoy the laid-back pace on the island of Chiloé!

Recommendations for Castro, Chiloé, Chile:

  • As I mention above, most tourists base themselves out of Castro, although I was partial to Ancud. If you have enough time in your itinerary, I recommend dividing your stay between Ancud and Castro, as they give you access to different parts of the island. There are lots of small towns you can visit, especially if you rent a car (highly recommended for those with a more generous travel budget).
  • I stayed at one of the many luxury hostels located in the Gamboa district and would recommend you do the same if you are interested in having easy access to views of the palafitos. That said, I traveled in January (South American summer) and ended up in a cramped dorm room that I think is only really used in the really busy season. All of the hostels offer more or less the same prices and breakfasts so I would do a little research before settling on one of them. There are also many more affordable hostales located in the center of Castro, so that is another option.
  • I ended up self-catering from the market during my stay, but Restaurant Travesía came highly recommended, and I really wanted to visit Café del Puente after reading this blog post (in Spanish).
  • Castro’s main tourist attractions are its lovely Plaza de Armas including the Iglesia de San Francisco, the markets located on Eusebio Lillo, and the boat tour of the palafitos. If you like shopping for unique clothing and other goods, there are several neat boutiques on Blanco Encalada.
  • Because of its central location, buses to the rest of Chiloé leave from Castro. Cruz del Sur buses continue from Ancud to Castro and end in Quellón. You can also catch buses to Valdivia and Santiago as well as other destinations on Cruz del Sur. Buses to places like Dalcahue and Cacao (the town located by Parque Nacional Chiloé) leave from the municipal bus terminal, located on San Martín (the Panamerican Highway) between Sargento Aldea and Eleuterio Ramirez.
  • If you’re interested in reading more about increasing tourism to Chiloé, this article is interesting.
[Castro, Chiloé, Chile: January 3-5, 2016]

Chiloé, Chile- Visiting Castro, Chiloé’s Colorful Capital City

Chiloé, Chile: Visiting the Penguins of Puñihuil with Impressive Views of Chiloé's Farmlands and Coastline Along the Way

Penguins at Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile

Penguins in Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile

When I decided to visit the island of Chiloé back in January, I knew that I really wanted to visit the penguin colony in Puñihuil. My preliminary trip research had revealed that there was a small colony of Humboldt and Magellanic penguins that breed together on the small islands (islets) just off the coast of Puñihuil. Even better, it was easily accessible from Ancud, making it a lot easier than some of my other trips to see penguins over the years.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Grey Morning in Ancud, Chiloé

I woke up early in Ancud to figure out how to get to Puñihuil. I’d read that there were public buses, and my hostel had the bus schedules posted to make things even easier. I set out on what seemed to be a grey day, so typical for Chiloé, but to my delight, the clouds cleared away later on, leading to beautiful views throughout the day.

As it turns out, the bus I’d hoped to take only runs in high season, which had yet to really start in Chiloé. Since it was a Saturday, my other options were limited. Instead, I could take a tour, so in the interest of keeping things simple, I signed up.

Mirador Cabeza de Vaca

Fields of Chiloé, Chile
Views over the Farmlands of Chiloé from Cabeza de Vaca

As I had similarly discovered during my tour to Parque Nacional Isluga in northern Chile, going with a guide ended up being a very good idea. Before heading to see the penguins, we took a detour to the Mirador Cabeza de Vaca, a road that leads up a dirt road towards the top of a hill. From here, you can see the ocean on a clear day and appreciate the gorgeous green hills of Chiloé’s rich farmland.

Fields of Chiloé, Chile
Fields of Chiloé

I was completely smitten. I had been curious about Chiloé rural landscapes, and without even expecting it, I was surrounded by green farmlands brightened up by summer wildflowers.

Fields of Chiloé, Chile
Views of the Farmlands of Chiloé from Cabeza de Vaca

As it turns out, this area is called Cabeza de Vaca due to the shape formed by the land – it looks like a cow’s head, apparently.

Fields of Chiloé, Chile
Golden Fields Looking Over the Island of Chiloé

Whatever the reason for the name, I appreciated the chance to take in the landscape spreading out all around us. Being able to see the surrounding land from a high vantage point helped give me a better idea about what Chiloé is really like.

Fields of Chiloé, Chile
Amazing Landscapes of the Green Hills of Chiloé

It’s one thing to hang out in an awesome city by the water; it’s quite another to see the fertile island for what it is.

Fields of Chiloé, Chile
More Green from the Vantage Point of Cabeza de Vaca, Chiloé

Mirador Piedra Run

Views of the Coast of Chiloé, Chile
Seaside Views of the Coast of Chiloé

From there, we descended back towards the main road leading towards Puñihuil, back towards the coastline. With the sun now breaking through the clouds, we were able to appreciate the turquoise blue of the ocean.

Views of the Coast of Chiloé, Chile
Coastline of Chiloé

The views from Mirador Piedra Run gave me a great perspective on the cliffs leading down to the beach. Look at how green the foliage is! After living in the desert for so long, I was used to beige cliffs covered in dirt, not these luscious green ones.

Views of the Coast of Chiloé, Chile

Coastline of Chiloé

According to our guide, there are many stories that speculate about this rock sitting all by itself on the coastline. Perhaps it conceals treasure?

Views of the Coast of Chiloé, Chile
Turquoise Blue Ocean Along the Coast of Chiloé

As we continued our approach to Puñihuil, the ocean turned a magnificent shade of turquoise blue. I almost can’t believe that this color is real! Unspoiled coastline and beautiful views over the water. Amazing.

Pinguineras de Puñihuil

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Schedules at the Penguin Colonies at Puñihuil

After a pleasant drive with many lovely views, we arrived at Puñihuil. Puñihuil is a tiny set of buildings built right along the coastline, including several businesses offering boat tours to see the penguins and their accompanying restaurants to feed you when you’re done.

You can see the bus schedule above – it’s possible to head directly to Puñihuil but I was happy to have seen the views along the way. As you see, there are many boats that take tourists out to see the penguins, although I’m not sure I would name one Titanic if it were up to me…

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Ocean Views at Puñihuil, Chiloé

After putting on our life preservers, we boarded a little cart and were pushed out to the boat, avoiding getting our feet we. And then we were off, heading away from shore towards the penguin colonies. It was nice to see the expanses of turquoise all around me.

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Seabird in the Ocean near Puñihuil, Chiloé

Due to the popularity of the penguin colonies and the need to protect their habitats, there are now strict regulations on how closely boats can approach the rocky islands that the penguins and other birds have made their homes. Bring a zoom lens!

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Penguins at Puñihuil, Chiloé

For once, I had remembered to bring mine, which is how I got these up close shots of the penguins. So adorable! I love them.

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Penguins at Puñihuil, Chiloé

We floated near the penguin colonies, just watching them be their adorable, goofy selves.

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Penguins at Puñihuil, Chiloé

What’s that grey guy doing there? Is he a young penguin or just a visiting seabird?

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile

This penguin was looking right at us! Probably tired of seeing so many tourists pass by his house.

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile

After approaching the penguins on the tinier islands, we headed around to the other islands, where the penguins had more space to walk around and do their thing.

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
A Pair of Penguins at Puñihuil, Chiloé

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Coastline at Puñihuil, Chiloé

After checking out the penguins, the boat turned around gave us a chance to appreciate the coastline from the vantage point of the ocean.

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Seagull Hanging out in Puñihuil, Chiloé

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile

Look at that beautiful coastline!

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Puñihuil, Chiloé

As you can see, Puñihuil is just a small grouping of buildings along the beach, which have sprung up to meet the needs of the tourists. CONAF, Chile’s national park service, operates from here as well, protecting the interests of the wildlife.

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile

Boats in Puñihuil, Chiloé

And after a pleasant spin around the penguin colonies, we were back to the beach, just in time for lunch.

Views of Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile
Beach at Puñihuil, Chiloé

While my tour companions headed off to lunch, I decided to wander up and down the beach, seeing what else the little outpost had to offer. Since the summer season was about to take off in full force, there were a couple of artisans selling their wares on the beach. As it turns out, there is also a trail run by CONAF that takes you up the cliff to get some great views of Puñihuil, if you have time to climb up there.

On the way back, I sat in the front of the van next to our tour guide, who began to tell me stories of real life in Chiloé, rather than the version often sold to tourists. As I’ve mentioned, Chiloé has always been a world apart from the rest of Chile, a island community dedicated to agriculture and fishing. He had grown up in the farmlands without much money, without even shoes to wear to school, and this was a very common story. After working hard in school, and with support of a relative, he finally moved to Ancud where he studied and eventually learned to drive, which over the years led him into guiding tours (very commonly in Chile tour guides do double duty as the van/bus drivers).

One day, he led a group on a tour – and one of the tourists happened to be a schoolmate who remembered him from those days when he didn’t always have enough food to eat at lunch. The two marveled about how far they had come from those days. But as he told me the story, his face grew dark, for all the same reasons that Chiloé is currently in crisis.

With the only access off the island limited to taking a bus ride or a very expensive ferry trip with a car, the costs of basic goods remains very high, with many people only earning minimum wage. He was all for the plans to construct the bridge and make it easier for normal people to drive to Puerto Montt to buy what they needed, instead of having to pay excessive markups on products brought in by others, or having to miss a full day of work to shop on the mainland.

What became clear to me as he talked was just how complex Chiloé’s reality is, beyond the stories of myths and legends told to outsiders. It will be interesting to see how things change for the island after the massive outcry after the devastation of the red tide. (More info about the current crisis on my post about Ancud and recent interviews providing additional insight here.)

It makes me sad to think how the red tide has probably affected Puñihuil, which was so vibrant and full of ocean life on my visit. I am glad I got a chance to see part of what makes Chiloé so special on my visit, and I hope this crisis brings change to Chiloé.

Recommendations for Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile:

  • Although there are a few public bus options to get to Puñihuil, especially during the summer season, I was actually really happy that I took a tour to Puñihuil for two reasons: the tour includes the drive through Cabeza de Vaca, where I saw the gorgeous farming landscape, and because I had an excellent conversation with my tour guide on the drive back, where he really helped me understand the reality of life on Chiloé. I went on the tour with Chiloé Viajes, and it cost $15000 CLP in January 2016.
  • For this reason, if you decide to take a tour, make sure to ask if the tour involves a trip to Mirador Cabeza de Vaca and Mirador Piedra Run on the way to Puñihuil.
  • There are several different tourism groups in Puñihuil – each tour company takes you to their preferred boat company and recommends their preferred restaurant. If you drive there yourself, you have several options, and each of them include free parking. I’m pretty sure all of the boat tours are the same, due to the regulations governing the penguins’ habitat.
  • The other advantage of finding your own transportation or driving is that you’ll have time to walk around the Monumento Natural Islotes de Puñihuil, which has a trail to a viewpoint operated by CONAF, the Chilean parks service. I skipped eating lunch at the restaurant and wandered around a bit, but didn’t realize that the trail would have been worth my time until I saw pictures later.
[Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile: January 2, 2016]

Chiloé, Chile- Visiting the Penguins of Puñihuil

Chiloé, Chile: Appreciating Ancud, the Low-Key, Laid-Back City on the Isla Grande de Chiloé

Views of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Fishing Boat in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Current Situation in Chiloé

As I write this post, the island of Chiloé is in the midst of an ecological crisis. Chiloé is an archipelago of islands located off the coast of Chile, separated from the mainland by a relatively thin strait, the Canal Chacao. Chiloé is connected to the rest of Chile by ferries that cross the canal at surprisingly slow speeds. Its main industries are agriculture and fishing, both commercial and artisanal, with a slow but steady increase in tourist interest in the islands. This means that the vast majority of the people of Chiloé live off the land and the sea. Chiloé is not a rich island, and due to the low minimum wages in Chile, its residents only just manage to eke out a living. (For reference, minimum wage in Chile is currently $250000CLP per month, or about $365 USD.)

Right now, Chiloé is suffering because of the red tide, or marea roja, an unpredictable “bloom” of red algae that can kill fish, shellfish, birds,and other ocean life and cause illness in humans. (Sources: 1, 2.) This year, the algae outbreak is especially high, basically bringing Chiloé’s main industry to a complete halt. The Chilotes (the people of Chiloé) say that this particularly high bloom may have been caused by dumping of antibiotic-laded dead salmon into the ocean waters relatively near Ancud, although El Niño also plays a factor. (Information in English here, here, and here. The last link especially explains the distrust of the government and the salmon industry.)

Murals in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Mural in Ancud: Nuestra isla no se vende se defiende – “Our island is not for sale, we must defend it”

Because of the prohibition on fishing due to potential illness, the island of Chiloé is suffering a major financial crisis. The government initially offered $100000CLP, or about $150 USD, per family to help them get through the crisis, a low amount which caused outrage among Chilotes. Protests have escalated throughout the region – fishermen blocked the major highways leading to Chiloé, isolating the island from the mainland; meanwhile, additional solidarity protests have occurred throughout the country. As a result, the Chilean government is working towards a solution, increasing the amount of financial support provided to families affected by the fishing ban, as well as appointing a new regional coordinator, who has signed agreements with different comunas (or counties) of Chiloé to end the roadblocks and protests.

This situation is much more complex than I understand or can state here. There are rumors of secret deals with the salmon fishing industry; there is a history of government neglect of the island of Chiloé for generations. But everything that is happening now is in line with what I was told by the Chilotes themselves during my visit back in January. Geographically and financially isolated from mainland Chile, Chilotes have developed their own culture and their own way of life. As this article states, Chiloé is not a financial powerhouse, but its culture factors strongly in how the Chilean nation sees itself.

The people of Chiloé dream of an improved quality of life for themselves and especially their children, They want to earn a more sustainable living wage. They want support from their government to connect it with the mainland; they want the much promised bridge over the canal rather than an expensive, slow ferry. And to an outsider like myself, that’s the root of the protests: Chiloé matters. The Chilotes matter. And what happens to the ocean surrounding the archipelago absolutely matters too.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Views of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

I visited Chiloé because of the picture that was always painted for me in guidebooks, when talking to Chileans from other regions, and in photo essays online. Chiloé is a mystical island which is almost a world apart from the rest of Chile, with its own unique culture and history. After my short visit, I definitely deepened my understanding of the region, but I only scratched the surface of the island’s unique character.

I hope my next few posts encourage you to visit the region, which needs visitors investing their money into tourism, especially if the fishing industry remains paralyzed for a while. My trip to Chiloé started in Ancud, the fishing port and and first major city on the Isla Grande de Chiloé.

Fair warning: This post is LONG and filled with photos! I wanted to do Ancud justice – most people only pass through briefly en route to the penguin colony in Puñihuil or on their way to Castro. Ancud is awesome and my goal with this post is to encourage you to spend more time there!

Crossing the Canal Chacao

Views from Ferry Crossing Between Chiloé and Puerto Montt, Chile
Ferry Crossing on the Canal Chacao Between Puerto Montt and Chiloé

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, visiting Chiloé was a travel dream come true. After thoroughly enjoying my explorations around Pucón and Puerto Varas, I was excited to get on the ferry to cross over to the island of Chiloé on January 1, just a few short months ago.

Ferry Crossing from Puerto Montt to Chiloé
Cars on the Ferry to Ancud from Puerto Montt

After celebrating New Year’s Eve until the wee hours with an international cast of characters from the hostel in Puerto Varas, my new friend Marilene and I boarded our bus to Chiloé, sneaking moments to sleep when we could. When the bus boarded the ferry, we all filed off the bus and headed to the open air levels of the ferry to take a look at the views.

Views from Ferry Crossing Between Chiloé and Puerto Montt, Chile
Chile’s Mountains as Seen from the Canal Chacao

Like my fellow tourists, I was excited to see the expanses of blue all around us. After so much bus travel, there is something special about crossing the Canal Chacao on a boat and being able to appreciate the snow-covered mountains and volcanoes off in the distance.

Views from Ferry Crossing Between Chiloé and Puerto Montt, Chile
Seabirds over the Canal Chacao, near Chiloé

Besides the mountains, the marine life surrounds you as you cross the channel, with lots of seabirds following the fish…

Views from Ferry Crossing Between Chiloé and Puerto Montt, Chile
Sea Lions in the Canal Chacao, near Chiloé

…and even sea lions making an appearance and swimming alongside the boat on my return trip a few days later. The trip on the ferry takes about 30 minutes, enough time to stretch your legs before boarding the bus once again for the trip to Ancud and the rest of the island.

Exploring Ancud

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

As I mentioned earlier, we arrived to Ancud on New Year’s Day, a national holiday, so the city was even quieter than usual. This gave me a chance to really take in Ancud’s atmosphere and laid back vibe. Although Ancud is a small city, the first thing I noticed upon arrival is how hilly it is, with colorful wooden houses built into gentle slopes. Perhaps this is why it seems to have a small town atmosphere, even during the busier work week.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Costanera in Ancud, Chiloé

The other thing I noticed is that Ancud is an incredibly walkable city, especially for tourists. Most of the hostales are located within a few blocks of the costanera, or beachfront walkway, and also within walking distance of the Cruz del Sur terminal in Ancud. (Cruz del Sur is the major bus company that serves the island of Chiloé and other parts of southern Chile.) For arriving visitors, this means that your first impression of Ancud probably will involve walking right towards the water.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Views of the Blue Ocean from Ancud, Chiloé

Arriving in Chiloé by bus, you end up right in the middle of the costanera, so you can either head to the center of town or to the beach. I was lucky to have very good weather for most of my time in Chiloé, which meant that the skies were a brilliant blue and the ocean almost equally as aquamarine along the coastline. For this reason, I was more than happy to walk along the costanera in the sunshine towards the center of Ancud.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Wooden Houses and Chilean Flag in Ancud, Chiloé

While there are houses lining the costanera, like those pictured above, there is also a sense of openness, with the city located up on the hills instead of right on the water.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Museo Regional de Ancud Seen from the Costanera

Walking the costanera, you come across several different remnants of Ancud’s history as a Spanish stronghold a few centuries ago. There are a couple of forts you can visit in Ancud with great views over the water, as well as the tower you see above, now part of the Museo Regional de Ancud.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Cannon along the Costanera, Ancud, Chiloé

The costanera also hosts a monument to the battles of past eras, with these colonial cannons looking out over the water. Kids love to play on them, of course, just as I did so many years ago.

Commercial Center of Ancud

Plaza in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Plaza de Armas, Ancud, Chiloé

In most cities in South America, the Plaza de Armas is the best place to start wandering around a new city, exploring the side streets and seeing where you end up.

Streets of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Building and Murals near Plaza de Armas, Ancud, Chiloé

As you walk around the center of town, the street art starts to catch your eye, more reminiscent of Valparaíso, another gritty port city. (Below, I have some photos of impressive murals with their deeper, socially conscious meanings.)

Main Plaza of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Cathedral in Ancud, Chiloé

Chiloé is also famous for its wooden churches, but Ancud’s cathedral was actually destroyed in a 1960 earthquake. The cathedral located across from the Plaza de Armas is a reconstruction, and as such it lacks the character of the wooden churches around the island. (This is what the old cathedral looked like.)

Plaza in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Other View of the Plaza, Looking Towards Calle Pudeto

It’s hard to describe the appeal of Ancud, but I hope these photos capture it. I think the reason I liked Ancud so much is that it just exists; it’s a city where people go about their business and their lives.

Streets of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Calle Pudeto in Ancud, Chiloé

The buildings are brightly colored and interesting, many of them reconstructions after the 1960 earthquake. They are unpretentious, yet still have character and uniqueness.

Streets of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Calle Pedro Montt in Ancud, Chiloé

Walking through the streets also gives you a great perspective on how residential the city is, with houses stretching out over the green hills of the region.

Streets of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Views of Ancud, Heading Towards the Port from the Center of Town

It’s possible to spend hours wandering through the streets of Ancud looking at all the small family owned and operated businesses all around the city, stopping in to small restaurants and bakeries to try the food from Chiloé.

Back to the Beach

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Beach in Ancud, Chiloé

Because Chiloé is actually known for its rainy weather and misty clouds almost always surrounding the archipelago, when the blue skies come out it is definitely time to head to the beach and take advantage of the sun. There are actually two areas with beachfront in Ancud; one located closer to the edge of the peninsula north of town near the Costanera Norte, and another located on the way out of town towards Puñihuil, closer to the bus station. That’s where we headed.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Colorful Flowers by the Water in Ancud, Chiloé

With such bright sun, the reflections off the water were almost blinding, which led me to take some fun pictures, trying to remember this beautiful day.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Fishing Boat on the Beach in Ancud, Chiloé

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Pretty Oceanside Views in Ancud, Chiloé

This would be a good place to bring a book and blanket and just enjoy the sound of the water, a little ways outside the noise and hustle of the city.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Houses of Ancud, Chiloé

Walking further away from the main part of the beach enables you to get a good view of the colorful houses of Ancud all along the costanera.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Summer Reflections on the Sea in Ancud, Chiloé

Yes, there’s something special about being on the water in Chiloé, a feeling that was heightened when I visited the beach in Cucao.

Street Art in Ancud

Streets of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Mural on Calle Pudeto, Ancud, Chiloé

As mentioned above, the murals on the streets of Ancud are a good way to get a sense of the Chilote mentality and the island’s the regional identity and pride. This mural seems to reflect the Mapuche strength of spirit and resistance. (Click here to see the whole mural on Google Maps.)

Streets of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
“Que no te duerman con cuentos de hadas” – Don’t them put you to sleep with fairytales

This mural indicates the mystical, mythical intrigue around Chiloé, where people still believe in legends involving creatures and spirits that need to be respected and appeased. (Interesting article on NPR here.) There is so much to learn about this side of Chiloé that I bought a couple of short, locally published books on the subject!

Streets of Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Street Art on Calle Pedro Montt in Ancud, Chiloé – “Life and Death”

I think this mural represents the rolling green hills of Chiloé, which are the main source of survival for so many Chilotes who live in the rural areas of the island.

Mural in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Mural in Ancud, Chiloé

And this one seems to represent the connection with the ocean, with the fishing boats off to the side, a mermaid, perhaps a spirit, and the houses that line the waterfront as well as the trees all over the island.

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Mural by the Beach in Ancud, Chiloé: “Este archipélago es mágico, tu basura no” – This archipelago is magical, but your trash isn’t

Finally, this mural by the beach reminds people not to throw their garbage into the area by the beach, as this will just be carried out to the sea, contaminating the waters that give the islands their magic and life. Pretty fitting considering the current crisis faced by the island.

Museums in Ancud

Museo Regional de Ancud Closed for Strike
Museo Regional in Ancud, Chiloé, Closed for Strike

Ancud is home to two important museums that help explain the history of Chiloé. Unfortunately for me, the Museo Regional was closed on my visit due to a strike, but definitely seems worth checking out. The museum houses a reconstruction of an important ship, the Goleta Ancud, as well as a giant whale skeleton. (If you do make it to the museum, let me know how your visit went!)

Centro de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé, Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Centro de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé, Ancud, Chiloé

Thankfully, the Centro de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé was still open. This visitors’ center should be a required first stop for anyone interested in learning more about the wooden churches all around Chiloé, which are protected on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Centros de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé, Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Centros de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé, Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

The Centro de Visitantes is housed in a former convent, the Ex-Convento de la Inmaculada Concepción de Ancud. This building also functioned as the cathedral while the current one was being built.

When you visit, make sure to get a guided tour, as this really helps clarify the different techniques used to make the wooden churches.Centros de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé, Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Basically, the wooden churches were constructed using ship-building techniques. Even if you’re not so interested in churches, it’s pretty interesting to hear all the different types of wood that were used, learn about the different ways to join wood together without nails, and see the many models of the churches around the island, some located in more distant, isolated parts of Chiloé.

Centros de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé, Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Model of the Cathedral in Castro, Chiloé at the Centro de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé

Knowing that I was not going to have the time nor transportation to get everywhere on the island, I appreciated checking out the models and being able to compare their different types of construction. This is definitely a required first stop for anyone planning to visit the wooden churches of Chiloé.

Food and Lodging in Ancud

Hostal Nuevo Mundo in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Hostal Nuevo Mundo in Ancud, Chiloé

Although the bigger, slightly more cosmopolitan city of Castro gets a lot of the tourist traffic, Ancud is actually a really pleasant place to stay. Most of the hostales catering to foreign and budget travelers are located over by the quieter part of the costanera, including Hostal Nuevo Mundo. Hostal Nuevo Mundo has dorms and private rooms, many of them with views over the water, and they also have hot tubs for rent, perfect for those cold Chiloé nights. My friend Marilene stayed at 13 Lunas and absolutely loved it – it seemed to be more friendly and upbeat, and also has great views as it’s at the top of a hill.

Restaurant in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Restaurant Corita, Ancud, Chiloé

In terms of food, Ancud is known for its giant empanadas, bigger than anywhere else in Chile. On New Year’s Day, the only place open was Restaurant Corita, a charming restaurant with typical cooking from the island. Of course, they had a ton of seafood options, but they also had giant salads to eat with the empanadas. Portions are huge and service is excellent.

Tea at Café Bar Nerudiano, Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Freshly Brewed Tea at Café Bar Nerudiano in Ancud, Chiloé

On my second day in Ancud, I decided to try out Café Bar Nerudiano, a cute café located on the second floor of a shopping gallery, which turns into a bar in the evenings. The space is illuminated by big windows that provide views over downtown Ancud and there is a balcony with seating outside. They served many types of loose leaf tea, and even have jars for you to sniff them. This was probably one of the best places I had tea in all of Chile, even though Chileans are pros at tea. Look at that infuser AND more hot water on the side.

Vegetarian Sushi in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Vegetarian Sushi at Café Bar Nerudiano, Ancud, Chiloé

They also serve sushi, including the delicious and filling vegetarian sushi. It definitely struck me as a hangout for young, artistic types – everyone who stopped by seemed to know each other.

Kuchen and Cheese from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Kuchen de arándano (Blueberry Cake) and Fresh Cheese from Ancud, Chiloé

Of course, when I travel, I like to buy food at the markets. I picked up some Chiloé-style cheese from the Mercado Municipal in the center of town – the best part is that I was able to sample several kinds to figure out which flavor I liked best. I also finally decided to stop in to a local bakery and buy a slice of kuchen, the fruit cake popular in southern Chile. I opted for the kind with sugar crumble on top and filled with blueberries. I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious it was; I don’t usually like fruit in my desserts, but the subtle sweetness actually enhanced the berries. Don’t be like me – eat more kuchen earlier in your travels. 😉

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé

Views from Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Costanera in the Afternoon Sun

One of the reasons I stayed in the hostel right on the water in Ancud was to have easy access to the waterfront during the sunset! Part of Chiloé’s magic comes from the clouds rolling in over the water as the temperatures change from day to night and night to day.

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Late Afternoon Sun over the Hills of Chiloé, Ancud

The late afternoon sun illuminated the hillside of Chiloé, making the colorful houses stand out of the landscape like a pastoral painting.

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé

And as if on cue, the clouds rolled in over the horizon, guaranteeing a fascinating sunset.

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Costanera Illuminated by the Afternoon Sun in Ancud, Chiloé

This photo gives a good sense of the length of the costanera – a great place to walk or bike, with many people strolling together and watching the sunset.

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Costanera in the Sunset, Ancud, Chiloé

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Colors Changing over the Horizon, Ancud, Chiloé

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Sunlit Clouds in Ancud, Chiloé

As I watched the skies change, I definitely began to understand the mystique of Chiloé.

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

More Sunset Shots from Ancud, Chiloé

What can I say, I love a good sunset, and I made sure to go back and watch the next night. The clouds were in a slightly different formation, but still just as beautiful. Staying in Ancud was an excellent choice for classic sunset shots.

As you can see, Ancud is an appealing city; for me, its low-key vibe provided a perfect introduction to the island of Chiloé. While many visitors head straight to Castro, I recommend spending more time in Ancud and exploring the northern part of the Isla Grande de Chiloé, including the nearby penguin colonies at Puñihuil, subject of my next post!

Recommendations for Ancud, Chiloé, Chile:

  • While the town of Chacao is the entry point to the Isla Grande de Chiloé, most visitors first experience Chiloé in Ancud, the major city at the northern part of the island.
  • Cruz del Sur is the bus company dominating travel around southern Chile and Chiloé, and also owns the ferries crossing Canal Chacao. The bus stops at the Terminal Municipal on the outskirts of Ancud, where you can transfer to buses to other smaller towns in Chiloé. If you are going to Ancud, stay on the bus until you get to the Cruz del Sur terminal in Ancud proper. Most hostels are located near this terminal, making it easy to walk to them.
  • I stayed at Hostal Nuevo Mundo due to its location right on the water, and thought it was a pleasant enough hostel, although not particularly friendly. They had a lovely breakfast and great views from the greenhouse-like porch. My travel buddy stayed at nearby 13 Lunas, and she raved about its social atmosphere and views from the balcony.
  • If you like Ancud’s vibe, you may want to consider basing your explorations of Chiloé from there. We ran into travelers visiting Cucao from Ancud on a day trip. I much preferred Ancud to Castro and wished I had just stayed in Ancud, exploring Castro on a day trip.
  • I definitely recommend eating at Restaurant Corita and Café Bar Nerudiano. There are a number of other cute restaurants around the area. If you eat seafood, you should definitely try curanto, Chiloé’s classic meal, in Ancud. Great article on the experience here.
  • Make sure to check out the Mercado Municipal Ancud, located on Av. Libertad between Calle Dieciocho and Calle Arturo Prat. Here, you can find seafood, cheese, and other food products, and many stands with handmade wool items and other souvenirs. This is where I bought my books on the myths of Chiloé and booked my tour to Puñihuil.
  • Make sure to visit the Plaza de Armas to see the new cathedral. You should also visit the Museo Regional, at Libertad 370, right off the Plaza de Armas. Entry is free. There are a few souvenir and artisanal shops located around the Plaza de Armas.
  • Visiting the Centro de Visitantes de Iglesias de Chiloé is a must to get a sense for the architecture of the unique churches, even if you’re not a big fan of churches in general. You can find the Visitor’s Center at Federico Errazuriz 227. They also have an on-site café and a small shop where you can buy cool posters of the churches. You can read more about the churches in UNESCO’s write-up.
  • Although I didn’t get to see it, the Fuerte San Antonio (old fort) located in the northern part of Ancud seems to be pretty cool. Wikitravel has a nice list of more things to do in Ancud.
  • If you’re interested in learning more about the mythology of Chiloé, this NPR article is a good place to start. If you read Spanish, there are a number of websites documenting the stories told about the island (just do a Google search for “mitos y leyendas de Chiloé”). This is a nice explanation of the cultural history of Chiloé.
  • If you visit Chiloé, make an effort to understand its culture and history. This is a rural area where the main industries are farming and fishing, and life moves slower here. That’s part of the appeal; if you want a lively city, try Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas!
[Ancud, Chiloé, Chile: January 1-3, 2016]

Sunset in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Ancud, Chiloé at Dusk
Chiloe, Chile - Appreciating Ancud, the Laid-Back, Low-Key City on the Isla Grande de Chiloe

Puerto Varas, Chile: Savoring a Kayaking Adventure In and Around Lago Llanquihue

Kayaking in Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile
Kayaking in Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile

One of the best things about travel is getting to experience activities that are outside your normal routine. As my love for biking is clearly established, I do my best to find a way to get on a bike wherever I travel. I also love horseback riding and trekking, so the first thing I do when I get somewhere new is scope out my options.

Kayaking near Puerto Varas, Chile
Kayaking in a Lagoon near Puerto Varas, Chile

When I arrived in Puerto Varas, Pierre, the owner of the hostel where I was staying, gave me a rundown of all of the tours and activities around the area. I was most interested in trekking, rafting, and horseback riding, since I hadn’t gotten around to doing any of these things in Pucón. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Pierre warned me that the hiking paths in the national park would be infested with crazy seasonal bugs for the next month, and this was no joke – all the hostel guests who went anyway said it was unbearable. (I later ran into the same bugs in Valdivia!)

Kayaking near Puerto Varas, Chile
Getting Started in the Kayak in a Lagoon near Puerto Varas, Chile

With regards to horseback riding, the best options are in the nearby valley of Cochamó, but these excursions require multiple days and I didn’t have enough time for that on this trip (it definitely remains on my wish list for when I return and head to Chilean Patagonia!). As it turns out, rafting is not a particularly popular option either; the Río Petrohue lacks the appeal of the Río Trancura near Pucón. Instead, most people seeking time out on the water opt for kayaking.

Views While Kayaking near Puerto Varas, Chile
Kayaking in a Lagoon near Puerto Varas, Chile

Kayaking? I searched my memory to try and remember if I had ever been in a kayak before. I know it’s common to take a kayak out on the Charles River in my former home, Cambridge, Massachusetts, but I’d never done it. I finally remembered going kayaking in a two-person kayak on a visit to Seattle, but I’d never been in a kayak on my own. That was about to change.

Views While Kayaking near Puerto Varas, Chile
Kayaking in a Lagoon near Puerto Varas, Chile

Excitedly, the hostel owner, Pierre, explained how amazing it is to be out in a kayak on your own. Knowing that I practice yoga and meditation, he said I would fall in love with kayaking because it would just be me out there, paddling, enjoying the natural surroundings, and concentrating on moving, totally in the moment. This reminded me of my revelations out on the bike in the farmlands between Pucón and Caburgua. I was curious. I was definitely in.

Kayaking near Puerto Varas, Chile
Posing in the Kayak in a Lagoon near Puerto Varas, Chile

There are several options for kayaking around Puerto Varas; many agencies offer kayaking in the bay of Lago Llanquihue. If you’re looking for something different, Hostel Margouya Patagonia offers their own special kayaking excursion that starts off in a quiet lagoon, which you see in the photos above. This gives beginners like me a chance to get comfortable with the rhythm of paddling while navigating through calm waters.

View of Volcán Calbuco While Kayaking near Puerto Varas, Chile
Views of Volcán Calbuco While Kayaking in a Lagoon near Lago Llaquihue

After paddling through the calm lagoon and moving farther away from the shore, we headed through a narrow path through lush foliage growing in the water, passing through trees overhead and appreciating the biodiversity of the lakes region. We came out to another expanse of blue water, a hidden lagoon in the middle of green forests, with amazing views of Volcán Calbuco to boot. Our guide gave us time to paddle around this secluded area, taking in the moment of being somewhere totally peaceful. That was it – I was hooked.

View of Volcán Osorno While Kayaking in Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile
Views of Volcán Osorno from a Kayak in Lago Llanquihue

After enjoying the lagoon, we headed back towards where we had started, but taking a new path, following a channel that fed into Lago Llanquihue. Our guide warned us that there were some strong currents in the giant lake, so to be sure to follow his lead. I was enjoying the activity of moving myself around using the strength of my arms rather than relying on my legs as in biking, and as we moved into Lago Llanquihue we had the opportunity to paddle faster and appreciate the freedom of being in a kayak. And I definitely couldn’t complain about these views. A little point and shoot camera can’t capture the majesty of being in the middle of the wide expanse of blue lake with this giant volcano towering above. Bliss on the water!

Kayaking in Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile
Kayaks on Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile

We paddled towards a quiet beach on the shores of Lago Llanquihue, where our guide had a treat in store for us – afternoon tea and coffee with cookies to help us recharge our batteries. We enjoyed being on dry land for a little while, and the brave went swimming in the chilly waters! At this point, it was late afternoon and the sun was beginning to set behind us, illuminating the area with a beautiful golden glow. (You can see the light on our backs in the photo at the top of the post.)

Kayaking in Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile
Kayaking in Lago Llanquihue, with Volcán Osorno in View

We got back in our kayaks and headed towards Volcán Osorno, staying close together but each one of us in our own worlds, enjoying the moment. It was really special to see how the other travelers were also just appreciating the fresh air and warm sunshine on our backs. I definitely understood why people get addicted to kayaking, and will definitely be seeking out more opportunities to explore the area in one.

Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile
Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile

As we paddled towards our final destination, another beach on Lago Llanquihue, I kept looking behind me to watch the sunset. When I got to the shore, I grabbed my D40 from the waiting vehicle and started snapping pictures of the golden glow over the blue horizon.

Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile
Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile

As I discovered during my bike ride along another stretch of Lago Llanquihue, the lake is enormous, so much bigger that it appears from the city. Looking out into Lago Llanquihue, there was really nothing to see except for blue. It felt like the endless expanses of the Pacific, rather than a lake.

Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile
Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas

With such clear, blue, cloudless skies, the sunset over the lake was quite simple, much different than the blue sunset I’d spotted from Puerto Varas upon arrival.

Kayaking in Lago Llanquihue near Puerto Varas, Chile
Kayaks Ready to Head Back to Puerto Varas

Our guides loaded the kayaks back onto the trailer as we put on more layers to keep the chill off us after so much time out on the water. We piled in the car and enjoyed a pleasant, happy ride back to Puerto Varas, all energized and chatty after such a fun afternoon.

Sunset En Route to Puerto Varas, Chile
Sunset on the Highway Towards Puerto Varas, Chile

We were rewarded with more views of the beautiful sunset as we drove back to Puerto Varas. My beloved clouds had appeared in the direction of Puerto Varas and captured the sun’s golden rays as it disappeared from view.

After this kayaking adventure on Lago Llanquihue, I am definitely interested in more kayaking trips. Where I can’t go on foot or on bike, I’ll try to go on kayak. I’m looking forward to trying out my skills again on another trip. This was a perfect way to end my stay in Puerto Varas – well, that and the New Year’s Eve celebration the next night. 😉

Recommendations for Kayaking on Lago Llanquihue, near Puerto Varas, Chile:

  • Obviously, I highly recommend kayaking on Lago Llanquihue. This was a great way to see the volcanos up close and personal and gives you another perspective besides trekking up the volcano or biking along the lake.
  • I stayed at Hostel Margouya Patagonia, which offers the sunset kayaking excursion, more frequently during the busy summer season. As mentioned, you first paddle around a quiet, secluded lagoon before heading out to Lago Llanquihue for an afternoon snack and the sunset. In December 2015, the excursion cost $25000CLP, which includes the kayak rental, wet suit and water shoes, life preserver, transportation to the lagoon and from the lake, guide, and an afternoon snack.
  • If you choose not to do a sunset kayaking excursion, try to rent a kayak in the bay of Lago Llanquihue to give you another perspective on the gorgeous views.
  • I took my old point-and-shoot camera on the excursion by tucking it into my wetsuit so that I could take pictures whenever I wanted. Our guide had a dry bag for anything you wanted to bring along, or you could bring your own. I left my D40 with our other guides so that I didn’t risk its accidental submersion in the lake!
[Kayaking in Lago Llanquihue, Puerto Varas, Chile: December 30, 2015]

Puerto Varas, Chile- Savoring a Kayaking Adventure In and Around Lago Llanquihue

Frutillar, Chile: Relaxing in the Picture-Perfect, Musical Town on the Shores of Lago Llanquihue

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile
Picture-Perfect Frutillar, Chile

I first heard about Frutillar from one of the teachers I worked with in the Valle de Elqui. I was scanning a map of Chile hanging up in the classroom, looking for potential places to visit down the line, and we started talking about my options in southern Chile. When I mentioned Frutillar, she got a dreamy, far-off look in her eyes and raved about how beautiful the city was when in bloom in the summer. Naturally, I had to check it out for myself.

Views from Frutillar, Chile
Striking the Right Note in Frutillar, Chile

Frutillar is a small town located on Lago Llanquihue, famous for three things: its music, both the annual musical celebrations called Semanas Musicales, and Teatro del Lago, its lakeside theatre; its German heritage and architecture; and its sweets, specifically the German-style kuchen popular throughout the south but elevated to an art form in Frutillar.

Views from Frutillar, Chile
Frutillar’s Main Symbols

Frutillar is actually technically separated into two parts, Frutillar Alto (High Frutillar) and Frutillar Bajo (Low Frutillar). Frutillar Alto is the commercial and residential part of the town, located literally up on a hill, right off the Panamerican Highway. Frutillar Bajo is the traditional, more picturesque part of the town, which primarily caters to tourists.

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile
Pretty Park in Frutillar, Chile

As the guidebooks mention, Frutillar’s tourist offerings are skewed towards Chilean families and older travelers who want to stay in a pretty lakeside village. But it’s a lovely day trip for more adventure-focused or budget travelers staying in nearby Puerto Varas. One option is to do the intense bike ride from Puerto Varas to Frutillar and back, or you can do what I did and take a local bus from Puerto Varas. I hopped on a bus in downtown Puerto Varas and in about 45 minutes I found myself in Frutillar.

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile
Flowers in Bloom in Frtuillar, Chile

As you can see from the photos, it was a beautiful day in Frutillar. Looking at these photos a few months later, I am struck by the flowers in bloom and the postcard-ready shots from just about everywhere in Frutillar.

Views from Frutillar, Chile
Main Road in Frutillar, Chile

The town is quite small, which means you can leisurely walk up and down the main road, stopping to sit in the parks or relaxing on the beach. I wandered down various streets and realized that most buildings house hostales or little restaurants offering typical Chilean food (and kuchen, of course).

Views from Frutillar, Chile
Artesania Shop in Traditional German House in Frutillar, Chile

Of course, there are several places offering artesania, mostly knitted, crocheted, or woven goods made from the sheep’s wool common in the south. You can also find jams and marmalades made from regional fruits.

Views of Lago Llanquihue and Teatro de Lago, Frutillar, Chile
Teatro del Lago, Frutillar, Chile

Frutillar’s crowning glory is its Teatro del Lago, or Theatre of the Lake. The Teatro del Lago was designed to host the aforementioned Semanas Musicales, Frutillar’s major celebration of classical music which takes place each summer.

View from Teatro del Lago, Frutillar, Chile
Views of Restaurant on the Teatro del Lago, Frutillar

And you have to admit, it is a lovely building, although surprisingly large for small-town Frutillar. The Teatro del Lago hosts a number of cafés and restaurants, providing some luxury dining right on the lake.

View of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile
Views of Lago Llanquihue from Teatro del Lago, Frutillar

The views of Lago Llanquihue from the Teatro del Lago are beautiful, as the theatre is set away from the main road so you can look back at the town and get a panorama of its overall ambiance.

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile
Views of Frutillar from Teatro del Lago

I particularly liked admiring the traditional German-style buildings lining the route out of town, on the other side of the theatre.

Views of Frutillar, Chile

Templo Luterano, Frutillar, Chile

After spotting it from the Teatro de Lago, I wandered over to the Templo Luterano, the Lutheran church located on the main road of Frutillar, a historical monument for its typical neogothic construction.

Views from Frutillar, Chile

Scenic Views in Frutillar, Chile

I walked to the end of the main road, admiring the little cafés offering kuchen and nothing else – seriously, bring an appetite if you come here! And then it was time to head back towards the center of town, taking in the rest of the sights along the way.

Views of Frutillar, Chile

Flowers in Frutillar, Chile

I really loved all the brightly colored photos in bloom all along the road. I love the blues of southern Chile, but after a year in the desert, I was even more excited to see so many colorful flowers.

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile

Frutillar’s Picturesque Wooden Pier

Last but not least, I had to take a stroll down the picturesque wooden pier affording lovely views of blue Lago Llanquihue and Volcán Osorno hiding under the clouds in the background.

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile

Classic Shot of Frutillar’s Pier

I love how evenly the low clouds spread themselves over the mountains in the distance. Perfect harmony!

Views of Frutillar, Chile
Touristy Restaurant in Frutillar, Chile

Back in the center of town, I wandered around again to purchase some sweets and also check out some of the more touristy buildings located off the main drag. This one in particular plays up the German-style buildings, but is not a historical monument. The tendency towards tourist kitsch is one of the reasons that many people suggest visiting Puerto Octay to experience a more authentic, laid-back German-style town on the other side of the lake.

Views from Frutillar, Chile

Semanas Musicales Promo Piano in Frutillar, Chile
Piano Sculpture in Frutillar, Chile

After checking on the bus departure times, I took one more stroll around Frutillar, spotting this piano sculpture inspired by the Semanas Musicales. This is probably my favorite music-inspired sculpture in Frutillar, as it seems to fit nicely into the dream-like backdrop of the picturesque lake.

Views of Lago Llanquihue from Frutillar, Chile
Volcán Osorno over Lago Llanquihue, Frutillar, Chile

After one more look at the beach and its views of Volcán Osorno, I caught the bus back to Puerto Varas, where I had another adventure waiting for me: kayaking on Lago Llanquihue! All in all, Frutillar was the perfect laid-back day trip; although perhaps it lacks the appeal of an authentic small town, it clearly demonstrates a town proud of its German heritage and its musical traditions – and let’s not forget the kuchen!

Recommendations for Frutillar, Los Lagos, Chile:

  • Frutillar is located off the Panamerican Highway and is easily accessible by public buses from Puerto Varas. Head to the center of town, near the gas station where all the buses leave, and look for a bus with a placard labeled Frutillar (or Llanquihue/Frutillar) in the window. Bus fare each way cost $1000CLP in December 2015. Buses stop in Llanquihue and Frutillar Alto before heading down the hill to Frutillar Bajo.
  • The other common route to Frutillar is biking from Puerto Varas. If you are hill-averse like me, or just not feeling confident about your mountain biking skills, I suggest biking to Llanquihue instead and taking the bus to Frutillar.
  • Bring an appetite for the kuchen (German-style fruit cake) available in many little cafés and restaurants lining the streets of Frutillar. Frutillar gets its name from the strawberries and other berries that grow in this climate, so you might as well try them here.
  • Although I did not visit, the Museo Colonial Alemán is another option for those curious about the German heritage in Frutillar and the surrounding region, and it also has beautiful gardens.
  • Teatro del Lago is the main attraction in Frutillar, and if you can time your visit with the Semanas Musicales, Frutillar’s annual classical musical festival, you’ll get a sense for the cultural tradition of this small lakeside town. Make sure to look for all the sculptures celebrating music as well.
  • Beyond that, Frutillar is really designed for wandering and taking in its parks, beaches, and traditional architecture. There are several hostales but they are geared toward more exclusive guests, so budget travelers generally will stay in nearby Puerto Varas and just head to Frutillar for lunch or an afternoon slice of cake.
[Frutillar, Los Lagos, Chile: December 30, 2015]

Frutillar, Chile - Relaxing in the Picture-Perfect, Musical Town on the Shores of Lago Llanquihue